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A Response to the Leveretts

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

09 Jan 2010 17:2748 Comments
Iran-elections-Woman-stan-005.jpgA Response to Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Flynt Leverett directs the New America Foundation's Iran Initiative and is a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University. Hillary Mann Leverett heads Strategic Energy and Global Analysis, a political risk consultancy. Together, they publish the Web site "The Race for Iran." Having spent years in the intelligence community, they are both considered Iran experts.

[ comment ] On January 5, 2010, Flynt Leverett and his wife Hillary Mann Leverett wrote a New York Times op-ed piece entitled "Another Iranian Revolution? Not likely."

In this opinion piece, the authors attempt to prove that the opposition Green Movement in Iran is weak, disorganized, leaderless, and even lacks a sense of what it wants. They also claim no clear process exists for the Green Movement to achieve a regime change.

This is not the first time that the Leveretts have bought into the hardliners' propaganda. Immediately following the rigged June 12 presidential election, Flynt Leverett appeared on PBS with Charlie Rose and opined that Ahmadinejad had won fair and square. The couple then asserted the same in an article published by Politico and entitled, "Ahmadinejad won. Get over it."

The basis of the argument was a poll that had been taken weeks before the election. Although the poll itself was indicative of the people's thinking, the Leveretts chose to ignore many facts in order to proclaim Ahmadinejad the winner.

The hallmark of the Leveretts' articles and opinions is their buy-in to the propaganda of Iran's hardliners in order to promote their own agenda for dealing with Iran, which involves ignoring human rights issues and the brutality suffered by Iranians fighting for democracy under the current regime.

The op-ed begins,

Let's start with the most recent events. On Dec. 27, large crowds poured into the streets of cities across Iran to commemorate the Shiite holy day of Ashura; this coincided with mourning observances for a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had died a week earlier. Protesters used the occasion to gather in Tehran and elsewhere, setting off clashes with security forces.

Important events, no doubt. But assertions that the Islamic Republic is now imploding in the fashion of the shah's regime in 1979 do not hold up to even the most minimal scrutiny. Antigovernment Iranian Web sites claim there were "tens of thousands" of Ashura protesters; others in Iran say there were 2,000 to 4,000. Whichever estimate is more accurate, one thing we do know is that much of Iranian society was upset by the protesters using a sacred day to make a political statement.

First, there are just too many video clips that show tens of thousands of protesters, and quite possibly even larger numbers, participating in the Ashura demonstrations. Second, the 2,000-4,000 figure is only what the government claimed. Third, if the number of the demonstrators was small, why then saturate Tehran and other large cities with thousands of police officers, members of the Basij militia, intelligence units and plainclothes agents? Fourth, given the relentless violence the hardliners have used against demonstrators
over the past nearly seven months, many more people stayed home who would have otherwise participated in the demonstrations.

Fifth, no rational person has claimed that the government is imploding. I, for one, have always argued that the hardliners do have a social base (albeit a narrow one), but significant because they are armed to the teeth. Moreover, unlike the Shah and his supporters, they have no place to flee and so will likely remain a force in Iran. The struggle for change and democracy is akin to a Marathon, not a sprint. No one is under the illusion that in a scant few months people will get their wishes fulfilled. However, it is difficult to deny the impact the demonstrations have had in shaking up the Iranian government, causing division even within the regime. In fact, there has never been so much squabbling in the conservative and hard-line camps. There have never been so many glaring fissures
in their ranks. Many conservative ayatollahs who used to support the hardliners have either fallen silent, or have voiced their opposition.

It is difficult to argue that the government in Iran is in the same strong position as before Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, or even as a few months before the election in June. This government is responding to its own fear. This is a regime that is no longer willing to even allow gatherings for traditional Islamic events, or mourning for the dead because it has very good reason (and intelligence) indicating that they will probably erupt into massive anti-government demonstrations. It has made sweeping arrests encompassing political activists, journalists, and human rights advocates. It has (ineffectively) set up Stalinist show trials for some and kept scores of others incarcerated without charges. This is a regime that secretly buries those killed in the demonstrations or in detention, or snatches their bodies from the hospital; it has taken to executing political prisoners for participating in demonstrations and vocalizing their dissent.

Vastly more Iranians took to the streets on Dec. 30, in demonstrations organized by the government to show support for the Islamic Republic (one Web site that opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in June estimated the crowds at one million people). Photographs and video clips lend considerable plausibility to this estimate -- meaning this was possibly the largest crowd in the streets of Tehran since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's funeral in 1989. In its wake, even President Ahmadinejad's principal challenger in last June's presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, felt compelled to acknowledge the "unacceptable radicalism" of some Ashura protesters.

I have no idea which video clips the Leveretts watched. But from all the credible information that I have been able to gather, including video, eyewitnesses accounts from people I trust in Tehran, and back-of-the-envelope calculations based on the number of people who could fit in the area of the demonstrations, it is much more plausible that up to 200,000 people participated in the pro-Ahmadinejad rallies on December 30.

Even in a confidential document leaked out of the Interior Ministry, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, the Interior Minister, had estimated that 350,000 participated in the demonstrations.
Besides, who do the Leveretts think participated in pro-government demonstrations? Most of the demonstrators had been bussed in from towns close to Tehran, or were members of the Basij militia, or government employees who had been coerced into attending (many leaked confidential letters ordering them to attend). In fact, there are strings of buses pictured near demonstration sites. There was also plenty of free food and soda distributed by the government (not teargas).

What objective analyst would construe this forced counter-demonstration as a sign that the hardliners are popular?

So, unlike what the Leveretts claim, the counter-demonstrations were not the largest crowd since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's funeral in June 1989. That distinction belongs to the peaceful demonstrations on June 15, 2008, three days after the rigged election, where at least 1.5 million people, and quite possibly many more, took part. (This is again based on how many people would fit in the demonstration area, which was much larger than the December 30 demonstrations.)

The focus in the West on the antigovernment demonstrations has blinded many to an inconvenient but inescapable truth: the Iranians who used Ashura to make a political protest do not represent anything close to a majority. Those who talk so confidently about an "opposition" in Iran as the vanguard for a new revolution should be made to answer three tough questions: First, what does this opposition want? Second, who leads it? Third, through what process will this opposition displace the government in Tehran?

In the case of the 1979 revolutionaries, the answers to these questions were clear. They wanted to oust the American-backed regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and to replace it with an Islamic republic. Everyone knew who led the revolution: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who despite living in exile in Paris could mobilize huge crowds in Iran simply by sending cassette tapes into the country. While supporters disagreed about the revolution's long-term agenda, Khomeini's ideas were well known from his writings and public statements. After the shah's departure, Khomeini returned to Iran with a draft constitution for the new political order in hand. As a result, the basic structure of the Islamic Republic was set up remarkably quickly.

Beyond expressing inchoate discontent, what does the current "opposition" want? It is no longer championing Mr. Mousavi's presidential candidacy; Mr. Mousavi himself has now redefined his agenda as "national reconciliation." Some protesters seem to want expanded personal freedoms and interaction with the rest of the world, but have no comprehensive agenda. Others -- who have received considerable Western press coverage -- have taken to calling for the Islamic Republic's replacement with an (ostensibly secular) "Iranian Republic." But University of Maryland polling after the election and popular reaction to the Ashura protests suggest that most Iranians are unmoved, if not repelled, by calls for the Islamic Republic's abolition.

