Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bomb kills at least 30 in port city

I originally wrote this article for Tehran Bureau.

Two suicide bombers killed at least 30 people and injured 55 in a mourning procession in Chabahar on Wednesday morning, according to news reports in Iran.

The Jundullah armed group, which was designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization in November, took responsibility for the attack in a statement posted to the Internet today.The group published photos of two young men wearing explosives vests and purported to be the suicide bombers, who were identified as Seifolrahman Chabahari and Hessan Khashi. (This blog will not post the photos glorifying the suicide bombers) The statement said that the attack had been carried out to avenge the Islamic Republic's execution of Jundullah's leader, Abdol Malek Rigi, in June of this year.

Information from official sources was confusing, at times contradictory, in the immediate aftermath of the bloody attacks which took place between Farmandari Square and Imam Hossein mosque in this balmy port with a free-trade zone on the Gulf of Oman.

Chabahar is situated in the southern fringes of Sistan-va-Baluchistan province which has a large Sunni Muslim population and has been the scene of terrorist attacks by the Jundullah armed group which proclaims that the country's majority Shiites persecute Sunnis. The Interior Ministry was prompt in blaming foreign governments, particularly the U.S. 'The equipment and logistical support of the terrorists indicate that these elements were backed by advanced intelligence services of the region and the United States,' said a statement.

The head of the country's Red Crescent and emergency services, Mahmoud Mozaffar, declared that 36 people had perished, before revising the figure to 31. Some injured victims who were subsequently revived had been counted among the dead, according to Mozaffar. Mohammad Yaghoub Jadgal, the parliamentary representative from Chabahar, told the state news agency IRNA that 50 to 60 injured had been transferred to hospitals.

The following video shows security forces and emergency workers in the area, shortly after the attack:

Witnesses spoke of two explosions in front of Imam Hossein Mosque on Imam Boulevard that cuts the city in two, along an east-west axis. The city's predominantly Sunni population worships at the much larger Jameh Mosque, a few blocks to the east. The attacks came on one of the holiest days, Tasoua, of one of the holiest months, Moharram, of the Shiite calendar. The first ten days of Moharram are devoted to mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, one of the most revered figures in the Shiite faith, culminating in the commemoration of Ashura tomorrow.

View Chabahar, Iran - Imam Hossein Mosque - 15 Decemeber 2010 in a larger map

Today's attack took place in the official mourning procession of fishery workers and their families, according to Mehr News.

Deputy Interior Minister in charge of security Ali Abdollahi told reporters that two bombs went off in close proximity between 10:00 and 10:30 AM, but subsequent news releases said that one of the two blasts was an acoustic bomb. It now appears that the latter conflagration was from the detonator of a second explosive device that did not go off.

Local intelligence and security sources informed Mehr News that three assailants had been involved and that the 'main instigator' had been arrested, while another had been killed when his explosives vest blew up. Mehr News reported that the third individual had been shot by the police. Chabahar Governor Ali Bateni denied that three men were responsible for the attacks, but he confirmed that the 'main element in the terrorist attack' has been arrested.

The official line slowly emerging from the chatter seems to be that two suicide bombers carried out the attack, that only one succeeded in exploding his device, and that both men are now dead. 'One explosion had a lower toll because the assailant was identified before the blast,' said Deputy Interior Minister Abdollahi in a later statement; 'The individual was identified by the police and shot. But he managed to detonate the device which did not cause much damage.'

Sistan-va-Baluchistan Governor Ali Mohammad Azad told the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network that the 'two terrorists waited along the procession's route because they had not been able to approach the official stand. They were suicide bombers. As soon as the security forces became suspicious of them, the first individual exploded his device, martyring and injuring some of our loved ones. The second individual who intended to blow himself up at the same time was identified by the security forces and shot and killed. Some 30 loved ones were killed and 55 injured thus far.' (see video below)

So no terrorist was arrested? 'Both were killed,' said Governor Azad. 'The second individual's belt did not function because he had been shot. Only its detonator exploded. This second one did not cause any casualties.'

Opposition groups have announced that they will participate in tomorrow's Ashura ceremonies. Last year's ceremonies turned into a bloody protest against the regime, during which security forces killed demonstrators, at least in two documented instances by running over them with police vehicles.

It is unclear whether today's blasts will result in tougher security measures tomorrow.


The following is further footage from state television. I apologize for not having the time to translate:


Monday, December 13, 2010

Atom chief becomes acting foreign minister

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has unceremoniously replaced Manouchehr Mottaki, the longtime foreign minister of the Islamic Republic, with the head of the country's Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, according to a terse statement posted to the presidency's site early Monday afternoon.

