Belmont Club

Iran again

The Guardian reports that large numbers of security forces have been deployed in the major public squares of Teheran as enemies of the regime, some of whom also opposed the Shah, declared the days of the current order numbered. They compared the current leaders to the most hated personages in Iranian history.


Plainclothes agents and special police units were reported to be deployed in overwhelming numbers in four of Tehran’s main squares – Enghelab, Haft-e Tir, Valiasr and Ferdowsi – which formed part of the focal point of yesterday’s fierce confrontations. Three city-centre underground stations were also closed as authorities sought to block off gathering points for protesters. …

The arrests reprised the response to June’s post-election protests, when many prominent activists were detained after mass demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election. But they served only to emphasise Iran’s devastated political landscape as opposition figures voiced outrage that yesterday’s Ashura ceremony, a day of reverence for the Shia Islam martyr Imam Hossein, became steeped in blood after security forces allegedly opened fire on demonstrators.

The fatalities raised questions about the religious legitimacy of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who stood accused of breaking the basic tenets of Islam by permitting killing during the holy month of Muharram. Another reformist leader, Mehdi Karroubi, implied that Khamenei was worse than the former shah, whose troops never opened fire on Ashura. “What has happened to this religious system that it orders the killing of innocent people during the holy day of Ashura?” Karroubi said in a statement posted on the Rah-e Sabz website.

His comments were echoed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Paris-based Iranian film-maker and unofficial spokesman for Mousavi. He compared Khamenei to the 7th century Umayyad caliph Yazid, hated in Shia Islam as the slayer of Imam Hossein, and added: “I’m upset with myself for fighting against the shah. At least when he realised people didn’t want him, he left the country.”


One opponent of the regime expressed the wish to hunt Khameini down like Saddam, with Iranians in the role of US soldiers. “Khamenei … we are going to pull you up from your Saddam-like well and shed light on your face – but not with the flashlight of an American soldier.”

This developed as a reports circulated of the establishment of a rebel military command consisting of dissident officers which would coordinate operations against the existing regime.

NIRU is an apolitical, and self motivated command consisting of soldiers from all armed & security forces (of Iran). NIRU is not an independent organization but merely the name of the coordination command of anti Government servicemen among the Iranian Armed & Security Forces. NIRU does not intend to take control or supervise the Government, and will dissolve without naming its members upon completion of the Operation Azadi.

In the hothouse of a revolutionary underground such announcements will be treated with both hope and suspicion. You never know who you are dealing with unless you know them personally. But if the NIRU actually exists (in more than manifesto form) then it would be a serious setback for the Iranian regime.

In June of 2009 I wrote, shortly after the suppression of the dissenters that the natural development of protest movements was to move from the aboveground to the semi-underground and underground. The post The Day After said:


It’s too early to tell whether street has failed to fatally injure the Iranian regime. But even if Khamenei has beaten back the demonstrators, or bought off Mousavi it is not over. In all likelihood some of the opposition movement will move into a less spontaneous, more clandestine phase: out of the public gaze to be carried on, on both sides, by those with the determination and relentlessness for the job. It’s the world of the cell, cutout, safehouse, the samizdat, the pistol — and alas for some — the bomb. How the resistance will fare, or what its members will evolve into is hard to predict. One thing is probable: that if Mousavi has sold them out, the remnants will require another leadership core.

In that post I argued that over the long run, the Obama administration should be careful to engage with a regime which might be in the process of falling flat on its face. Don’t manacle yourself to a man who is about drown. Perhaps the calculus at the time was that the dictatorship could repress its enemies. Well if so, it’s time to revisit the bet.

I think that the current crisis shows that the semi-underground and underground phase of the Iranian resistance movement is now upon them. The regime might still survive by employing even larger amounts of repression. But from the look of things, even if the current regime manages to beat this wave back down, there will be another. A prolonged civil war tends to make all the parties equally ruthless. Maybe the successor regime will be only marginally better than the current one. But the existing cast of characters will eventually leave the stage. Time and tide will ascertain that. There will be a successor regime. The only question is when. Let’s hope Hillary and President Obama don’t get on the platform just as the train leaves the station.


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