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Ahmadinejad-Khamenei Rift Deepens

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

11 Sep 2010 23:4229 Comments
460DD519-8F77-43B8-B6E0-A3717B832C0C_mw800_mh600.jpgSigns of irreconcilable conflict continue to multiply.

[ analysis ] In an article last year, I described the leaders of Iran's election coup of June 2009, their backgrounds, and their goals. As discussed there, the coup leaders were some of the top commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and their aim is the expulsion of the clerics from the political power structure. In an article this past June, I described the rift between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters and Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Subsequent developments have confirmed the accuracy of my analysis and indicate a deepening rift between the two leaders.

Although Khamenei firmly supported the election fraud and recognized Ahmadinejad as the elected president even before the Guardian Council certified the returns, friction between the two men began to emerge almost immediately afterward. Khamenei overruled Ahmadinejad's appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his first vice president (there are eight) in August 2009. The reason, never publicized, for Khamenei's decision was that in the 1980s, when Mashaei was an interrogator of political prisoners, he married a "repentant" former member of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization. In that era, Mashaei, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son, was known as Morteza Moheb Oldlia.

A source in Tehran reports that Khamenei's order for the firing of Mashaei was delivered to Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on the day he was appointed, but Ezzatollah Zarghami, IRIB director and a former Revolutionary Guard officer, refused to allow its announcement. Ahmadinejad waited one week to acknowledge the order and then sent the ayatollah a terse, very formal letter, devoid of the customary praises that his past letters to Khamenei had contained. He also referred to the Constitution as his basis for acceding to the directive, rather than the supremacy of Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist, as represented by the Supreme Leader), the hardliners' standard way of accepting such orders. In a further demonstration of defiance, Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei as his chief of staff and special advisor. Since then, he has named Mashaei to 18 additional positions.

Shortly thereafter, the president fired Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, the hardline minister of intelligence. According to the Tehran source, Ejei was reporting to Khamenei without Ahmadinejad's permission. Ejei informed the ayatollah that the Intelligence Ministry had concluded that the Guard high command's accusations that the postelection demonstrations were linked to foreign powers and represented a "velvet revolution" were baseless. The ministry had determined that the demonstrations had neither been planned in advance nor could have been predicted. Ejei also told the ayatollah that both Mashaei and the cleric Hossein Taeb, then commander of the Basij militia, represented security risks -- Mashaei due to his marriage, and Taeb because he had played a leading role in the crimes committed against those arrested in the protests during their incarceration.

After prominent conservative Abdolhossein Rouh ol-Amini, a former Basij member whose son was murdered in Kahrizak, told Khamenei about the many crimes that took place at the detention center, the ayatollah ordered its immediate closure. Ejei had also complained to Khamenei that the Intelligence Ministry had lost control over the arrestees and that a Guard unit had taken control of the affair. In fact, as first reported by Tehran Bureau, Khamenei's original order was initially ignored by the Guards. Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and a close ally of Ahmadinejad's, later confirmed the Bureau story. It is now widely believed that the Ministry of Intelligence is controlled by the Guards' intelligence unit. Minister of Intelligence Haydar Moslehi is another close ally of Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad has recognized that the ayatollah needs him more than he needs the ayatollah. When he sided with Ahmadinejad, the Supreme Leader lost any residual credibility that he had with a very large segment of the population. Contrary to what some claim, reliable sources in Tehran say that the ayatollah is keenly aware of the loss of his prestige and recognizes that his popular support has grown very narrow. Ahmadinejad recognizes his own lack of significant support, as well. So he has been active on two fronts: defying the ayatollah both covertly and openly, and trying to generate more support for himself.

Thus, after defying the ayatollah by giving Mashaei a portfolio of multiple prominent positions and firing Ejei, Ahmadinejad appointed Saeed Mortazavi, the hardline former Tehran prosecutor who was sacked after the Kahrizak fiasco, to another important post. To firm up his support among the Revolutionary Guards, he handed Guard-linked companies contracts totaling $21 billion. Two large oil and gas contracts were awarded to two companies formed literally on the day they signed the agreements. The legally required newspaper advertisements announcing their formation were published after the signings.

Recognizing that normalization of relations with the United States is very popular in Iran, Ahmadinejad began asserting repeatedly that he is ready to meet and negotiate with President Barack Obama, even though the ayatollah has stated repeatedly that Iran will not negotiate with the United States and will not reestablish diplomatic relations. In addition, through his trusted ally, Saeed Jalili, Ahmadinejad reached an agreement with the Vienna group for the swap of part of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium for fuel for the medical Tehran Research Reactor. When the draft of the October 1, 2009, agreement was taken to Tehran, it was severely criticized by the ayatollah's supporters. Ahmadinejad eventually prevailed and -- after major concessions from the Iranian side -- the agreement was sealed with Turkey and Brazil.