With Mr. Mousavi increasingly marginalized, who else might lead this supposed revolution? Surely not Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who became a leading figure in the protests after last summer's election. Yes, he is an accomplished political actor, is considered a "founding father" of the state and heads the Assembly of Experts, a body that can replace the Islamic Republic's supreme leader. But Mr. Rafsanjani lost his 2005 bid to regain the presidency in a landslide to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and has shown no inclination to spur the masses to bring down the system he helped create.

Nor will Mohammad Khatami, the reformist elected president in 1997, lead the charge; in 1999, at the height of his popularity, he publicly disowned widespread student demonstrations protesting the closing of a newspaper that had supported his administration.

Now, here is a fundamental contradiction in the Leveretts' argument, in addition to them buying into the hardliners' propaganda. The Green Movement is strong enough that it may force the replacement of Ahmadinejad and other top officials, but is nevertheless disorganized, leaderless, weak, and lacking common vision?

A predictor of what Iran wants may be found in the demographics: 70 percent of Iran's estimated 75 million population are under the age of 35. That is 52 million people. The literacy rate in Iran is between 85 and 90 percent, including 3 million university students, 60 percent of whom are female; 24 million of which regularly use the Internet -- 100,000 keep blogs. This represents some of the largest numbers (relative to the population) in the world. Iran has a resilient feminist movement, a robust movement led by university students, and a relatively strong labor movement. This is a nation that is well connected internationally, and that produces some of the brightest students who are practically stolen by the most prestigious universities around the globe, including MIT and Stanford.

A nation with such characteristics knows what it wants, and that is the difference between now and 1979. In 1979 Iranians knew that they did not want the Shah and his regime, but there was no consensus on what they wanted. Some, like the author, wanted a democratic republic. Some like Mehdi Bazargan and his comrades advocated a democratic Islamic republic; others wanted a socialist state, and the hard-core and conservative supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini wanted an Islamic government.

The present movement no longer wants Islam to serve as an excuse for suppression and oppression, nor to interfere in private lives, nor to be used as an excuse for dividing the population into khodi and gheyr-e khodi (one of ours and theirs, or insiders and outsiders). It wants, at a minimum and to begin with, the demands declared by Mousavi in his Statement No. 13, including a free press, free elections, fair trials in the presence of a jury, freedom to assemble and stage peaceful demonstrations. The Green Movement wants the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) to refrain from intervening in the economy, politics and the judiciary, and interfering in elections. It wants an unconditional release of all the political prisoners. It wants to be able to establish private radio and television stations to counter the propaganda by the hardliners (in accordance with article 44 of the Constitution), equality for all citizens, and more. If these goals are realized, the nature of the Islamic Republic will change fundamentally, eventually leading to a democratic republic.

How long must Iran's educated, young, and dynamic population either support, or quietly concede to a government that ranks university students with one, two, or three stars -- depending on their level of political activities -- and prevents them from continuing their studies (based on their numbers of stars); turns the universities into military bases and homes for hooligans; denies them jobs and careers that they deserve if they are gheyr-e khodi; strips them of their basic rights; has no qualms about killing or imprisoning them, and tops it off by forging a negative image of Iran in the international arena? Just to give an example, these Stalinist courts "convicted" Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi and gave him a sentence of 5 years in prison, 6 years in internal exile, and imposed a ban on writing and giving speeches for life, only because he has courageously written the truth of what is happening.

Even from a purely economic viewpoint, how long should such a population accept a 20 percent unemployment rate and a rising inflation rate, while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and their cronies loot and pillage Iran's national resources?
Who leads the Green Movement? The symbols are Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and former President Mohammad Khatami. The hardliners recognize them as the leaders of the movement, and most people in Iran and a significant fraction of Iranians in the Diaspora recognize them as such. The Green Movement is pluralistic. It includes radicals as well as conservatives. The trio stands right in the middle, and has done an admirable job of leading, but also to listening to what the people want.

This trio is no longer what they used to be. If they were, they would have retreated a long time ago. Khatami has increasingly adopted tougher positions. Karroubi has shown incredible courage in revealing the crimes committed by the hardliners after the election, and declaring that even the Shah did not commit such crimes -- a taboo in the Islamic Republic -- and Mousavi has not only never retreated one inch from his position, but also has become firmer. He has grown tremendously with the Movement. He declared in his January 1 statement that he is ready to die for the cause, and Karroubi and Khatami have repeatedly declared that they are ready for anything, and will be willing to pay any price for defending people's rights. How much stronger can leaders get?

The process by which the Movement intends to achieve change is through peaceful demonstrations, social pressure and, if necessary, strikes until the hardliners submit to the demands. No dictatorship enters negotiations with the opposition unless under tremendous pressure. At the same time, the hardliners cannot continue killing and jailing people with no end in sight. Continuing these practices will not only further anger the people, but also expand the fissures in the conservative camp, which will ultimately lead to irremediable instability. At the international level, the supporters of the movement will reveal the crimes of the hardliners and the human rights violations perpetrated against the Iranian citizens, and push for condemnation of the regime by the international community.

Many of the Westerners who see the opposition displacing the Islamic Republic emphasize the potential for unrest during Shiite mourning rituals, which take place at three-, seven- and 40-day intervals after a person's death. During the final months of the shah's rule, his opponents used mourning rituals held for demonstrators killed by security forces to catalyze further protests. But does this mean that a steady stream of mourning rituals for fallen protesters today will set off a similarly escalating spiral of protests, eventually sweeping away Iran's political order?

That is highly unlikely. First, Ayatollah Montazeri had unique standing in the Islamic Republic's history; it is not surprising that the coincidence of his seven-day observance with the Ashura observation would have drawn crowds. His 40-day observance -- which will fall on Jan. 29 -- and the early February commemoration of the 1979 revolution might also encourage public activism. But there is nothing in the Islamic Republic's history to support projections that future mourning rituals for those killed in the Ashura protests will elicit similar attention.

For example, in late 1998 four prominent intellectuals were assassinated, allegedly by state intelligence officers, prompting considerable public outrage. Yet the mourning rituals for the victims did not prompt large-scale protests. In 1999, nationwide student protests were violently suppressed, with at least five people killed and 1,200 detained. Once again, though, the mourning dates for those who died did not generate significant new demonstrations. Likewise, after the presidential election in June, none of the deaths associated with security force action -- even that of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose murder became a cause célèbre of the YouTube age -- resulted in further unrest.

The Green Movement does not need to use the traditional mourning on the 7th and 40th days after death to demonstrate, nor is what led up to the 1979 Revolution an exact blueprint for change. The opposition in this case has developed its own strategy by using official occasions to demonstrate. The Movement has already used Qods [Jerusalem] Day, November 4 [anniversary of the take over of the U.S. embassy], 16 Azar [December 7, which is university student day], the day [July 17] that Rafsanjani led the Friday prayer (that forced the hardliners not to allow Rafsanjani lead the prayer again), and others. Many more are coming up. Would it not be highly embarrassing to the hardliners if on February 12, the anniversary of the Revolution, large-scale demonstrations ensued with protesters chanting, "Death to the dictator"? Yet the Green Movement has adopted such a calendar strategy.

Also, other resources are available to the opposition that didn't exist in 1979, for example, the Internet. Communication has vastly revolutionized over the past 30 years with social networking sites, blogs and cell phones. And while they cite the use of YouTube in exposing Neda Agha Soltan's tragic death, the Leveretts have a narrow understanding of the impact. If it did not result in further unrest, that may have been because the unrest already existed--the demonstrations continued. But she became a symbol for the movement and the whole world.