Salehi was named the caretaker of the ministry as any change to the cabinet must be confirmed by the legislature before it becomes official. Article 135 of the constitution allows the president to name a caretaker minister for a maximum of three months.

This development may signal a new round of acrimony between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Majlis. Mottaki reportedly enjoyed broad support in the parliament and had been endorsed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a televised meeting with the government on August 30. 'If Mottaki is replaced, the president should expect a strong reaction from the Majlis,' Mohammad Karamirad, member of the national security and foreign affairs committee of the legislature, had said around the same time.

The president's office published a two-sentence decree appointing Salehi and a separate short letter thanking Mottaki for his service. No further information or explanation was provided in the statement.

The dismissal appears particularly brusque since Mottaki is currently in Senegal, bearing a message from Ahmadinejad to President Abdoulaye Wade.

Alaeddine Boroujerdi, the chairman of the national security and foreign affairs committee, told Khabar Online's reporter that he was unaware of the news. 'Isn't Mr. Mottaki on a trip?' he asked the reporter. 'You mean the dismissal decree was issued while he was on a mission?'

Boroujerdi directed the reporter to contact Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast for more information.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Student Day scrapbook - 7 December 2010

Updated 3:30 PM GMT, 8 December 2010.

I have started compiling video, photos, and information concerning protests on Student Day, 7 December 2010, at 3:15 PM GMT. My aim is to give a raw idea of today's events. This should not be considered a live blog. I will update and bring a semblance of organization as the day progresses.

Young Iranians living abroad have launched a campaign called 'Where is my classmate?' to promote awareness of jailed students in the Islamic Republic. Posters show an empty classroom chair. The tag line is reminiscent of last year's 'Where is my vote?'

Sistan-va-Baluchistan University

A declaration demanding the release of all jailed students was read at a candlelight vigil at this university in southeastern Iran. The students also stressed that neither the threat of imprisonment, nor death, would diminish their resolve.

What appears to be back entrance of Amir Kabir University

Protesters sing student anthem Yareh dabestaniyeh man. This song will probably feature prominently in today's rallies. (click here to hear a fantastic new version of the song with an animation subtitled in English)

The song, once again. Then, 'Students would rather die than be humiliated.' Notice security agent at 1:15, talking into a walkie-talkie as he climbs a light post. Later, 'Mir Hossein!' referring to Green leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

A public circle dance...

Basijis try to disrupt the protest by forcing their way to the center and beating their chests (0:21). Cameraman says, 'Less than fifty [Basijis] keep sticking to the crowd like ticks.'

More footage of a few dozen Basijis staging a counter-demonstration next to the hundreds of green students.

Various student sources report four arrests in Amir Kabir University today. Bagheri and Zowghi (no first names available), members of the university's security forces, were particularly active in clashes against the students. Basijis prevented students from unfurling a poster of Majid Tavakoli, jailed student leader who was arrested here last year.

The following image shows Tavakoli. 'We will never forget you,' read the top two lines. 'We are speaking in the heart of oppression. We shout out, strengthened by our beliefs. We stand alongside each other... Majid Tavakoli, the dignity of the student movement.'

Elm-o-Sanat (Science and Technology) University

A silent protest, which began in what students have started calling 'Martyr Asa Park,' in memory of Kianoush Asa. Asa was killed in last year's anti-regime demonstrations (For more information on Kianoush Asa, click here.)

Entrance of Sharif University

We hear a part of a popular ditty from the revolution. The words have been changed, making Ahmadinejad rather than the Shah the target of the lyrics:
Mahmoudeh Khaen, avareh gardi,
To in vatan ra, viraneh kardi,
Koshti javananeh vatan, Allaho akbar,
Kardi hezaran dar kafan, Allaho akbar,
Marg bar to, marg bar to,
Marg bar to, MARG BAR TO.

Mahmoud the traitor, may you become a displaced person,
You have destroyed this country,
You've killed the youth of the nation, Allaho akbar,
You've put thousands in burial shrouds, Allaho akbar,
Death to you, death to you,
Death to you, DEATH TO YOU!

The demonstrators then chant, 'Honorable Karroubi, come to the nation's aid!' referring to Green leader Mehdi Karroubi. This slogan is followed by 'Coup government, this is your last warning. Iran's green movement is ready to rebel.' Security officers stand, arms folded, in front of the sit-in.

Ghazvin University

(For close-up analysis of last year's protest at this university, please click here)

The students take security officials to task for breaking up their rally.

Security official: It is illegal.
Young woman: Everything is illegal in this country.
Young man: They've turned the university into an army barracks.
Young man: The 16th of Azar (December 7) is not illegal.
Young woman: Today is Student Day. It's our day. It's our day, mister.