The behind-the-scenes confrontation continued after the nuclear deal. In a previous article, I described the June 4 ceremony at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to commemorate the 21st anniversary of his death. The aftermath of the event demonstrated the friction between the two camps. In a completely unprecedented web article, an anonymous hardliner rebuked Khamenei by name and referred to Khomeini only as the "former leader of the Revolution." The piece accused Khamenei of preventing the uprooting of nepotism among the clerics and mocked the Bayt-e Emam (the Khomeini family). Anyone who can post such a scathing piece with impunity must have ties with the highest levels of the military-security establishment.

Khamenei responded to the rebellious president through two of his most trusted allies, two of the Larijani brothers. When the terms of some of the non-clerical members of the Guardian Council expired, Sadegh Larijani, the judiciary chief, did not re-nominate Gholam-Hossein Elham, a close ally of Ahmadinejad, and prevented him from continuing to serve on the powerful council.

Khamenei responded to the rebellious president through one of his most trusted allies, Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, who complained that the administration has not implemented 130 laws approved by the parliament. Larijani added that appointing foroumaayegaan (uneducated lowlifes) to important positions did nothing to solve the country's problems.

In a nationally broadcast TV program, Ahmadinejad countered, "I do not implement any law that is against the religion." He then wrote a letter to the cleric-controlled Guardian Council that made the same declaration. The council quickly responded that the task of deciding whether a piece of legislation is anti-Islam is theirs, not his, and that his only responsibility is to implement the law. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the council's hardline secretary-general, said in an exasperated tone during his sermon at Tehran Friday Prayers, "How long should we be patient and not criticize the government, in the name of the expediency of the nezaam [political establishment]?" Others in the Majles staged relentless attacks on Ahmadinejad. During this entire time, the ayatollah was completely silent.

Another row then began over Islamic Azad University (IAU), founded by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in 1982, after the "Cultural Revolution" had closed all of Iran's universities.

IAU has always been viewed by the hardliners as a base of financial power for the Rafsanjani family. Its assets are estimated to be about $250 billion, making it likely the richest educational institution in the world. Ever since he came to power in 2005, one of Ahmadinejad's primary objectives has been to take over IAU. He recently tried again to wrest control of the school from the Rafsanjani group: The Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution (SCCR), which he heads, issued an order demanding that IAU sack its president, Rafsanjani ally Dr. Abdollah Jasbi, and appoint a replacement acceptable to the SCCR.

In response, the school's board of trustees voted to vaghf (endow for religious purposes) all of the university's assets, angering Ahmadinejad and his supporters because they cannot control any such religiously endowed entity. The Majles approved the endowment and a Tehran court also ruled in its favor. At the same time, because IAU is a completely private university that has never received government funding, it is not beholden to SCCR resolutions or orders, or even to the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology, which has jurisdiction over most institutions of higher education.

The endowment move set off another round of attacks and counterattacks. Hardline Basij students staged a demonstration in front of the parliament building, insulting Larijani, demanding his impeachment, referring to IAU as the "mafia," calling for Jasbi's removal, insisting that the Majles take back its approval of the endowment, and threatening to shell it. (This was a reference to the Constitutional Revolution, when the Persian Cossack Brigade led by Colonel Vladimir Liakhov, part of the counterrevolutionary forces, shelled the Majles on June 24, 1908.) There were fierce verbal arguments, and some physical altercations, between parliamentary supporters of each side. Larijani declared the demonstrations an insult to the "Majles of Khomeini and Khamenei."

Just when Ahmadinejad seemed to be on the verge of victory, Rafsanjani stepped forward. He told Khamenei that if the ayatollah did not intervene, he and his allies would proceed as they thought best. He then convened a meeting of the IAU board of trustees. While he invited Mir Hossein Mousavi, a board member, to attend, he prevented Ahmadinejad's representative from doing so. The ayatollah received the message loud and clear, and ordered an end to the confrontation. This time Ahmadinejad was forced to back down.

But the attacks and counterattacks between Ahmadinejad and the ayatollah have continued. Kayhan, the daily mouthpiece of the hardliners, which is under Khamenei's control, criticized the president for proposing to negotiate with the United States and for reaching the nuclear agreement with Turkey and Brazil. Larijani declared that "some were fooled by the Westerners during the nuclear negotiations." Ahmadinejad countered in a TV interview, saying that his critics were uninformed.

