Iraqi President Jalal Talebani flew to Tehran on Sunday, and today–Monday–he spent nearly three hours with Justice Minister Larijani. When asked about the trip, the Iranian Ambassador in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, said that Talebani needed some special medical attention. In reality, Talebani was acting as a middleman for the United States, and he had gone to Baghdad to try to strike a deal for the release of the three young American hikers who were seized by Iran several months ago.
It is not likely that Talebani, or anyone else, will be able to convince the Iranians to do that. The regime had previously told the American Government that they would swap the hikers for three high-ranking Iranian defectors. But even if the US were willing to pay such an expensive ransom–and it’s hard to believe they would send the three to certain death in Iran–it would require the agreement of the countries where the defectors currently reside. Not very likely. So the unfortunate hikers will continue to suffer.
Meanwhile, the death spiral of the Islamic Republic continues. There is an epidemic of failed landing gear on airplanes either belonging to, or transporting officers of, the Revolutionary Guards. The latest was a flight on Monday from Tehran to Mashad that had to return to Tehran and circle the air field for nearly two hours, burning off fuel and waiting for foam to be spread. There were no casualties.
The same cannot be said for two young men who were recently murdered by the regime. The younger was Ramin Pourandarjani, a 25-year old medical doctor whose career seemed guaranteed to soar; he graduated first in his class in Tehran. At the time of his death–November 10th–he was working at the infamous Kahrizak detention center in Tehran, the site of mass torture following the anti-regime demonstrations in June. He had initially refused to sign documents that claimed that a dissident had died of natural causes, when Pourandarjani could see the evidence of torture, and only signed after a month of intense pressure. In recent weeks he had been visited by intelligence officers from the office of Supreme Leader Khamenei, who asked him what he had seen in Kahrizak. He evidently saw too much. His parents were called and told he had been in an automobile accident. They were asked to authorize surgery, which they declined. The next day they were informed he had died of a heart attack on November 10th. His body was washed and wrapped in a shroud with no family member present, and then sent to Tabriz and buried there.
Rumors circulated almost immediately that he had taken his own life, but recent reports suggest he was killed.
The older man was Ali Kordan, 51, long one of the most powerful members of the regime and a close associate of both Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad. Like so many at the top of the Iranian pyramid, he was a Revolutionary Guards veteran who held a variety of positions until his ten minutes of fame in 2008, when he was nominated to be Interior Minister. Initial opposition was defeated when Khamenei sent a letter to Parliament insisting that Kordan be confirmed, but he was forced to resign in August after it emerged that he had forged an honorary degree from Oxford University.
The AP reported that “Kordan died of heart failure Sunday after weeks of treatment for pulmonary and pancreatic problems, according to reports in Iranian newspapers and news agencies,” while Wikipedia tells us that “Kordan died of multiple myeloma at Tehran’s Masihe Daneshvari hospital on November 22, 2009. He also had influenza and brain hemorrhage.”
In reality he was murdered. Not only did he know too much, but he had assembled a devastating dossier against the regime, and was attempting to defect. It is not known what happened to all the documents he was planning to take with him.
These two murders speak volumes about the panic that has seized the regime of late. The next big opposition demonstration is scheduled for December 7th, and already the attempts at intimidation are visible. This Friday, 7 million Basijis are supposed to march to celebrate Basij Week, and cell phones all over the country have received a text message reading: “You have been identified as a participant in post-election gatherings and must refrain from such participation from now on.” The intimidation campaign has not been conducted with great efficiency; Ahmadinejad got the same message, as did a baker in Khuzestan, deep in the south.
Meanwhile, desperately searching for some sort of legitimacy, Ahmadinejad has flown off to Africa and South America. But it will take more than flowery speeches from foreign leaders–or regime funding of friendly scholars at American universities–to salvage his status. Alireza Zakani, a leading parliamentary supporter of the regime, delivered a speech that effectively confirms the accusations of election fraud that Green leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has been repeating since June. According to Zakani–whose speech made a brief appearance on an official web site and then disappeared–the fraud was confirmed by Parliamentary president Ali Larijani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani in the days immediately following June 12th in the presence of Khamenei himself. This is an extremely explosive development, of which we are certain to hear more in the days ahead.