'Death to the dictator!'

Tehran University

New video showing yesterday's protest.

College of Arts

Screen blocks view of the entrance of Tehran University...

Technical College (photo courtesy Radio Farda). Photo could be of yesterday's protest.

Zahedan University

Candlelight vigil. One protester holds up a photo of slain student Kianoush Asa. Another shows a sign which reads 'Silence...' A third displays a photo of student Amir Javadifar, killed by torturers in Kahrizak detention center.

Babol University

And now a comic moment... Basiji rally attracts two dozen people, chanting 'Death to England!' and similar slogans, as students file past them without casting a glance.

Gilan University

After Babol, staying in the north of the country. 'Students would rather die than accept humiliation...'

Hamedan's Bou Ali Sina University

Yesterday, green students hijacked the screens of the computers in the common area.


Enghelab Square, Tehran

Heavy security presence...

Niayesh Highway, Tehran

Green banner proclaiming '16 Azar' (Student Day, December 7)...


Though only a small group of demonstrators in Tokyo voiced their support for Iranian students on December 5, it's an opportunity to hear this version of Lean On Me, by Iranian singer Andy, Jon Bon Jovi, and Richie Sambora...


Demonstrators congregated in front of the IRI embassy in Greece and protested the presence of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the regime's oppressive acts, including the persecution of Iranian Christians.

Tabriz's Sahand University

Student sources claim these photos are of yesterday's official ceremony in which protesting students chanted slogans and held up signs.

'A star in your file = the student's share of justice.' Stars are attributed to dissident students by disciplinary committees.

Student reads flier with photo of Mir Hossein Mousavi.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Protests on eve of Student Day

Students at Tehran University's Technical College defied a security clampdown to stage a protest on their campus on the eve of Student Day, according to videos posted on YouTube by Unity4Iran.

Student Day in Iran, December 7, is different from International Student Day which takes place on November 17. While celebrating student activism in general, the Iranian event is also a commemoration of the slaying of three Tehran University students by the Shah's police in 1953, shortly after the coup that brought Mohammad Reza Pahlavi back to power.

Students organized mass rallies against the regime on this day last year. (For a look at a live blog of December 7, 2009, please click here. For a detailed analysis of one video taken at Ghazvin University, please click here). Reports from Iran indicate that the regime has bolstered security in an effort to prevent similar incidents from occurring tomorrow.

The following videos were taken at Tehran University at approximately 3 PM, 6 December 2010, Unity4Iran explained in an e-mail exchange.

'Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein,' the students chant in support of Green leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. 'Death to the dictator!'

'With God's help, victory is near,' they shout. 'Death to this deceitful government!' And later: 'Students will die before they accept humiliation.'

'Political prisoners must be freed!'

Friday, December 3, 2010

Messianic or messy antics: The politics of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - Part 2

I originally wrote this article for Tehran Bureau. This is part 2 of a series of two articles, which explore whether Ahmadinejad is a religious fanatic or a populist. Or perhaps a mixture of both. For part 1, please click here.  

On the offensive

On July 10 of this year, Panjereh magazine published an interview with Seyed Morteza Nabavi, which was picked up in full the next day by Jahan News, considered close to the intelligence unit of the IRGC. The piece was entitled 'A Deviant Faction is Being Formed Within the Principlist Camp.'

Nabavi is considered a theoretician of the regime whose influence surpasses his official functions within the political organization he helped found, the Islamic Society of Engineers. Though Ahmadinejad is also a member of the ISE, the group supported one of Ahmadinejad's rivals, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, in the 2005 presidential race. Nabavi is also close to the Islamic Coalition (Mowtalefeh) Party and the conservative Combatant Clergy Association, not be confused with the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics of which ex-President Mohammad Khatami is a leading voice. He runs the Resalat newspaper and has stated that 'The main concern of Resalat is the ruling ideology.'

Nabavi had this to say about the 'deviant faction' mentioned in the interview's title. 'Young Principlists must be very careful not to fall into this trap. [...] This is a faction whose deviance is plain to see. They say that they have a direct link to the Imam Zaman. They want to put aside the clergy in all matters of religion, law, and politics,' Nabavi warned, before adding, 'This faction of Principlists seeks Principlism minus the clergy.'