The president and his right-hand man, Mashaei, clearly recognize that a large majority of the Iranian people are tired of the brand of Islam enforced by the clerics. They also know that nostalgic feelings for pre-Islamic Iran have been used by some in the opposition, particularly in Europe and the United States, to provoke antigovernment activities. They are consequently trying to distance themselves from the clerics in this and other matters. Some time ago, Mashaei said that Iran has no quarrel with the people of Israel, prompting widespread outcry. Ahmadinejad wanted to have three female ministers in his cabinet and said that he did mind women going to sports arena and stadiums, inciting further outrage.

Then, at an August conference called the "Gathering of the Elite Iranians of the Diaspora" organized in Tehran by Ahmadinejad and Mashaei, the latter spoke of presenting to the world not the Islamic school of thought, but the "Iranian school of thought." A storm of protest broke out. Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, chief of staff of the armed forces, even threatened to take Mashaei to court. Mashaei similarly threatened the general. Kayhan also attacked Mashaei for his "crime." Even Ahmadinejad's spiritual advisor, the ultrareactionary Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, criticized Mashaei. Mansoor Arzi, a notable supporter of Velaayat-e Faghih among the conservatives, likened Mashaei to "manure" and quoted Khamenei as saying that the office of the president, which Mashaei heads, is trying to disrupt the proper functioning of the political system's three branches. In a recent sermon before public prayers during the fasting month of Ramadan, Arzi asked people to sign a long petition harshly criticizing the government and accusing it of wasting the nation's resources. But Ahmadinejad has not backed down.

Perhaps it is due to his fear of Ahmadinejad and his supporters that Khamenei began talking about the "unity of the nation" and the necessity of bringing back at least some of the Reformists and democratic groups into the circle of power. Kazem Sedighi, a midranking cleric and leader of Tehran Friday Prayers, talked about the necessity of unity in a recent sermon. Mohammad Khosh Chehreh, a Principlist Majles deputy, has also supported the Ayatollah's proposal. (Iranian religious hardliners refer to themselves as Principlists to avoid the negative connotations of the word fundamentalist.)

Several other important Principlist figures have expressed support for unity, including Hassan Ghafouri Fard, a former minister in the Rafsanjani administration and a professor at Tehran's Amir Kabir University; Emad Afrough, a relative moderate and former Majles deputy; and Abolghasem Raoo'fian, a leading member of the United Front of the Follower of Imam and the Leader, a coalition of right-wing groups. Mohammad Nabi Habibi, secretary-general of the Islamic Coalition Party, an influential right-wing group with close ties to the ayatollah, has repeatedly spoken of the necessity of reaching accommodation with the Reformists.

In reaction, Minister of Intelligence Moslehi made the absurd claim that the United States had spent $17 billion in order to topple the Islamic Republic and that the Reformists and democratic groups had acted as American agents. Ahmadinejad's unhappiness with Khamenei's call for unity was one of the primary motivations for last week's attacks on the home of Mehdi Karroubi by Ahmadinejad supporters.

Two recent developments represent the most telling evidence of the deepening rift between the two men. One emerged when Ahmadinejad and his cabinet met with Khamenei last week. Ahmadinejad presented a list of his government's "achievements," but the ayatollah rebuked him, directly or indirectly, over each item, which is without precedent. The ayatollah had previously gone out of his way to exaggerate Ahmadinejad's "successes," but not this time.

When Ahmadinejad claimed that his government had spread "economic fairness," the ayatollah responded, "In order to assess whether fairness has been achieved, certain criteria must be set to see whether it has really happened in the various aspects of the society -- economical, social, cultural, and educational."

After Ahmadinejad stated that his government is "rapidly" achieving the goals set out in the Expediency Council's 20-Year Vision Plan, the ayatollah retorted, "The government must appoint some people to study whether the pace of progress has been good" during the period Ahmadinejad has been in office.

Ahmadinejad then told the ayatollah that the main focus of his government is "culture." Khamenei pointedly responded, "Showmanship in cultural affairs is not only not useful, but also damaging," a reference to Ahmadinejad's constant boasting of his accomplishments.

The second development concerns Ahmadinejad's recent attempt to take full control of Iran's diplomatic efforts. In the meeting of his cabinet with Khamenei, the president noted that he has made 81 trips to foreign nations and 70 foreign delegations have visited Iran during his tenure. He claimed that these figures indicated his government's activism and success in the international arena. The ayatollah responded, almost angrily, "More important than the trips is the spirit and content of the diplomacy," an oblique reference to Ahmadinejad's aggressive foreign policy and belligerent rhetoric.