Clearly, the opposition is able to take advantage of new technology. To assume that a revolution, hard or soft, must follow the same exact protocol of its predecessor ignores the influences of the times, and the differences of a generation.

Further, the comparison to 1998-99 is inappropriate. That was the beginning of the Khatami era, when people hoped he would deliver on his program of reform. In 1999 the population had not yet experienced the Ahmadinejad years and looting of the nation's resources by the IRGC, while having to deal with joblessness and high inflation, not to mention all the repression. Thus, when the reformists staged a sit-in in the Majles in 2004 to protest their disqualification from running for the 7th Majles, people did not support them. The same people voted for Ahmadinejad in the second round of the 2005 election.

But, the next year, in the elections for city council, Ahmadinejad's own group received only 4 percent of the votes and shouts of "death to the dictator" were already being heard at universities. Hence, the first signs that Ahmadinejad and the hardliners were in trouble.

In keeping with this pattern, the seven-day mourning observances for those killed in the Ashura protests generated no significant demonstrations in Iran. Clearly, comparisons of the Ashura protests to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, projecting a cascade of monumental consequences to follow, are fanciful. The Islamic Republic will continue to be Iran's government. And, even if there were changes in some top leadership positions -- such as the replacement of Mr. Ahmadinejad as president by Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Parliament, as some Westerners speculate -- this would not fundamentally change Iran's approach on regional politics, its nuclear program and other matters of concern.

The Obama administration's half-hearted efforts at diplomacy with Tehran have given engagement a bad name. As a result, support for more coercive options is building across the American political spectrum. The president will do a real disservice to American interests if he waits in vain for Iranian political dynamics to "solve" the problems with his Iran policy.

As a model, the president would do well to look to China. Since President Richard Nixon's opening there (which took place amid the Cultural Revolution), successive American administrations have been wise enough not to let political conflict -- whether among the ruling elite or between the state and the public, as in the Tiananmen Square protests and ethnic separatism in Xinjiang -- divert Washington from sustained, strategic engagement with Beijing. President Obama needs to begin displaying similar statesmanship in his approach to Iran.

The speculation that Larijani would find himself president is as inconceivable an outcome as predictions go (especially with his brother as the head of the judiciary). Nevertheless, the premise of the Leveretts' argument shows that they favor the type of diplomatic strategy that ignores human rights issues, as the US has with China. When the Tiananmen Square massacre took place then-President George H.W. Bush, former ambassador to China (named so in 1974 by President Nixon), largely ignored the incident and refused to stand up for student demonstrators willing to sacrifice their lives for democracy, for although he stated that he "deeply deplored the use of force," he did not go so far as to jeopardize China's most-favored trade status.

To use China as a model for diplomatic strategy with Iran is to ignore the differences between these two countries, the state of affairs in Iran and its history with the West, and the inability for hardliners to engage sincerely in diplomacy with the US. Already the carrots offered by the West have been ignored by the current regime. The Leveretts' assumption that a similar strategy would produce the same outcome in US relations with Iran is naïve and ill informed.

A better opportunity for diplomatic engagement would come about through a change in leadership in Iran, with leaders able to serve the interests of their country and people and not simply cater to their own power through oppression and brutality.

The fact is, most Iranians support diplomacy with the Islamic Republic provided that, (i) the gross violations of human rights of the Iranians are put on the table and be given a weight equal to those of all other important issues, and (ii) sincere and determined diplomacy is used, and not merely as window dressing in order to set the stage for economic sanctions and possibly war, which almost all Iranians oppose.

The Leveretts refuse to take into account an understanding of Iran, its history, and social movements. It appears they have spent too much time talking to supporters, propagandists, and representatives of Iran's government in the U.S. in order to farm "facts" that support their own agenda. But they have spent little or no time studying the Green Movement and its demands, roots, appeal, breadth, and depth. They seem content to publish pieces by propagandists for the hardliners in Tehran in order to legitimize a brutal regime, for they fail to provide a diplomatic solution for dealing with an oppressive government in turmoil. Instead, they boast only of the ability to ignore the uprisings of democracy in the name of diplomatic relations as they construct a sturdier version of a straw man, and claim Iran is much more a monolith than the facts attest.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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A question is why the NYTimes publishes the two consultant's position papers. It is against Times policy to publish opinion pieces when the authors have a financial stake in the issue. It is good bet that the authors are violating the paper's policy.

Felipe Pait / January 10, 2010 2:31 AM

u should have published it in NYTimes to respond directly to them. Am I not right?
Anyway, when I read the first paragraph of Leveretts, i didn't bother to read to the end. They obviously have some blindness problem!
And your response is a good one, thanks.

amin / January 10, 2010 2:34 AM

A very interesting (yet poorly edited) response. I was stunned by the Leveretts' article, not because they defended the regime, but because they defended the regime without logic and based on flawed, regime supplied evidence.

I personally believe this article sums up the Green Movement far better than one that ponders the question of leadership. Some go further and argue that the calls for leadership are unfounded and unnecessary. Firstly, does the movement even need a "leader" in the traditional sense? Secondly, why is this type of leadership even being sought after? The 1979 revolution was led by one person and look what happened there. Instead, we are progressing with innovative ideas, such as the desecration of money, in order to allow the regime the time and space to implode by itself. They have done a great job at this so far!

As the Green Movement progresses, and as we all ride the green wave together, it becomes apparent that the movement itself is a whole entity; it is leading itself. As you have said, there are already figureheads in place who can manifest the movement's objectives. They may divide us because of their past, but they also unite us with their calls for freedom and human rights (though turning a blind eye to them runs it's own risks).

The next step: transition. Will the regime completely implode, leading to a full-scale revolution? Will the regime compromise and dismantle itself? Will the regime fight back? We need to tackle these issues so we can avoid the same mistakes as 30 years ago and progress smoothly into the future.

Pak / January 10, 2010 3:37 AM

Thank you for this great response. I read Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett's article a few days ago and hoped somebody would respond to their misinformation.

Heidar / January 10, 2010 3:47 AM

Mr. Sahimi - I agree with a lot of your points.But I am in contact with a number of my family members and friends and I must say you do not reflect their aspirations.The majority of people do not want the Islamic Republic or any of the symbolic leaders that you mentioned.The majority of the people that I have talked to do not believe Islamic Republic can deliver.They truly want a change as in regime change.I agree that they do not have the means but I don't think you have the right to speak on their behalf and pretend they are satisfied with a reform as you described it.People are tired, disappointed, fed up and in need of complete change.They see no future with the Islamic Republic.

Ardalan / January 10, 2010 4:34 AM

Thank you Dr. Sahimi for refuting the absurd claims made by the Leveretts with an informed argument.

Amir / January 10, 2010 4:55 AM

My belief is that the situation in Iran doesn't quite compare to that of any other country at any previous time for these reasons:

the post-war baby boomers of Iran are coming of age now in greater and greater numbers, so that you could say that the Regime is facing a population/time bomb as more and more youth hit critical maturity and they are a POTENT generation, I am including the young Basij in this, as they have shown a destructive potency ,I suppose. Can the aging, incompetent clique satisfy even their own followers? No.Their only response is to try to cap the volcano and forestall the inevitable as long as possible.

the other factor differentiating the situation from say, China during Tiananmen ,is that the regular armed forces were used in China whereas in Iran though they are willing to act if Israel were to attack so far they have appeared uncommitted to the role of political repression where they could end up being unleashed on members of their own families. Some rumors indicate that the figure they have confidence in is Rafsanjani but even were he to seek a truce with Khamenei its uncertain that even he could influence the armed forces to attack the bulk of the people.

also, the depth and breadth of the opposition can be gauged quite simply by looking at the IR use and misuse of resources which is where comparisons to the fall of the Soviet Union do hold true.While pursuing a huge arms buildup it never provided a decent standard of living for its people. That was its greatest failing.

