In the increasing tension between Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supporters of each faction, who have been drawing lines in the sand for the past few days claiming that there will be blood, took their disputes to the streets of Tehran.
According to reports from Iran, serious clashes between the rank and file supporters of Khamenei and the supporters of Ahmadinejad erupted on Saturday. Many were severely injured with clubs and machetes. The clashes are said to have been so fierce that the security guards did not intervene and stood aside, watching the brawl.
The routes leading into the Imam Hossein Square and Enghelab Avenue were blocked by the special forces. Civilians were not permitted to enter or exit those city blocks with their cars. The entire area was filled with anti-riot police, plain clothes agents and members of the Basij militia, and although one could not tell the difference between the supporters of Khamenei and the supporters of Ahmadinejad, they themselves could tell each other apart!
Most of the combatants wore black and traveled as a mob on motorcycles. They went from one section to another, hollering and yelling.
In various parts of the area, blood was visible on the street and sidewalks.
The streets of Tehran, especially the western and central parts, are also said to be chaotic. Members of the Basij militia continue to patrol throughout the city and Revolutionary Guards elements are firmly ensconced in many major squares.
Reportedly, a large number of the Vali’eh Amr (supreme leader’s) revolutionary forces are situated on Pasteur Avenue and have surrounded the Shaheed Mottahari Complex where both the supreme leader’s and Ahmadinejad’s offices are located.
Clerical assemblies located in the Naarmak area of Tehran, which serve as funeral homes, have been turned into a military barracks and members of both gangs are said to be intently occupying the neighborhood.
There is no accurate information on the number of injured and killed during the clashes by the two regime factions and so far none of the governmental sites have reported or acknowledged this incident.
The amount of security in Ahmadinejad’s residential area, Naarmak, has quite noticeably increased.
Also earlier today during Tehran’s book fair, the two factions, pro-Ahmadinejad and pro-supreme leader, brawled while security guards stood aside and did nothing. Many were injured.
The origin of the dispute started when I exposed the Iranian secret documentary, The Coming is Upon Us, which depicts both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei as the mythical figures who will bring about the reappearance of Imam Mahdi, the Shiite’s 12th Imam. The movie was made in collaboration with the president’s office, specifically with the help of Rahim Mashaei, President Ahmadinejad’s top adviser and chief of staff. As soon as there was wide coverage of this news in the Western media, the senior clerics in Qom, the country’s seat of Shiite scholarship, harshly complained claiming that now the enemy (the West) is using this video to weaken the Islamic Republic of Iran by showing the inside intimacies of their sacred beliefs to the world. They also complained that Mashaei is trying to empower Ahmadinejad beyond the supreme leader and diminish the role of the clerics.
The rifts became more intense after the dismissal of Minister of Intelligence Heidar Moslehi by Ahmadinejad and the ensuing restatement of the minister by the supreme leader. Ahmadinejad wants control of the Intelligence Ministry and so do the opposing factions close to Khamenei. In the following days, many hardline clerics announced that not obeying the supreme leader would not be tolerated, adding that obeying him is mandated by Allah.
Over the course of last week, the hardliners, thirsty for power and with the backing of Khamenei, arrested 25 people loyal to Ahmadinejad and Mashaei and have blocked several websites allied with them. Among those arrested is the cleric Abbas Amirifar, the prayer leader of the presidential palace. He has been charged in connection with the production of the movie.
In response, the Ahmadinejad supporters, which include many in the Revolutionary Guards and Basij, warned the hardliners (supporters of Khamenei) that there will be blood and that neither Ahmadinejad nor Mashaei will allow this attack without responding.
Most significant is that no one from the inside has ever challenged Khamenei to this extent, so his prestige is diminished. One thing is for sure though: regardless of what happens now, the blow to the Iranian leadership will be permanent. If the Islamic Republic of Iran lost its legitimacy over the fraudulent elections of 2009, it has now lost the legitimacy of the power of its supreme leader!
Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for an ex-CIA spy who requires anonymity for safety reasons. He is the author of A Time to Betray, a book about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, published by Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster, April 2010.