It was unlikely that Nabavi had chosen this last phrase by accident. 'Principlism minus the clergy' (osoulgarayi menhayeh rohaniyat) is clearly reminiscent of 'Islam minus the clergy,' a concept made famous by Ali Shariati, a prominent Islamic thinker and considered an ideologue of the 1979 revolution, even though he was at odds with the mullarchy and passed away in 1977 in Southampton, England, before the fall of the Shah. 'Theocracy is a system in which clerics, instead of politicians, assume political and governmental positions. In other words, theocracy is the rule of clerics over the nation. The natural outcome of such a [system] is despotism because the cleric considers himself the surrogate of God and the executor of His affairs on Earth,' Shariati wrote. In another instance, he wrote, '[In Islam], an organization known as the "clergy" does not exist and no one becomes a professional cleric. In Islam, there is no middleman between the people and God. Everyone is in direct contact with Him.' Supporters of the regime will of course argue that Iran is an Islamic republic and not a theocracy.

Without getting into the details or merit of Shariati's philosophy which cannot be summarized in the two quotes above, it should be noted that his blend of Marxism/Socialism and Islamic reformation was extremely popular among the idealistic youth of the period. So much so that in the years leading up to the revolution, and despite numerous fatwas against him, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did not take an official stand against Shariati. Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a confidant of Khomeini, wrote the founder of the Islamic Republic a letter in which his frustration is palpable: 'The least of [Shariati's] sins is that he has given a bad name to the clergy. He described cooperation between the clergy and unjust governments against the masses as a general social principle. [In other words, he claimed] that the blade, gold, and prayer beads lie alongside one another and share the same goal.' (The Martyred Sheikh, Sadra Publications, p.39-46)

In his interview with Panjereh magazine, Nabavi was issuing a warning against an idea -- 'Principlism minus the clergy' -- that, while not as extreme as 'Islam minus the clergy,' still had the potential to be immensely popular. So who are the 'deviants,' whom Nabavi spoke of, who would exploit this popular idea?

One indication comes from an interview given by Deputy Minister of Islamic Guidance Mohammad Ali Ramin in September. 'Instead of being active behind the closed doors of political parties, NGOs, or other Western-style institutions, our clergy should return to their mosques,' said Ramin. He tempered his words by adding that he meant that the clergy could restore the central position of mosques in Iranian society and re-mobilize the vitality of the devout population which had stopped going to mosques.

The mullahs however took a very dim view of what Ramin had said. The head of the clerical faction of the Majlis, Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, contended, 'Nobody pays attention to what the deputy minister says. [...] The main goal of individuals making such remarks is to remove the clergy from the [national scene] and take religion out of the government and politics.' When radio host Ahmad Tavakoli (no relation to the Majlis MP of the same name) questioned Ramin about his remarks on a live show, the deputy minister lost his cool and insulted Tavakoli with a phrase that means, 'What the hell do you think you're doing?' (Shoma ghalat kardid...) (Listen to the show below)

Ramin lived in Germany from 1971 until 1994, when he was deported, allegedly for his links with neo-Nazi and far-right parties. He was unknown on the national stage until Ahmadinejad's first term, when he became a presidential adviser, most notably contributing to the president's negationist positions on the Holocaust. He was the organizer of the infamous Holocaust Conference in Tehran, to which he invited old friends from Germany, including Benedikt Frings of the NPD (National Democratic Party). It is doubtful that he would have made the comments about returning the clergy to mosques without the consent of Ahmadinejad, who has yet to chastise him.

Ahmadinejad's aides presented other novel ideas about Islam and Iranian society over the summer. 'There are many takes on the school of Islam, but our understanding of the reality of Iran and the reality of Islam is the school of Iran, and we must henceforth introduce the school of Iran to the world,' said Chief-of-Staff Rahim Mashai at a conference for Iranian expatriates in August. The identity and mythology of the regime is Islamic, the basis for its power has been Islamic, and here was a very senior government official touting the school of Iran (maktabeh Irani), and not even the school of Iranian Islam.

The reactions from regime insiders were swift and unequivocal. General Seyed Hassan Firouzabadi, Armed Forces joint Chief of Staff said, 'We consider such words to be a deviation and a crime against national security and an attack on the values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution.' Regime officials almost always refer to the Islamic Republic and not the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As Habibollah Asgaroladi, secretary general of Supporters of the Line of the Imam and the Leader (a coalition of a dozen parties under the Principlist umbrella), said in response to Rahim Mashai, 'The basis for the Islamic movement and revolution was Islam, and the republic was based on the meaning of Islam. Imam Khomeini, at a time when there was mention of an Iranian Republic or a National Democratic Republic, declared an Islamic Republic, not one word less, not one word more.' And to stress the dangers of forsaking Islamic identity to patriotism or national identity, he added, 'The Imam [Khomeini] tried very hard to make the Arabs understand that as long as they called Palestine Arabic it would come to no good and that Palestine was Islamic.'