External forces that affect Iran at present include a sensible, helpful administration in the US rather than someone like Bush Sr. who allowed Iraqui Shiites to rise up to be slaughtered. The awareness in other influential countries ,that like Spain in the 30,s ,this is a cause that WILL have implications for them. They can't just shrug it off and slap their pal Ahm'jad on the back, much as they might like to.
Expect the unexpected.

Pirooz (the other one) / January 10, 2010 5:21 AM

Dear Ardalan:

I do not claim to be speaking on anybody's behalf. Just like the Leveretts, I only express my own opinion and my understanding of the situation and the goals of the Green Movement, without having any claim whatsoever to being a spokesman for anything or anybody. I also did not say that the IRI can or cannot deliver, because that is not the focus of the piece. I responded to the specific points of the Leveretts. So, respectfully, I do not know what you are talking about.

In my opinion, regardless of whether your statement about "the majority of the people" is correct or not, you should not generalize. As you said, you are in contact, but only with some of your family members and friends. Thus, regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of your statement, you simply generalize too much. I am in contact with a very large number of people (and I am almost sure that my network is broader than most's), but do not generalize.

At the same time, nothing will happen over night. And, quite frankly, I personally prefer it if things go a bit more slowly, so that not only the price and the human toll would be lower, but also a longer process educates the people, especially the young ones, much better and, therefore, would ensure that the final product is a lasting democracy.

Muhammad Sahimi / January 10, 2010 6:26 AM

Does anyone know who the major lobbyists of the Islamic Republic are in the United States? Thanks for the article Mr. Sahimi, I agree with Ardalan and think that Iran and Islam have an uncomfortable marriage and should divorce as soon as possible. The shia's have committed many crimes long before the Islamic Republic existed, something we will hear a lot about during the next decades. They have effectively forced everyone to become Shia, and persecuted many Christians, Jews, Sufis and Bahais during the last 500 years.

Mobster / January 10, 2010 6:48 AM

Below is an unpublished letter to the NY times editor in response to the Op-ed.
Dear Editor:
I find the above referenced op-ed piece a poor description of events in Iran and an unfair attack on the president.
The reality in Iran is that for the first time in 30 years, people, like myself, are hopeful that this might be the beginning of the end for a brutal regime that held Iran and Iranians back for so long. This is not wishful thinking anymore, we have plenty of reasons to get our hopes up. The hopeful signs include the regime's apparent desperation in its total and forceful crackdown, the total media blackout, and the de-facto martial law. Events on the ground indicate that the regime feels severely threatened and doesn't share the op-ed writers optimism about its survivability. The government in Iran is also making it impossible for a middle ground solution to emerge as it is presenting the crisis as an all or nothing situation for the "Islamic Republic". In fact the government itself is forcing the issue of regime change by their inability to make any concessions to the demonstrators, leaving them with no choice but to chant "Death (Iranian for down) to Khamenei". Without Khamenei there is no Islamic Republic even if the name stays the same.
As more and more Iranians die on the streets at the hand of this government, the masses are growing more hatful of it and its friends. When the Russians and Chinese were the first to congratulate Mr. Ahmadnejad on his "election victory" the people reacted by chants against Russia and China. If the president of the United States were to appear to be unsympathetic to the plight of the Iranian people, the response and consequences can not be good for the future US interests in Iran. On the other hand if the president supports human rights in Iran and the government of Iran survives this crisis all that would happen is that the US would remain the enemy of Iran for one more year. Moreover, this regime has made hating the US a central theme and they are not exactly waiting for the president of the united states to give them an excuse to break this cycle of hate that lasted for 30 years.
Last but not least the writers of the op-ed failed to mention that the source of their statistics i.e. number of demonstrators, is the Iranian government's own Keyhan newspaper. Since the Iranian government has made reporting on street demonstrations illegal for all journalist, the writers should at least take the number given by the government with a grain of salt. They should also count their blessing that they won't have to be tortured or executed for opposing their president on this issue.
Be Omide Piroozi.
Jabbar Fazeli, MD
An Iranian American activist

Jabbar Fazeli, MD / January 10, 2010 6:52 AM

Although as far as I know no one has yet done the hard research on the numbers of Ashura crowds versus Regime Cake-Day crowds, I know the Ashura crowds must have been the largest since the summertime, possibly even larger than that, because for the first time ever we got reports that there were emergency announcements on state-run television urging all off-duty Basiji to report for duty to control the crowds.

Given that the governor has previously boasted of 30,000 Basiji dedicated to controlling protests in Tehran, for him to need to call in reserves, by a televised appeal no less, means those Ashura crowds were very, very, VERY large. Perhaps it's hard to get a video estimate because they were also moving very fast, due to the Basiji attacking them without provocation.

And that is just in Tehran. The Ashura crowds were out in many, many cities across Iran, but the Regime could only muster a crowd of perhaps a few hundred thousand, maybe more like 50,000, in Tehran. There were some stories of Regime rallies in a few other cities as well, but nowhere near the widespread nature of the Ashura demonstrations.

We should not have to guess about this. There are hundreds of video clips of every event, we just need some smart person with proper software to actually go count heads and figure this out for history to know the truth.

Rev. Magdalen / January 10, 2010 8:27 AM

This is an excellent piece! Thank you!

Readers may find interesting Ms. Mann-Leverett's description of her "learning curve" on Iran: http://www.raceforiran.com/explaining-the-concept-of-%E2%80%9Clearning-curve%E2%80%9D-to-jeffrey-goldberg/comment-page-1#comment-723 In the comments section, I suggested she could perhaps benefit from some additional learning to augment her warm and fuzzy past experience with Regime diplomats. Someone else had already posted this link to Mr. Sahimi's piece.

I'm going to avoid questioning the Leveretts' motives here.

What concerns me is that they appear to have access to decision-makers in some quarters and are perceived as "experts." As a US citizen, I've been baffled why it took so long for the new Administration to notice, comprehend and understand the implications of what's been happening in Iran over the past 7 months. However, if this is the kind of "expertise" the new Admin has been relying on, the 6 months' of deafening silence on the human rights abuses in Iran and inexcusable sole focus on engagement on the nuclear issue is perhaps more explicable (though no more excusable).

Shhh / January 10, 2010 8:31 AM

Basij = Sepah = Khameneyee = Ahmadinejad = Murder = rape = dictatorship = jail = beating = destruction of freedom and democracy

Kevin Shaw / January 10, 2010 9:28 AM

Dear Mr. Sahimi,
Responding to the Leverettes is noble human rights work and I thank you for engaging in it!

Reading that op/ed piece by the Leverettes made me sick to my stomach. They sounded like Marandi of Tehran U. writing an op/ed in Keyhan. Anyone who belittles the movement this deliberately is either an apologist of the regime or plain stupid.

Most of the so-called 'Iran experts' are out of touch there is a hatred for this regime and an anti-clericalism in Iran that is underestimated by those who have not lived there. It pains me to think Obama, whom I eagerly voted for, listens to them.

Under brutal repressive regimes people are careful of what they say. You cannot get a sense of pubic opinion unless you know the people intimately and that simply takes a certain knowledge of Persian and much time spent in Iran. Often I have heard the refrain the mulla thief(akhoondeh dozd) and not just in north Tehran but in rural Khorasan and impoverished outskirts of Karaj.