Khamenei then emphasized that diplomacy must be led by the Foreign Ministry, that "parallel diplomacy is not acceptable," and that "weakening of the country's diplomacy, particularly under the current conditions, especially by members of the cabinet, is the same as sitting on a tree's branch while sawing it to cut if off." The ayatollah was clearly expressing his displeasure over Ahmadinejad's appointment of four special representatives for foreign affairs: Mashaei for the Middle East, Abolfazl Zohrehvand for Afghanistan, Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh for the Caucasus region, and Hamid Baghaei for Asia. As I reported last year, at the beginning of his second term, Ahmadinejad tried to replace Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki with his close ally Jalili, but was blocked by the ayatollah. The appointment of the advisors further confirms Ahmadinejad's dissatisfaction with Mottaki.

As Javad Mansoori, a conservative diplomat and former ambassador to China, pointed out, Ahmadinejad is evidently trying to control all foreign affairs through his own office, bypassing both the Majles and Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad's appointments have deeply angered the conservatives around the ayatollah. When Baghaei declared that the newly appointed representatives would work outside the Foreign Ministry and report directly to the president, and that two others would be appointed for Africa and South America, Mottaki accused him of naiveté.

The Research Center of the Majles had also declared the appointment of the special representatives unconstitutional. One hundred and twenty-two Majles deputies wrote a letter to Ahmadinejad, telling him that the only remedy is to fire the representatives. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the parliament's Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, declared that parallel diplomacy by Ahmadinejad's representatives was hindering the nation's diplomatic work. Boroujerdi, who is close to the ayatollah, said that foreign policy and diplomacy are under the exclusive control of the Foreign Ministry. Ali Larijani's brother-in-law Ali Motahhari, an influential Principlist Majles deputy, sternly criticized Ahmadinejad for his intervention in the work of the ministry.

The harshest criticisms were made by the website Alef, which is run by Ahmad Tavakkoli, chairman of the Majles Research Center. A cousin of the Larijani brothers, Tavakkoli accused Ahmadinejad of not heeding Khamenei's call to avoid parallel diplomacy, demonstrating that he does not believe in Velaayat-e Faghih.

Ahmadinejad has confronted the Majles head on. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, his close aide and advisor for public affairs, declared that if the parliamentary attacks continue, the president will not honor the oath of office that he took there at the beginning of his second term.

Ahmadinejad himself then abruptly declared that his administration wants to take back the legislation that he had submitted to the Majles for the implementation of Iran's current five-year development plan. That began another round of fierce arguments, with some supporters of the ayatollah accusing the president of trying to neutralize the Majles. Ismail Kowsari, a Principlist deputy, said that the administration cannot simply retract the legislation. Another Principlist deputy, Ali Aghar Yousefpour, told Mehr News Agency that the Majles and the administration have deep differences. Fourteen Majles deputies submitted a request to Larijani to summon the minister of economic affairs to the Majles to explain certain of Ahmadinejad's actions right before last year's rigged election.

The conservative political groups that are closely allied with the ayatollah have also recognized the deepening rift between him and Ahmadinejad. They realize that if Khamenei loses the power struggle, they too will be in danger. Early this summer, Ahmadinejad rejected the notion of political parties and factions, and claimed that there is only one political group -- his. He was essentially saying that only those loyal to him are true Principlists. This deeply upset the right-wing groups around the ayatollah.

Majles deputy Asadollah Badamchian, an ICP member who has been implicated in several high-profile crimes, accused Ahmadinejad of not believing in Velaayat-e Faghih and the maraaje' (religious sources of emulation, meaning the grand ayatollahs). Echoing Badamchian, Habibollah Asgar Oladi, the ICP's former secretary-general and a very influential conservative, said, "I am afraid that Velaayat-e Faghih is becoming weaker within the government." He added, "It is not just some of the Reformists that are extremists; there are also some among the Principlists," an indirect reference to Ahmadinejad's supporters.

Last month, Asgar Oladi and the ICP's Habibi met with Ahmadinejad. They told him bluntly that he was the biggest reason for the rise of the Green Movement. They also said that he was effectively the first to chant "Marg bar Velaayat-e Faghih" (death to clerical supremacy), when -- in his televised debate with Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 campaign -- he equated the fate of the 1979 Revolution with his own, putting himself above all others, including the Supreme Leader.