'If Rahim Mashai persists in his errors, we will not remain silent in the face of these perverted, nationalistic acts of conjuring schools (maktab-sazi enherafi nasionalisti),' said Ayatollah Abbas Kaabi of the Society of Qom Seminary Teachers and a member of the Assembly of Experts. 'Mr. Mashai's remarks about a school of Iran were all about conjuring up a nationalistic school [of thought] for Islam.'

And therein lies the crux. Nationalism and patriotism are extremely popular in Iran, perhaps more so than religion. Two of the most noteworthy slogans chanted in last years opposition demonstrations were 'Neither eastern, nor western, but an Iranian Republic' and 'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon. I give my life only for Iran.' The patriotic song 'Ey Iran,' written in the aftermath of World War II, has long been a favorite of Iranians and it has become something of an opposition anthem in the past years. Is it an accident that Ahmadinejad's chief of staff has brought up the idea of a 'school of Iran' so soon after last year's unrest? Perhaps not.

Not only has the president not disavowed Rahim Mashai's remarks, he has endorsed them despite the outcry by conservative clerics and regime insiders. 'What we say is very clear. the government speaks with only one voice. [Rahim Mashai] says the same thing, perhaps with a different vocabulary. Iran has had a singular role in developing a pure Islam. This is not nationalism,' he insisted at a press conference shortly after the incident. He maintained his support in a speech at last month's conference on 'Soft War' -- regime-speak for velvet or color revolutions -- held at Tehran University. 'There are many takes on Islam [...] in the world. The understanding of Islam which is worthy of consideration for us has to be Iranian,' he told the participants. 'We believe Iran's culture and understanding of truth to be the closest to truth,' he added.

Ahmadinejad's feigned crowd-pleasing statements, the Third-Worldism he shares with the likes of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, his attempts to gain a holy mantle, while tapping into quasi-reformation and anti-clerical ideology, and the appeals to the powerful social forces of nationalism and patriotism, give the appearance of a cynical, populist streak in the president. Whatever his plans, not many observers believe that Ahmadinejad will simply disappear from the political stage after serving his second term. 

The president is not the official head of any party, which would have allowed him to maintain a voice in the Islamic Republic's affairs. He seemed to be addressing this issue at the national gathering of representatives of the Supreme Leader in July when he stated, 'The velayat and the revolution have but one party and that is the velayat party and God's party.' Velayat can be a reference to the Supreme Leader or the rule of the Imam Zaman. In both cases, Ahmadinejad may believe that he can occupy a central position within such a nebulous entity at the expense of the established groups. Certainly, the quick reactions of various political figures showed that that was their interpretation of the president's words. 'The velayat party has no basis in reality and the Imam [Khomeini] and the Supreme Leader have not referred to it even once. [...] Some people are creating disturbances among Principlists and we must be aware of this,' Islamic Coalition Party chairman Mohammad Nabi Habibi was quoted in Khabar Online, a news site close to Majlis Speaker Larijani.

The president may be taking concrete steps to place his ideological stamp on the regime. In August, Jahan News reported that a 'Principlist manifesto' (Ahmadinejadism?) was being drafted and that it would soon be submitted to Ahmadinejad. 'This manifesto, which will provide a clear description of Principlism, will restrict the scope of Principlism to such a degree that individuals such as [Tehran mayor] Ghalibaf and [Majlis Speaker] Larijani will no longer be considered Principlists,' wrote the news outlet close to the intelligence unit of the IRGC. (Ghalibaf and Larijani also ran in the 2005 presidential election, but failed to make it to the second round.) Majlis representative Ali Motahari reached the same conclusion in an interview with Aftab daily, accusing 'Principlist extremists' of devising the manifesto in order to eliminate Ahmadinejad's rivals. Motahari surmised that certain Principlists were taking this step in order to prepare for the next elections.

'It is a pity that the presidency only lasts two terms, because Ahmadinejad's record in this term has been much better than the previous one,' said Mohammad Javad Larijani, Khamenei's adviser and head of the human rights commission of the judiciary, in May. Whether Larijani was attempting to gain the support of the president's loyalists for his brother, Speaker Larijani, or whether he was putting on a show of impartiality, the statement did provoke some discussion about a possible amendment to the constitution. If Khamenei were to consider such an amendment to be expedient, it is quite possible that it would be railroaded through the legislature and Guardian Council.

However, it must be noted that unlike in the US constitution, where the 22nd amendment clearly sets two term limits on a president, the Islamic Republic's constitution says the following on the issue:

Article 114
The President is elected for a four-year term by the direct vote of the people. His re-election for a successive term is permissible only once.
In other words, a former president who has served two terms can run again after a lapse of one term. That is why Mohammad Khatami was able to consider (and reject) becoming a candidate again in 2009 and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ran in 2005 even though he had already served two terms in the 1990s.  