Also, under this kind of harsh clamp down the number of people that come out to demonstrate should be taken as representative of not just those who are brave enough to come out but also those who are afraid to. So tens of thousands coming out when they are risking life and limb is not the same as one million coming out knowing they are safe,or worse knowing they will get promoted if they do so. So statistics and quantifications should keep that in mind or they will simply be wrong.

What bothers me most is the timing and intent of the piece. why or who would want to hurt the movement? or is it that they want to deter sanctions? because of diplomacy having failed miserably the US & west are left with two ways to deal with this Iranian regime nuclear program: to sanction and support the green movement or to attempt a military option.

If you don't support the former like the Leverettes don't then are you pushing for the latter all be it in a veiled fashion? or are you these two former bush's administration defectors just in the pay of the IRI?

I sincerely pray that Obama listens to people who rather know Iran than those who make a living peddling it one way or another.

Responding to the Leverettes is noble human rights work and I thank you for engaging in it!

Setareh Sabety / January 10, 2010 10:56 AM

Dear Mr. Sahimi,
Responding to the Leverettes is noble human rights work and I thank you for engaging in it!

Reading that op/ed piece by the Leverettes made me sick to my stomach. They sounded like Marandi of Tehran U. writing an op/ed in Keyhan. Anyone who belittles the movement this deliberately is either an apologist of the regime or plain stupid.

Most of the so-called 'Iran experts' are out of touch there is a hatred for this regime and an anti-clericalism in Iran that is underestimated by those who have not lived there. It pains me to think Obama, whom I eagerly voted for, listens to them.

Under brutal repressive regimes people are careful of what they say. You cannot get a sense of pubic opinion unless you know the people intimately and that simply takes a certain knowledge of Persian and much time spent in Iran. Often I have heard the refrain the mulla thief(akhoondeh dozd) and not just in north Tehran but in rural Khorasan and impoverished outskirts of Karaj.

Also, under this kind of harsh clamp down the number of people that come out to demonstrate should be taken as representative of not just those who are brave enough to come out but also those who are afraid to. So tens of thousands coming out when they are risking life and limb is not the same as one million coming out knowing they are safe,or worse knowing they will get promoted if they do so. So statistics and quantifications should keep that in mind or they will simply be wrong.

What bothers me most is the timing and intent of the piece. why or who would want to hurt the movement? or is it that they want to deter sanctions? because of diplomacy having failed miserably the US & west are left with two ways to deal with this Iranian regime nuclear program: to sanction and support the green movement or to attempt a military option.

If you don't support the former like the Leverettes don't then are you pushing for the latter all be it in a veiled fashion? or are you these two former bush's administration defectors just in the pay of the IRI?

I sincerely pray that Obama listens to people who rather know Iran than those who make a living peddling it one way or another.

Responding to the Leverettes is noble human rights work and I thank you for engaging in it!

Setareh Sabety / January 10, 2010 11:18 AM

I've yet to read a credible reason for entirely discounting the WPO polls, both of which fairly accurately reflected the results of the 2009 election. (And no, because it was conducted by "foreigners" just isn't good enough).

As usual, a lot of wishful thinking here.

Did you see all the protesters outside the residence where Karroubi was holed up at Qazvin? Notice their age? The vast majority were between 20-25. That's right- they were young.

Now there's no doubt that there is a vocal minority that represents an anti-establishment movement in Iran. The Leverett's aren't arguing that there isn't. Rather, they're saying that the Islamic Republic is nowhere near "apocalypse now". There's a lot of cheerleaders, here at TB and elsewhere, that are simply living in fantasy land if they think the IRI will implode inside 5 years. Or probably 10, for that matter. What is possible- maybe- is a reform that allows a wider representation of the political spectrum. That's it. But it isn't going to be accomplished through rioting and the destruction of public property. All one can expect from that is what you would expect from any other country on earth- a greater application of law enforcement.

And I'm in total agreement with the Leveretts with their China analogy. (And this is coming from someone whose American uncle fought the Chinese during the early 1950's.) Putting aside the emotional rationale to the contrary, dealing with the Iran there is- rather than any imaginary one wished for today or in the future- makes sense. It made sense for China (and just look at the positive results for both China and the US), it makes sense for Iran. (Of course, it doesn't make sense for Israel.)

Personally, I though Hooman Majd did a good job of describing the current situation in Iran. And I thought one of the article's commenters, Nehzat Sabz, provided a good rebuttal of what I assume to be an opinion shared by many student activists inside Iran:


Pirouz / January 10, 2010 12:22 PM

Thank you,

I personally did a bit of blasting of the Leveretts for the Huffington Post. But I think their arguments need to be blasted some more. Biased journalism should no longer go unanswered.


Josh Shahryar / January 10, 2010 1:33 PM

Excellent article, Dr. Sahimi.

Ali from Tehran / January 10, 2010 2:00 PM

Good response. Readers should also be aware of Josh Sharyar's responses to the same disgraceful Op-Ed published both on his Daily Nite Owl blog and on Enduring America. But it is naughty of the NYTimes not only not to publish Dr Fazeli's letter, but none of these replies. Any way of pressuring them?

coningsby / January 10, 2010 4:30 PM

Reading Leveretts' first few paragraphs made my blood boil and I, too, did not bother to read the rest. Are they blind or are they simply closing their eyes nd pretending to not see? I was in Iran during Ashoora (visiting), I saw and heard Marg bar khameneie (death to Khameneie) with my own eyes and ears across all the neighborhoods of Tehran. Great response though, simply AMAZING.

Mils / January 10, 2010 8:19 PM

From the Wall Street Journal yesterday: "The Obama administration is increasingly questioning the long-term stability of Tehran's government and moving to find ways to support Iran's opposition 'Green Movement,' said senior U.S. officials. . . . In recent weeks, senior Green Movement figures -- who have been speaking at major Washington think tanks -- have made up a list of IRGC-related companies they suggest targeting, which has been forwarded to the Obama administration by third parties" (Jay Solomon, "U.S. Shifts Iran Focus to Support Opposition," 9 January 2009, at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126300060937222569.html).

What does Dr. Muhammad Sahimi think of the "senior Green movement figures" speaking at "major Washington think tanks," making up a list of Iranian companies to be targeted for sanctions, and reportedly passing it on to the Obama administration? Is that really in the interest of the Green movement? More importantly, is that good for Iran overall? Would it not be better for both the Green movement and Iran if Mr. Mir-Hossein Mousavi publicly condemned those allegedly "senior" Green movement figures for calling for economic sanctions? It is my impression that Dr. Sahimi does not support so-called "targeted sanctions," but I would like to know his opinion on these questions.

Yoshie / January 10, 2010 10:06 PM


I am opposed to sanctions. With the IRGC being present everywhere in Iran's economy, it is hard to find any sanction that hurts the IRGC but not the people.

Those who claim to be "senior Green Movement figures" are fantasizing. I am almost sure they are Sazegara and possibly Makhmalbaf. They have fantasies about being leader. The leaders are in Iran.

Through a close friend who is a friend of Mousavi's sister I have already sent a message asking Mousavi to announce whether anybody speaks on his behalf outside Iran, and if so, who that person is.

Stay tuned.

