You may have noticed a lull in reportage from Iran; that is because the situation is unusually explosive, and there is a great deal going on beneath the surface, all of it very damaging to the stability and legitimacy of the regime. Thus there is a clampdown on “news.” I don’t know if foreign correspondents are aware of these developments or not, but they are very significant.
One is that the tempo of the internal battle against the regime has picked up, and not just in street demonstrations and chants of “Death to the Dictator.” On the night of November 10-11 there was a very bloody gun fight in the area of Karaj, in which several senior Revolutionary Guards officers were killed or wounded. No announcement was made, although you can see one of its effects in a Reuters story:
“Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards force has replaced its commander for the greater Tehran area, its website said…The “Sepah News” website did not give a reason for the appointment of Hossein Hamedani as new Revolutionary Guards commander in Tehran, replacing Abdullah Araghi.”
I believe that General Araghi was either killed or seriously injured in the Karaj shootout. This is not the only high-level replacement in the IRGC in the past few days, nor is it likely to be the last.
There were equally disruptive political events in the Majlis (Parliament). In a closed-door, unreported session of the Budget Committee, Ahmadinejad became so angry that he ripped up his notes and stormed out of the room in the early hours of the morning of the 11th. He was upset about three things:
–Resistance to the oil/natural gas deal with Turkey;
–The fact that some members of the Majlis had found out about the details of the deal;
–A report on the parlous state of the national economy, and the true extent of the IRGC’s role in it.
I noted some days ago that the deal struck on the occasion of Turkish leader Erdogan’s visit to Tehran involved a spectacular discount–50%–on the price of Iranian natural gas to the Turks. These details had not been made public. But, somehow, a copy of the actual agreement reached committee members, who were infuriated, and they threatened to vote against it. Why, they asked, were the Turks entitled to buy huge quantities of Iranian gas at an outrageous discount, and then sell as much of it as they wished on the market? Was this not tantamount to taking money from the Iranian people and just transferring it to the Turks?
Ahmadinejad was furious and stormed out of the meeting. On the next day, the head of the energy commission, Hamid Reza Katuzian, a young deputy from Tehran who has expressed unhappiness with Ahmadinezhad in the past, went public with an interview in IRNA and other news agencies. He said that Parliament might cancel the agreement, which would be a serious challenge to the authority of the supreme leader and the president. This follows earlier clashes with Ahmadinezhad over energy questions, one of which saw the president deliver a blow( to the face) of the head of the national petroleum company, who balked at signing the agreement. The poor man was fired, of course; his only satisfaction was the spectacle of Ahmadinezhad with his hand heavily bandaged.
Another scandal emerged in the form of a secret report from the former head of the Central Bank, with details on the last fiscal year (which ended in March, 2008). The report contained the predictable details of the ruin of the economy, but it also described the amazing economic power of the Revolutionary Guards. According to the report, direct and indirect RG activities–according to the report, there more than seven hundred RG companies OUTSIDE the country, in addition to their onshore businesses and front companies–account for more than fifty per cent of the nation’s business, ranging from oil and gas to ports and airports, thousands of hectares of fruit-producing land, real estate, construction (both private and public works) and housing. In all probability, the RG has increased its share of the market in the last 8 months. The actual figure may be closer to sixty per cent.
One participant reported Larijani (the “speaker” of the Majlis) saying “if this gets out, it’s the end of the system.”
Finally, many deputies are concerned about the impact of the cutback in subsidies on staples like bread, rice and milk, and of course on gasoline, much of which must be imported (and which are targeted for future sanctions in U.S. legislation that has passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate). In the closed meeting Ahmadinejad was asked if the cutbacks could be delayed until the spring, but the measures are already being applies.
In short, the people are systematically screwed, the RG are making lots of money (much of which goes outside the country to support the terrorists), and it’s not hard to understand why internal violence, especially against the Guards, is on the rise.