Some analysts believe that Ahmadinejad may attempt a 'Putin-Medvedev shuffle.' Former Russian President Vladimir Putin handpicked his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in 2008 when he faced the same type of constitutional restriction. He subsequently became the prime minister and is expected to run for president again in 2012. There have been persistent rumors that Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, whose daughter happens to be married to Ahmadinejad's son, would play the Medvedev role in the Iranian scenario.

As explained previously, Rahim Mashai is not popular among many conservative clerics and portions of the Principlist camp, who managed to convince Khamanei to block his nomination to the post of First Vice President last year. Ahmadinejad enraged his rivals by quickly naming him as his chief of staff, which could not have occurred without the acquiescence of the Supreme Leader. This suggests a certain symbiotic relationship between the president and Khamenei, each considering the other as necessary to advance their own goals.

It would not be outlandish for Khamenei to accept Rahim Mashai in the highest elected office of the land. He is one of Ahmadinejad's closest aides who has voiced many of the same populist positions as the president. He is considered more amenable to some reformist demands and maintains ties to the trendy artistic community. He could therefore bring some of the opponents of the regime back into the fold. If he were to become president, Khamenei would be able to maintain the delicate, yet tense, balance within the power structure and regain some luster as an arbiter.

Furthermore, it would be difficult to disdainfully dismiss the preferred candidate of the Ahmadinejad camp, given the official claims that he garnered 24 million votes. 'Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Mashai have pushed the Principlists into a corner in the sense that they say, [...] We have more votes than anyone else,' Alireza Namvar Haghighi, a political analyst in Tornonto told Radio Farda. 'This is the Principlists' paradox. Either they have to say that these are not your votes or that there was some fraud in the elections. Therefore, they must come to some skewed compromise with [Ahmadinejad and Mashai].' 

Ahmadinejad's supporters seem to be laying the groundwork for a Rahim Mashai run for the presidency. In September, Principlist Majlis representative Behrouz Jafari announced the formation of the Justice and Welfare Front (Jebheyeh edalat va refah), a coalition of a dozen pro-Ahmadinejad groups in the legislature. Anti-Ahmadinejad conservative news outlets including Tabnak, controlled by former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai, and Alef, run by Malis research center head Ahmad Tavakoli, reported that the coalition's main function was to support Rahim Mashai. But the Justice and Welfare Front's secretary general, Hojjatoleslam Amirifar, denied the allegation and added, 'Mr. Rahim Mashai has not even declared that he will be a candidate [in the 2013 presidential race].'

'Some people seem to have an abnormal sensitivity towards Mr. Mashai,' Ahmadinejad said in a recent interview broadcast by the 20:30 news show. 'I have complete confidence in Mr. Mashai. I know him as someone who believes in the principles of the Islamic Republic, the values of the revolution and the Iranian nation. He is a person who believes in the line of the velayat. He is a pure individual.'

Beyond the official political organizations, Rahim Mashai can also count on the support of the President's Young Advisers, a broad network of up-and-coming activists present in various ministries, presidential offices, and provincial governments. Rahim Mashai happens to head this group, one of the dozen or so functions that he fills in the administration. Before the summer, he named Abbas Masjedi as his plenipotent representative within the group and instructed him to 'expand the Young Advisers network throughout all ministries, independent organizations, vice-presidential offices, and provincial governorships by the end of the [Iranian year],' according to the Ahmadinejad administration's news outlet. The president and Rahim Mashai received a rousing welcome at the 4th Conference of Young Advisers on October 10.

A week later, Hamid Reza Afrashteh, Young Advisers deputy chief in charge of provincial affairs, spoke at a gathering organized by Islamic Iran's Group of 72, and compared Rahim Mashai to some unlikely luminaries. 'The Western world began a new life with thinkers such as Adam Smith in the field of economics, Russell in the social sphere, and Montesquieu in politics, and it began developing knowledge. Meanwhile, on this side of the world, we have continued our existence with passivity,' said Afrashteh, according to Afkar News. 'Now that one person [Rahim Mashai] has taken a leap and and has entered the difficult field of developing ideas and turning them into models, some people unfortunately do not tolerate him.'

And while Ahmadinejad and his supporters have advanced their agenda, they have continued to confront their rivals, not only among the Greens, but within the Principlist camp itself. Speaker Ali Larijani has been the main target of such attacks, which have splintered the Principlist faction in the legislature and managed to erode his support within the Majlis.