Muhammad Sahimi / January 10, 2010 10:50 PM

Dear Dr. Sahimi,

1) your statement amounting to no rational person would claim that the government is imploding equals to: senator McCain and senator Lieberman along with a whole host of other senators and congressmen and media personalities are irrational people. Be it as it may (that they are irrational), they are in decision making positions and the need to hear that the government has a significant base of power and is not about to go away anytime soon.
2) I have heard directly from a dedicated green movement organizers that the recent government demonstrations nationwide was "very impressive" in size. One can argue about the numbers, but it is less than honest to dismiss the extent of support.
3)Dismissing the extent of support for the government by dismissing the poll that the Leverret's relied upon seems strange coming from a well-informed person such as yourself. To my dismay there was ample evidence that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters had a strong and significant base of support particularly in the rural areas. I would not cast dispersion on this fact just because I did not like its implications or the poll was "old".
4) Finally, in the final analysis, if you are interested in democratization of Iran and an independent Iran, you cannot possibly align yourself with people who are running around pushing more sanctions and confrontation. This is harmful to any democratic momentum that could build in Iran. The continuing aggressive stance by the U.S. starting with policies of the Bush administration (2003 and on) and continuing with the current administration can be directly correlated with increasing repression in Iran. No rational person interested in the long term flourishing of a free society in Iran (or anywhere else for that matter), would suggest that more confrontation and sanctions is the way to go.

Best wishes,

Jay / January 10, 2010 11:09 PM

Leverretts are naiive to think they can talk and deal this regime out of nulear issue and terrorism. They do not know who they are dealing with. It would be wise to research their financial backing, as the regime certainly has invested heavily in their propaganda abroad.

My 2 cents:
Obama and int comm can help Iran by:

1. Treat IRCG and all their companies as terrorist organization, and punish all international companies that trade and deal with them. They should get the same financial treatment as AlQaida.

2. expose and freeze all assets of Khamanai, IRCG commanders and companies and coup government officials across the globe. This would hurt them in 2 ways: financially and legitimacy( e.g. Pinoche lost all his support among the right wing chilean when details of his secret bank accts and plunder were revealed after 911 $$$ investigations)

3. technology: Allow more information in and out of Iran by improving antifilter tech, better access to TV radio in Iran.

4. constantly raise the human rights issue in Iran

Ahvaz / January 11, 2010 12:31 AM

Yoshie, considering the fact that iran is already unser santions it would be good to target IRGC companies rather regular businesses...even better if they shift all their current sanctions to these companies....

Kouros / January 11, 2010 1:35 AM

The Leverets' research on Iran probably consists of 30 minutes a week corresponding with the propaganda minister Marandi. Anyone who has spent the last six months reading about Iran on the internet likely has more knowledge than they do.
I think that they should move to Tehran to further their education.

outsider / January 11, 2010 3:12 AM

Interesting contributions. It would be good if you could do an interview with the Green movements leaders so we have an idea of what they are thinking and where things might be heading. I think protests are just going to simmer on for the time being. But having read Khamanei's latest speech, it seems that he does want things to calm down and is seeking to restrain some of the more fanatical supporters in reign and is against groups loyal to IRI taking the law into their own hands. Coupled with Mossawi's statement and the positive comments by Rezaie, who in turn received support from Larijani, there are grounds to be optimistic. Change is inevitable if for no other reason than demography and education but how it comes about is always the problem and you are probably right to seek a gradual evolution rather than a revoultion. Revolutions are rare events in history and unfortunately do cause severe polarisation and a messy change. An evolutionary and gradual change through dialogue and education is usually more inclusive. However innocent blood has been spilled and where this happens the possibility of more bloodshed and spiral of violence looms ahead. I think this is a story whose ending is still unpredictable and all one can do is to believe that some good will come out of it. Thanks Dr Sahimi for all your hard work and your moderation despite personal suffering and losses.

rezvan / January 11, 2010 4:26 AM

I would like to congratulate you on this posting.Less religious voodoo and more logical reasoning.Good for you.I mean it.We all learn from each other through discussion.Freedom is great.

Jalili / January 11, 2010 5:10 AM

I have a suggestion. Which is that it be considered that each human has a spirit, and that spirit is at the base of all actions that person takes. And each person's spirit is hardwired to live in accord with certain principles: be autonomous (your own person) in all you do and say; mature in work to where you are consistently productive, skilled, creative and contributing to all your customers; mature in your social relationships to where you are repeatedly experience acting with empathy, experiencing intimacy and love, and know that each such relationship is mutually empowering; eventually realize God exists, and learn how to live in accord with God's will.

Yet each human has free will; the ability to live in accord with one's hardwired motivations, or pursue personal agendas: attempt to prove you are you own god, think and than act (instead of reality which is always act and then think), seek easy ways (early retirement, something for nothing, etc.), and attempt to accumulate as much money (possessions), power (able to control oneself and others), and fame (great reputation) as you can.

History is an account of all humans moving progressively closer to where each person has the freedom to live as all humans are hardwired or pursue personal agendas. Obviously the current government in Iran is not such an environment. So it is only a matter of time before Iran has a new government. The only question is how long.

The current green movement appears to indicate that that new government may not be that far away. Forget academic types, such as the Leverett's. Most such types can only accept what has happened the past. And if the Iranian people one day produce a viable government, one which allows each citizen to achieve their hardwired motivations (if they so choose), it will not occur as have past changes. This phenomenon is the basis for why the CIA (filled with academic types) has failed to predict every major world change in the world in the past 60 years, including when the Shah up and precipitously left Iran.

WarrenMetzler / January 11, 2010 5:11 AM

Dear Jay:

Thank you for your comment. I have already explained why I believe that the poll was unreliable. Read the piece which is linked above.

As you can see in my response to Yoshie, I am opposed to sanctions; was, am, and will always be. Sanctions only hurt ordinary people, and provide the excuse for the hardliners to only tighten their grip on power more.

I am one of the very few analysts who supports the Green Movement but also believes that the hardliners do have a social base, and cannot be dislodged from power easily. It is a fantasy to think so. That is why I have emphasized that the march toward democracy is a Marathon not a sprint.

Finally, I am skeptical about making a one-to-one correspondence between the popularity of a government and its staged demonstrations. Saddam Hussein used to get re-elected with 99% of support. Hosny Mubarak does so with very high percentage, and we all know what was or is happening there.

Muhammad Sahimi / January 11, 2010 5:11 AM

The State of the Opposition is Strong
The New Republic / Abbas Milani

Milani deconstructs the Dynamic Duo (Leverettes)


kayla / January 11, 2010 5:34 AM

@ Piroz,
How wonderful you manage to oversimplify the facts
To cow tail to your masters in Tehran. Let’s face it this regime is a zealot religious entity which belongs to the past. People in Iran deserve better than this bunch of fanatics who believe in apocalyptic( Mahdi). This belief alone is highly dangerous not only to the region, but also to the world at large. Religious belief much like many other personal belief is not a matter for the state to decide, much like sexuality and the political persuasions. The rulers in Iran and their cronies such as yourself need to understand this very essential human rights before you are allowed to govern in any society especially in the 21st century, until then, do us a favour and disappear in the dustpan of history. I have no doubts in my mind that this bunch of thugs and crooks would be ousted out of the Iran one way or the other.

Cyrus / January 11, 2010 6:04 AM

Thank you so much for your response. I am relieved to hear you say that "Those who claim to be 'senior Green Movement figures' are fantasizing. I am almost sure they are Sazegara and possibly Makhmalbaf. They have fantasies about being leader. The leaders are in Iran. Through a close friend who is a friend of Mousavi's sister I have already sent a message asking Mousavi to announce whether anybody speaks on his behalf outside Iran, and if so, who that person is." I'll eagerly await Mr. Mousavi's public statement clarifying the matter of who can and cannot speak for the Green Movement so that some people who have apparently nominated themselves as "spokespeople" of the Green Moment won't sow confusion as to what Mr. Mousavi and other leaders and participants of the movement actually stand for.

