Cover Story

Battle within

"Battle within" Continued...

Issue: "Crackdown," July 18, 2009

Considered by followers to be the greatest living authority of Shiite Islam in Iran, Montazeri-who was once placed under house arrest after he questioned Khamenei's theological credentials-called for a three-day mourning period after violent street clashes began June 15. And on June 25 he faxed a statement to reporters: "If Iranians cannot talk about their legitimate rights at peaceful gatherings and are instead suppressed, frustrations will build up which could possibly uproot the foundations of the government, no matter how powerful."

Montazeri wants an "impartial" committee to solve the crisis, presumably paving the way for a restructuring of Iran theocratic structures-perhaps as much to favor him as Mousavi. He said, "No one in their right mind can believe" the election results were fairly counted.

Significantly, Montazeri has called Ahmadinejad's nuclear energy posture "aggressive" and underscores clerical concerns about nuclear armament,contrary to assertions by the Obama administration that no current political alternatives will alter Iran's nuclear posture.

Other clerics who support Mousavi and the protesters include Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, once an ally of Khamenei, and Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani, who posted a statement on his website saying, "Now is the time to stand firm against those who oppose the law and who, out of selfishness, disrespect the law and the will of the majority of the people."

On June 22 Ayatollah Hossein Boroujerdi came out in favor of "the brave people of the oppressed and under religious despotism."

In addition, Ayatollahs Amjad, Mousavi Ardebili, Makarem Shirazi, and Bayat Sanjani have been rumored to be under house arrest for statements favoring the protesters and opposition candidate Mousavi. Coming days could bring further crackdowns against the dissident ayatollahs.

In all, 50 of Qom's ayatollahs and other clerics in Qom have sent messages to Khamenei urging him to look into the complaints of the reformist candidates and examine reports of election fraud, according to the Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat.

Mousavi foremost has had support from Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and current head of the Assembly of Experts. According to unconfirmed reports via Al Arabiya, he has led the renegade meetings in Qom and may have enough votes among the assembly to force the removal of Khamenei.

Mousavi appeared also to gain parliamentary support June 25 when parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, a longtime ally of Khamenei, and more than 100 other parliamentarians boycotted a victory dinner in Ahmadinejad's honor.

Growing clerical and popular dissent are more surprising, considering that Khamenei, with Ahmadinejad's election in 2005, has been consolidating power more thoroughly under the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Qom is where the government's formidable Intelligence Ministry has trained terrorists and where Ahmadinejad-with Khamenei's blessing-moved to pack former Revolu-tionary Guard cronies in parliament.

The Revolutionary Guards now control the regular army and paramilitary groups, such as basijis who patrol streets, universities, and shopping centers for women violating the dress code and other miscellany of Islamic law.

Khamenei has placed civilian infrastructure and natural resources under the Revolutionary Guards' military control and appointed a brigadier general-an ally of Ahmadinejad-as head of police in Tehran.

Farhad Nasseri, an Iranian analyst in Dubai told Iran Focus in 2005, "Ayatollah Khamenei is taking no chances. He wants his own men in control everywhere."

The restructuring was not widely noted in the West but would prove game-changing-not only in subsequent domestic crackdowns but when elections rolled around again in 2009.

With Khamenei at the helm, the Council of Guardians approved candidates to stand for election. With Ahmadinejad in control of the Interior Ministry, which oversees elections, the president maintained direct authority over balloting. And Revolutionary Guards controlled all security forces responding to the uprising.

Despite the strong-arm tactics at its disposal, the government has been slow to win back the street. When authorities shut down the internet and other services to block mass organization, Iranian protesters accessed overseas internet servers to communicate with one another and to beam out images of street confrontations (see sidebar).

Even after the bloody confrontations of June 20, protesters organized rallies to mourn the dead. At night loud cries of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," rang from rooftops. Remnant protesters took to Tehran intersections, confronted the basijis, pulled them off their motorcycles and set fire to the vehicles. In Tabriz, Iran's fourth largest city, shopkeepers refused to open despite threats from police in a weeklong strike to honor those killed in the protests.

Even as the protest movement gains support among Iran's ruling class and around the world, it's not certain that everyone wants the same thing. Some demonstrators carried signs reading, "Where is my vote?" Others taped their mouths shut with green tape to signify the repression of the regime. They aren't looking for more theocracy, yet neither opposition candidates Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, nor the dissidents among the ayatollahs, favor dismantling the regime. If Khamenei is removed, he would likely be replaced by collective leadership of similarly unelected mullahs.

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