On Sunday, November 7, Larijani barely squeaked by as the central committee of the Majlis's Principlist faction elected its chairman. Larijani, the incumbent, garnered 25 of 47 votes, while his opponent, Shahabedddin Sadr received 20 ballots. Khabar Online, close to Larijani, falsely stated that he had received 44 votes, while IRNA, the governmental news agency run by former Ahmadinejad media adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr, correctly reported that the Speaker had won by 5 votes. (Clear election results apparently remain a rarity in the Islamic Republic. An explanation of the discrepancy will be the subject of a future article.) Pro-Ahmadinejad Majlis representative Hamid Rasaee wrote on his blog, 'How will Ali Larijani's "crisis of appeal" end?' 

The G-72 web site claimed in an article last month that Larijani supporters within the Assembly of Experts were seeking to modify the constitution so that the president would be elected by the Majlis because 'they know for a fact that it is impossible for Larijani's name to come out of a ballot box, so their only recourse is to change the manner in which the president is elected.' Raja News wrote that Larijani had urged his brother-in-law, Majlis representative Ali Motahari, to try to collect signatures from fellow legislators in order to force the president to come before the Majlis to answer questions about his policies, but had only garnered less than 10 signatures. Motahari had engaged in his nefarious campaign against the president 'at the same time of the son of the nation's visit to Lebanon,' Raja News reported with an outraged tone, before turning to mockery: 'Motahari obtained only two votes in the election for the central committee of the Principlists. Given that he cast one ballot for himself, only one other person voted for him.'

The most noteworthy, and sinister clash, took place when pro-Ahmadinejad goons held a threatening rally in front of the Majlis in June.The Ahmadinejad administration had been involved in a struggle to gain control of the assets of a vast network of universities run by Rafsanjani loyalists. Larijani managed to sway the Majlis vote in favor of the Rafsanjani camp, thereby incurring the wrath of the demonstrators in Baharestan Square, in front of the legislature. One banner lofted by the protesters read 'A thief in the nation's house,' while another insultingly asked, 'Larijani, who the hell do you think you are to go against the Leader's opinion?'  

Regardless of his apparently premeditated skirmishes with the conservative clergy and some Principlists, Ahmadinejad has been careful to exude loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei and the principle of velayateh faghih. His aides and supporters have followed suit. Mohammad Ali Ramin, Deputy Islamic Guidance Minister in charge of the press, who had suggested that the clergy should return to their mosques last summer, had an altogether obsequious attitude towards the Leader's 'historic' visit to Ghom (see video below). 'One of the most beautiful headlines of recent years that I can remember was one that I saw in one of these newspapers a couple of weeks ago, on the occasion of Imam Khamenei's visit to Ghom,' he told a television interviewer (italics are mine). '[The headline] was "Ghadireh Ghom." This was a very beautiful take on "Ghadireh Khom," meaning the people of Ghom had risen up to welcome the surrogate of the Imam Zaman.'

Not only did Ramin refer to Khamenei as Imam, rather than Ayatollah or Supreme Leader, but he compared him to one of the most inspirational figures of Shiite Islam, Imam Ali. It was at Ghadireh Khom or the pond of Khom that the Prophet Mohammad appointed Ali, his son-in-law, as his successor in 632 AD.

But what was on Khamanei's mind as he arrived in Ghom and gave his first speech?

'The debate about Islam minus the clergy... Of course, these murmurs were voiced before the revolution,' said Khamenei (see video below). 'The presence of the clergy in the revolution and their leadership in the revolution temporarily expelled this idea from the scene. But they have started it again. Islam minus the clergy is one idea, and Islam minus politics, the separation of religion and politics, is also among the things that they insist on spreading through the press, in their writings, and on the Internet.'

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Real Arab support for Iran war or "possibility of a disinformation campaign"

Paul Jay, senior editor at the The Real News Network, sat with Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell, to discuss references to Iran in the cables divulged by Wikileaks, particularly the alleged calls by Arab leaders to attack the Islamic Republic.

Wilkerson, a retired colonel, currently teaches a senior seminar at George Washington University entitled 'National Security Decision-Making.' He was responsible for vetting the intelligence reports used for Powell's infamous 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council, in which the Secretary of State argued for -- some would say, was duped into arguing for -- the Iraq War. Wilkerson only had a week to review the material which was riddled with inaccuracies. His subsequent disillusionment led to his resignation and vocal stance on what he termed 'a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made.' (Click here for a detailed Washington Post article on Wilkerson's background, his position on the Iraq War, its aftermath, and the Bush administration.)

He has kept an understandable level of skepticism, as can be witnessed in the following interview:

More at The Real News

(To donate to The Real News Network, which operates solely on such generosity, please go their web site)

Tehran bomb blasts target nuclear scientists

An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed and another was slightly injured in separate bomb attacks as they drove to work in Tehran early Monday morning, November 29. Reports of a third explosion in the Mahalati district, northeast Tehran, were not confirmed by police sources, according to Mehr News.