Yoshie / January 11, 2010 6:20 AM

This is to those who support more general sanctions, or specifically sanctions targeting IRGC and the ones in power.

1. It will never realistically work.
2. Many countries will not go for it, ot will do deals behind the scenes.
3. It will not solve anything.
4. It will be used as a further political excuse by those in power for their own interests.
5. It will play in the hands of those who want this step to be taken so they can insist that there is no other solution left but to take the military & war path, arguing that Iran is an imminent danger to everyone and the world. And this will hurt millions of innocent Iranians and I can assure you that Iranians in Iran would not like their country to be attacked by anyone.

I suggest those who are speaking at the comfort of their homes from outside of Iran, to be more sensitive and give more thought before prescribing and supporting acts that will only help the hardliners, both non-Iranian & Iranian, and which will be terrible for the sake of Iranians, the people, in Iran.

The sanctions road once taken & exhausted, will only be used as an excuse and pave the road for war on Iran by those hardliners of the non-Iranian kind who are pushing for it very hard, every day and every week, since many years ago & under any excuse.

Behzad / January 11, 2010 6:45 AM


You have great points and I agree with many. The economy in Iran will likely get much worse and the gov't would love nothing better than blaming all the ills caused by their plunder and incompetence on foreign sanctions. That is why I think the idea of general sanctions for e.g.act by the US Congress to sanction Iran's gasline to be stupid and dangerous, as would Iraq or Cuba style sanctions.

Having said that, I am positive towards specific sanctions - declared or undeclared - against IRCG generals and Mullah bank accts, and their covert companies/proxies.
I dont think it is unrealistic. A great example was England's freeze of $1.6 Bill assets of IR, rumored to have belonged to Mojtaba Khamanei.

Not all countries would go for it, but the Mullahs and IRCG have a great deal of business and money hidden in Western Countries like France, England, germany, Canada and Italy which I think could get on board.

I also think the greens in Iran would support and appreciate selective boycott/sanction of IRCG companies/proxies -but not general sanctions. In fact they themselves try to boycott companies owned and operated by IRCG and coup leaders (see twitter chatter from Iran). So why shouldnt we?

Identify, expose, and freeze assets of corrupt IRCG generals and Mullahs including their bank accounts and businesses. Nothing wrong with that.
In fact I believe dealing with, sheltering and proffiting from these criminals is wrong and immoral.

re military attack, I would have been more worried about attacks on Iran if Bush was in power. But with Obama in power, and US military thined out I would say the chance of that are about nill.

Ahvaz / January 11, 2010 8:59 AM

Dear Dr. Sahimi,

At the other extreme from the Leveretts', we seem to have a surge in disinformation against the regime:


Laura Rozen of Politico.com has posted an interesting caveat emptor on the Bankok Post story here:


Rozen suggests that mini-Pahlavi may be involved in what seems a Chalabi-style cultivation of faux defectors.

Your comments on the linked stories above would be appreciated.

Ali from Tehran / January 11, 2010 7:03 PM


In the real world, most countries, including France, England, Germany, Canada and Italy, which you mentioned, will accept and take the money (persoanl assets) either in the open or behind closed doors, as I would guess that most probably they already have done in the past. That's why in my opinion it's unrealistic. And most countries have corruption issues in their governments, and including the ones you mentioned.

We don't live in a perfect world.

In my opinion the Greens are divided on this issue of selected sanctions for it won't have the effect that you are looking for and how it relates to the war build-up lobby issue and tactics.

On the companies that you mentioned, the bulk of Iran's economy is in the hands of IRI & IRGC, that won't make a dent on them or their personal lives, and they won't care if people become hungrier and poorer, they will only use it for their political propaganda to their own benefit.

Take away the excuses, uplift the general existing (non-military) sanctions, that will take away the excuses more.

Behzad / January 11, 2010 7:49 PM

Ahvaz, But I do agree with your comment to identify, expose, and freeze assets of corrupt IRCG generals and Mullahs including their bank accounts.

Not that I think it will work in the real world, as I mentioned earlier, but at least it's a good gesture.

Behzad / January 11, 2010 8:51 PM

Ali from Tehran??

Laura Rozen is a hysterical loon. Her accusation are baseless grounded in paranoi. How do these people hold on their jobs being so incompetent?

real / January 11, 2010 9:55 PM


Thank you for your response.

Re: "your comments [Western Countries] will accept and take the money (persoanl assets) either in the open or behind closed doors"
--With the nuclear negotiations not going anywhere, these counties have every motivation to enforce these selective sanctions.

re IRI & IRGC, "that won't make a dent on them or their personal lives"
--I respectfully disagree. I think it can actually hit them very personally, and right where it hurts them most.

Re: "will only use it for their political propaganda to their own benefit."
--They do it anyway, and have done so for 30 years. Every one is used to it, and it doesnt really hold much water any more.

Re: "Take away the excuses, uplift the general existing (non-military) sanctions- "
--Yes, absolutely.

I argue that carefully hitting corrupt IRCG generals and Mullahs assets (BOTH businesses and bank accts) is more than just "good Gesture". It is the right thing to do. And effective.

Ahvaz / January 11, 2010 10:19 PM

Dear Ali from Tehran:

Unlike what "real" says, Laura Rozen is an excellent and credible journalist. Her work is published widely by a range of credible publications and sites. I personally know her and have chatted with her about Iran.

Laura revealed many things about the real loony and crazy, the neocon Michael Ledeen, and how the neocons were trying to use a charlatan, Amit Fakhravar Abbas who claimed to be a political prisoner in Iran (which he was not) as their front man.

I believe part of her story about the Bangkok guy. I know the inner working of the IRI and the security arrangements for Ayatollah Khamenei extremely well, but I had never heard of Madhi. Now, of course, it is possible that Madhi or the name that guy used to use could be fake, but I doubt it.

Having said that, I am skeptical about the connection between Reza Pahlavi and Madhi. True, the Los Angeles-based sattelite TVs make a big deal about this (but, then again, they make a big deal about practically anything), but that does not mean that RP had anything to do with this.

Muhammad Sahimi / January 12, 2010 3:31 AM

The reply was great. I am really impressed how the long hidden painful facts about Iranian society is put out in a very beautiful way to shed light on the eyes of the reader.
One thing though, Mousavi and Karrubi and Khatami, are more the movements representatives than leaders. They are brave enough to be the voice of the masses while nothing else exists to reflect them!
This movement is civil and the fact that there is a symbiotic relationship between it and its representatives is a plus not a weakness! these are the first things about democracy: not to lead but to be lead by the masses

Thank you

Amir M. / January 12, 2010 5:09 AM

Here is a start: apparently this is CNN's new list of bank acct details of Khamanai family, coup government and IRCG generals (In Farsi)


Each acct should be investigated, and if accurate exposed and frozen.

Ahvaz / January 12, 2010 9:19 AM

I don't buy the IRGC defector story for a moment. By his age and alleged importance, he would have to be at least a Sartip. But who has heard of him?

And wouldn't such a prize defector be debriefed and properly handled in DC, rather than talking trash to the the Bangkok Post- of all media outlets. BTW: Why were the RP references subsequently withdrawn from that BP online piece?

