Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime plots purge after Iran election protests

Jun 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime plots purge after Iran election protests

From The Sunday Times

June 28, 2009

The supreme leader’s brutal crackdown has crushed dissent on the streets

Confrontation between opposition supporters and the police have faded as the government crackdown intensifies

Marie Colvin

Protesters are being shot

Protesters are being shot

Opponents of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, are bracing themselves for a purge if, as expected, he returns to office following the country’s bitterly disputed presidential election.

His defeated rival, Mir Hos-sein Mousavi, who came a distant second in a poll he insists was rigged by the regime, has continued to defy what he has called “huge pressures” to halt his campaign for a new vote.

Last week his communications with the outside world were severely restricted, his web page was taken down and his newspaper was closed, with 25 of its employees arrested.

Supporters said they feared Mousavi could become another Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader who has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

Mousavi inspired hundreds of thousands of Iranians who poured onto the streets to demand that the results of the June 12 election should be annulled. Yesterday, however, the regime’s brutal crackdown, which has seen at least 17 demonstrators killed and about 3,000 detained, appeared to be succeeding.

Observers said they believed that after his inauguration, due by early August, a vengeful Ahmadinejad would oust anyone in government who had favoured the opposition or simply failed to support him.

“There will be a purge, no doubt about it,” said Ali Ansari, director of the Iranian Institute of St Andrews University, who until recently often travelled to Iran for research.

“There are people in Tehran who think, now that the regime has won, they will be left alone. I can’t tell you how far from the truth this is.”

The purge may already have begun. Akbar Torkan, the deputy oil minister and a rising star in the government, was sacked after writing sympathetically in an opposition newspaper.

Iranian sources said 17 senior officers in the elite Revolutionary Guard had been “reassigned” because their loyalties were suspect.

It is not a new tactic for Ahmadinejad. Since he became president in 2004 he has replaced every ambassador and all but one of Iran’s provincial governors with cronies, as well as filling important ministries with allies.

“I expect Ahmadinejad to continue the purge he started when he became president,” said Amir Taheri, an Iranian analyst. “He will go for the parliament, the Guardian Council, where four members were against him, and even the expediency council, which oversees the office of supreme leader.”

The analysts pointed out that Ahmadinejad was able to move because he had the public backing of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.

The streets of Tehran were quiet yesterday, with riot police in camouflage uniforms and basiji, the volunteer militia, on the main squares and patrolling on motorcycles and in trucks.

Mousavi, fearing more violence, said he would request official permission for rallies, which the regime has routinely refused. It gives the protesters little opportunity to keep their momentum going within the law.

Their fears increased dramatically when Ahmad Khatami, a hardline mullah, said the arrested protesters should be treated “ruthlessly and without mercy” – and that some should be executed.

The Guardian Council, the unelected group of 12 clerics and legal experts charged with monitoring the election, is to announce by tomorrow whether it will certify the results. It has already said it has found no evidence of fraud so its decision seems a foregone conclusion.

The protest movement has been severely undermined by the crackdown. During a demonstration last Wednesday near the Majlis, or parliament, security forces outnumbered protesters four to one.

The regime has blocked mobile phones, texts and networking sites such as Facebook, and Mousavi’s isolation has deprived the opposition of leadership.

All last week families sat huddled on newspapers in hot sunshine outside the feared Evin prison as they waited for the updating of a handwritten notice giving the names of prisoners. Some carried money or deeds to their homes, hoping to be able to post bail.

A retired teacher said he was looking for his 19-year-old son, Ardalan, who had been home on leave from the Revolutionary Guard when he went missing. They feared the worst because he was a conscript.

He had last been seen in Vanak Square on June 18, and they had found out he was in prison only because his frantic fiancée had been phoning his mobile, even though it was turned off. Finally, last Monday, a stranger answered.

“It was like he began interrogating me: ‘Who are you? What is your relation to Ardalan?’ When Ardalan finally got on the phone, all he could say was that he was in jail but ‘fine’,” his fiancée said.

“I thank God he is not dead, but what I am afraid of is that if they want to take him into tough interrogations he may have to sign and agree with things that he has not done at all,” said his mother, weeping and sweating in her hot black overcoat and hijab.

For now, the struggle has largely moved from the streets to a behind-the-scenes political tussle between two distinct camps in the Islamic republic.

Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, and Ahmadinejad lead the hardline camp that wants to continue strict social rules and defiant international policies. These are the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini, who overthrew the shah in 1979.

Mousavi is supported by Hashemi Rafsanjani, the wealthy former president who heads the expediency council. Their vision of a more relaxed social atmosphere and a moderation in Iran’s isolationist foreign policy is anathema to the hardliners.

The reformist ranks have been swollen by a strong “Anyone but Ahmadinejad” group of conservatives, clerics and even some Revolutionary Guard generals. “They all hate Ahmadinejad with a vengeance,” Ansari said.

The Assembly of Combatant Clerics, an influential group of mullahs in the holy city of Qom, sent an open letter saying: “The people of Iran, who with thousands of hopes and wishes and excitement came to the voting boxes, are now gathering the bodies of their youth out of blood and soil and are in mourning.

“Should these justice-seeking objections be answered with bullets that rip through the hearts of their children?”

Despite their disparate vision of Iran’s future, both camps want the Islamic republic to continue so they were still talking at the weekend.

One compromise supported by Rafsanjani at the height of the protests was that rather than insisting on removing Khamenei, the supreme leader should remain in office but have some of his powers passed to a three-man committee.

No one believes the confrontation is over. “The government may have won the first round, but there is fire under the ashes,” said a senior reform leader.

Mother weeps at dusty grave of shot Neda

There is no headstone on grave number 32, in section 257, column 41, in the dry, dusty new section of Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. Only the photograph of Neda Soltan reveals who lies beneath the mound.

Footage of the 26-year-old music student dying on a back street in Tehran shocked the world, turning her overnight into a global symbol of suffering under the brutality of the Iranian regime.

Protesters in Tehran and in capitals around the world last week held up placards and wore T-shirts proclaiming, “I am Neda.” At her grave, however, the scene was one of aching, personal grief. The regime banned her family from holding a funeral, but last Thursday her mother and brother sat in the dirt by the grave weeping. “Something was ravaged in her mother’s face,” said Mohsen, a 35-year-old PhD student. “She was doing her best to control herself, but she couldn’t. I can still hear her sobs in my ears.”

About 200 mourners laid flowers in the dirt and offered quiet words of condolence to her mother, dressed in a black manteau and hijab (headscarf).

They murmured to each other, still in shock at the mobile phone footage that caught Neda’s death throes after she was shot in the chest by a basiji militiaman during a protest against election results.

As the crowd in the cemetery grew, security officers moved in, ordering the mourners to leave. Relatives picked up Neda’s mother from the ground, where she was still sobbing.

They may have cleared mourners away for one afternoon, but nobody doubts that the grave of the pretty young woman who had wanted to be a tour guide has already become a shrine to what her family said she wanted: justice.

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