In both incidents which took place between 7:30 and 8:00 AM, motorcyclists attached explosive devices to the victims' cars in morning traffic, before fleeing the scene.

Dr. Majid Shahriari, an elementary particle physicist and a member of the scientific board of Beheshti University, died in the blast that tore through his automobile near the intersection of Imam Ali and Artesh freeways. His wife and driver were wounded in the attack. Artesh Freeway runs south of the Mahalati district and it is unclear whether the sound of the conflagration that killed Shahriari was the source of confusion about a third attack in that district.

Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at Beheshti University and an expert in lasers, and his wife were lightly injured in the explosion that blew off the driver's door of their car in a square near Beheshti University in the Velenjak district. They dashed out of their Peugeot seconds before the device exploded, an eyewitness told the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting corporation (IRIB). 'I was behind the damaged car. I saw the car stop and the driver jump out. He ran to his wife's side and got her out as well. They were two meters away from the automobile, when it blew up,' said the eyewitness to IRIB's Channel 1 news.

Abbas Davani and his wife were treated for their wounds at Taleghani Hospital, less than a mile from the attack, and released shortly before noon.

The public relations office of the greater Tehran police force declared that both spouses of the nuclear scientists also worked for Beheshti University, although it did not explain in what capacity. 

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General Hossein Sajedinia, commander of greater Tehran's police force, told reporters that no group or individual has taken responsibility for the terrorist acts and that no suspects were in custody. He denied previous reports that a Peugeot 206 had been involved in the attacks and had been pursued and shot at by the police in the vicinity of Beheshti University. However, he attributed the criminal acts to 'lackeys of the Zionist regime.' Media outlets have echoed such sentiments, adding Britain, the United States, and the MKO to the list of suspects.

'Both attacks were carried out by motorcyclists who, according to witnesses, attached the explosive devices to the cars with magnets. The bombs exploded a few seconds later,' he added.

'The protection of professors is the responsibility of the universities and the Defense Ministry,' police commander Sajednia said. 'They are the ones who must answer for this.'

Another nuclear scientist, Dr. Massoud Alimohammadi, was killed by a bomb attached to a motorcycle outside his Tehran home on January 12. The device was detonated by remote control as Alimohammadi left for work. The Islamic Republic blamed foreign governments and banned opposition groups for that attack, but Alimohammadi's involvement in the country's nuclear program is far from established and it has been revealed that he was a supporter of Green leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Alimohammadi knew both scientists who were targeted today. Shahriari was one of two Iranian advisers (Dr. Javad Rahighi was the other) on the Sesame Project, which stands for 'Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East,' an international scientific project under the auspices of UNESCO. Alimohammadi was one of the Islamic Republic's two official representatives on the project. Dr. Babak Shokri, the other official representative, and Rahighi are the surviving members of the initial four-man team.

Fereydoun Abbasi Davani and Alimohammadi were both non-resident researchers at the the Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences (NB Pajouheshgah Daneshhayeh Bonyadi, also knows by its acronym IPM, which stands for the Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics). The two scientists were allegedly colleagues at Imam Hossein University, which is divided into two institutions, one for training officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the other which is open to the general public. Finally, Alimohammadi and Abbasi Davani have both been linked to the Institute of Applied Physics (IAP), which reportedly conducts research for the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. 

Though proof of Alimohammadi and Shahriari's alleged ties to Iran's military nuclear program and the regime is tenuous, there were sufficiently compelling indications to place Abbasi Davani under international non-proliferation sanctions as a person 'involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.' He appears in Annex I of UN Security Council Resolution 1747, which was adopted on 24 March 2007 and calls for member states to freeze his assets and exercise vigilance in allowing him to enter or transit through their territories.

Abbasi Davani has been a member of the IRGC since 1980 and saw three tours of duty during the Iran-Iraq war, according to Mashregh News. Aty News, close to the regime, reports that he teaches at the Superior National Defense University. He reportedly runs the physics program at Imam Hossein University, where he works closely with another Guardsman and physicist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabadi, who is also under UN sanctions.

Abbasi Davani was honored by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at an awards ceremony for 21 top academics in 2007, according to Ebtekar News. In October of this year, he was one of sixty award recipients at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the creation of Beheshti University (formerly National University, Daneshgaheh Melli).

Abbasi Davani is cited as a co-author on two recent scientific articles entitled 'Implementation of main waveguide cavities of electron linear accelerator using integrated and separable methods and comparing their performance' and 'Design and construction of pulsed neutron diagnostic system for plasma focus device (SBUPF1).'