Pirouz / January 12, 2010 11:49 AM

NIAC and US Policy toward Iran
Written by Dr. Arash Irandoost


Iran_US_RelationsThe White House is in the process of fine tuning its Iranian Policy. On the sidelines, various groups are positioning to shape the plan. Front and center is NIAC, the National Iranian American Council, an organization that presents itself as the Iranian-American voice for Iran. On the surface, NIAC's statements sound very noble. However, if examined closely, NIAC is actually at odds with the majority of the Iranian-American community.

NIAC's recently published internal documents, which it had to furnish Mr. Hassan Dai, an Iranian expat, who was sued by NIAC for his claim that it is a lobbyist for the Islamic Republic, paints a very disturbing and troublesome picture of the organization. The following information supports these extensive claims:

Representation: NIAC does not represent a large constituency of Iranian-Americans. NIAC internal memos clearly show NIAC overstated the true number of its Iranian American members, altered in-house survey results, and mislead Congressional members. With estimates of one million plus, Iranian-Americans in the U.S., NIAC's membership, as stated at the time of the documentation, is under five hundred members, a very insignificant number.
IRI as America's Friend: NIAC sees no fundamental clash of interests between Iran and US. According to Trita Parsi, there is no justification for US hostility toward Iran. Trita believes that the Iranian regime has always been ready to reach an agreement with the US. The main reason behind US hostilities and refusal to engage Iran, Trita Parsi says, is Israel. The problem with Parsi's assertion is that it contradicts the reality. For thirty years, the IRI has demonstrated a consistent characteristic, a passionate hatred of America. The most popular rallying cry of the Islamic Republic is "Death to America," through its well financed and highly orchestrated street rallies. America is the "Great Satan" and nurtured enemy of Islamic Republic. It is "the kiss of death" for any Islamic Republic official to show any sign of befriending America. Likewise, seeking mullah's friendship by the US is naive and foolhardy and worthless.
Dialogue and Diplomacy: Despite NIAC's assertion that dialogue and diplomacy is the best approach, thirty years of dialogue by various US administrations has shown that the regime is interested in dialogue only to buy itself enough time in order to develop its weapon's program. IRI uses its proxies within the United States to convince various American officials that the regime is desirous of a dialogue. The radical and irrational nature of the regime, intent on its expansionist ideology, makes any honest and meaningful dialogue with the regime an utter waste of time.
Use of Sanctions: NIAC has maintained that sanctions are counterproductive and ineffective and will inflict pain and suffering on the ordinary Iranians. Effectiveness of sanctions as a tool can be argued both ways. To those that see Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and an International threat to world peace, targeted sanctions are a potent tool. On the other hand, for groups such as NIAC, sanctions are to be avoided at all cost to ensure the regime's survival. NIAC's campaign against sanctions is not to protect the ordinary Iranians, as it claims, but is an orchestrated effort by Oil Corporations seeking economic ties between Iran and America. Smart sanctions will hit hardest at the regime, and affect ordinary Iranians only incidentally. Targeted sanctions will deepen the divide between the public and the military-religious dictatorship.
NIAC as IRI Lobby: There is extensive evidence that NIAC engages with Islamic Republic's top level officials, facilitating meetings between IRI and various US politicians, despite limits imposed on it as a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt organization. The governmental press in Tehran has called Parsi and his organization NIAC as the "Iranian lobby in Washington". Indictments of Bob Ney and Hassan Nemazie with close ties to NIAC clearly paint a disturbing picture of the organization. Recently, Senator Jon Kyl requested a full investigation of NIAC's questionable activities, which if successful it might shed more light on NIAC's real intentions.
Islamic Republic is Rational and Pragmatic: When Ahmadinejad shoots off test missiles while engaged in uranium enrichment, or makes appalling statements about wiping Israel "off the map," one wonders how pragmatic and rational Islamic Republic really is?
NIAC as Human Rights Advocate: Despite extreme brutality and crack down and stories of rape, torture and killing, NIAC issued a statement on June 16, 2009 asserting that United States "should not interfere" as its involvement would be counterproductive." Parsi also took issue with a strong statement of support for the young Iranian freedom fighters expressed by Senator Joseph Lieberman when he urged the Obama administration to "speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran and unambiguously express its solidarity with the brave Iranians. Trita Parsi, unashamedly, has referred to Iran's blatant human rights violation as "less than flattering human rights record," and anticipated "a trend towards the improvement of human rights situation" in Iran. The reality is, human rights violations have gotten progressively worse. Iran is second to China on human rights violations and NIAC has never taken a real strong position in defense of human rights in Iran, except for occasional "feel good" and apologetic statements.

Iran has one of the youngest demographics in the world. Over 70% of the population is under the age of 35. On June 12th, they went to the streets, chanting "Where is my vote?" Demonstrations are getting more organized and are spreading to other parts of Iran to form a truly popular movement.

Today, the protesters no longer are seeking democratic elections; they are demanding regime change. There are cracks appearing almost daily within the regime. About 27 Iranian diplomats have already defected. Many ayatollahs have declared the regime neither republic, nor Islamic. Any US policy towards Iran needs to seek input from a larger more diverse group of Iranians representing current thinking on Iran in order to develop a more robust, effective and sustainable foreign policy towards Iran.

Trita Parsi left Iran when he was four years old. He is not even an Iranian-American which disqualifies him to speak for Iranian Americans. His experience on Iran is rather limited to personalities who are either regime supporters, seek economic ties with Iran, or are Islamic Republic high level officials. Limiting the discussion and input only to NIAC, and monopolization of the discussion by NIAC, and its proxies will have devastating results.

Mullahs are intent on developing nuclear weapons. With a nuclear Iran as a major power in the volatile Middle East and with oil price at 70 to 80 dollars a barrel, the Islamic Republic will expand its presence around the world. In collaboration with allies such as Russia, China and Venezuela, Islamic Republic will flaunt its military power in the Persian Gulf to demonstrate its regional dominance and superiority in the Middle East, challenging Israel into a direct and inevitable confrontation. If mullahs are allowed to realize their nuclear aspirations, its pernicious and disastrous impact will be felt far beyond the Middle East.

By supporting Iranian opposition groups, the world community not only can avert a regional and potentially global catastrophe, it will help establish a democratic system of government in the region. If Iranians are successful in shaking off the yoke of theocracy, their success could herald the failure of a political and militant Islam. Helping Iran become a democracy not only is a moral imperative, but should be considered an essential foreign policy priority. On December 7, Iranians demonstrators shouted loudly "Obama are you with us or with them?" It is time for the United States to place itself on the right side of history. President Obama has no logical alternative but to stand with the people of Iran or shoulder the responsibility for dangerous consequences of propping up a dictatorship bent on expansion of a religious and fanatical ideology.

M Kamali / January 16, 2010 10:17 PM

WHY WOULD "much of Iranian society was upset by the protesters using a sacred day to make a political statement." WHEN THE GOVERNMENT DOES THE SAME F'ING THING FOR EVERY HOLIDAY????


SAMADAGHA / January 17, 2010 10:42 AM

What a sublime character, this Arash Irandoost.

He has gone, Achaemenid crown in hand, to Zion, with this supplication:

"Dear Israeli Brothers and Sisters, Iran needs your help more than ever now, and we will be eternally grateful."


His petition to Israel for sisterly help tells me all I need to know about his attack on NIAC.

Ali from Tehran / January 17, 2010 1:59 PM

Response to Leveretts':


golbarg / January 18, 2010 10:41 AM