An Ahmadinejad aide subsequently declared that his supporters are developing a "manifesto" for the Principlists, in effect deciding who is entitled to the label. Influential ICP member Maryam Behrouzi responded that it is not the administration's right to decide who is or is not a Principlist. She reminded Ahmadinejad, "It was the Principlists that brought the government to power." Secretary-General Mohsen Yahyavi of the Islamic Society of Engineers, who is closely affiliated with the ICP, also rejected the notion that Ahmadinejad can determine who really is a Principlist. Motahhari likewise decried the manifesto scheme and declared that the goal is to eliminate Larijani, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, an Ahmadinejad rival and former Guard commander, and Mohsen Rezaei, secretary-general of the Expediency Council and former top commander of the Guard. Various sources report that many grand ayatollahs have said that meeting with Ahmadinejad and members of his cabinet is haraam (deeply sinful).

There are other signs that Ahmadinejad wants to do away with Khamenei and the clerics. He and his team have repeatedly visited and talked about Jamkaran, the site near Qom where people can supposedly make contact with Mahdi, the Shiites' 12th Imam who is supposed to return from hiding one day. Many people interpret this as an example of Ahmadinejad's demagogic exploitation of superstitions. I believe it his subtle way of saying, "If we can directly contact with Imam Mahdi, we do not need the clerics to do that for us."

Two events that took place this month confirm the deepening of the rift. On September 3, Quds Day, Ahmadinejad spoke to the crowd in attendance at the University of Tehran for Friday Prayers. He departed immediately after finishing the speech, before Ahmad Khatami, leader of the prayers and a close associate of Khamenei's, began his sermon.

The tension between the two camps is also evident in how the case of the three American hikers jailed since last year has been handled. To please the Obama administration, Ahmadinejad has been trying for some time to arrange their release, but the judiciary has resisted. It had been announced that one of the hikers, Sarah Shourd, would be released on Saturday. But then the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted the administration's deputy chief of communication saying it would not happen. Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi blocked the release on the grounds that "judicial procedures have not been done." Note that the judiciary is headed by Sadegh Larijani, brother of the Majles speaker.

The Revolutionary Guards' top commanders have remained silent throughout the entire conflict between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Perhaps they are waiting to see who will get the upper hand.

As I have emphasized in the past, I believe that the power struggle will benefit the Green Movement. The struggle and the gaping fissures that have emerged among the conservatives led by Khamenei, on the one hand, and Ahmadinejad and (presumably) the Guard hardliners, on the other, will bring their eventual downfall. This prospect is magnified by the administration's utter incompetence and corruption. The price of everything is soaring. Electricity bills for many in Tehran and elsewhere have risen fivefold. Lamb is more expensive in Iran than in the West, even after currency conversion.

The Green Movement has to stay calm and patient, and spread its wings. Its time will come sooner rather than later.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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Pretty much business as usual in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

So much for claims that the country is a monolithic, totalitarian state.

Pirouz / September 12, 2010 4:34 AM

-Dr. Sahimi

I always enjoy your articles. I have one question though: wouldn't either faction--Ahmadinejad or Khamnei--be dangerous to the Green movement in Iran? Wouldn't either of them use a victory as an excuse for a greater crackdown? In other words, who should the Greens root for? I feel either faction would be eager to surpress any other opposition, especially one espousing democratic rights.

DTW / September 12, 2010 5:32 AM

Very informative piece Mr. Sahimi, thanks for taking the time. Your writing would be a bit better if you didn't praise yourself from time to time. Just sayin'

Maziar / September 12, 2010 6:00 AM

Nice article. It would be nice if you could make your articles a little shorter in length at this site and try to publish complete articles either in a book or other sites.
Your knowledge and access to information sources are clearly visible in your articles.
Please keep up the good work.
Green victory is around the corner “V”.

Nematkhoda / September 12, 2010 7:44 AM

another masterpiece.
your analysis of current events and your thoroughness is so appreciated.

Ahvaz / September 12, 2010 11:59 AM

Wonderful news!

Let them tear each other apart.

The Green Movement, or whatever you want to call it.....the Silenced Majority?..... needs to look ahead to what they need to have in place when this regime starts to crumble because if they don't have an organizational structure in place, ready to govern, the Revolutionary Guard will fill the power vacuum.

This regime can only be saved if the Israeli's attack Iran.

Mohammad Alireza / September 12, 2010 7:57 PM


I guess the price for reading my articles is that once in a while you would also read some self-praise!!

More seriously, if you are referring to me saying "the analysis was correct," I was attacked, criticized, and even ridiculed for those articles. I received personal e-mails in which some of the nastiest words had been used. More importantly, it was meant to indicate that the trends continued in that direction.

There is one error in the article. In one place I said, "I reported," whereas I should have said "as Tehran Bureau reported" - the standard way stating such things - just like the other place where I used that phrase [even though in both places I reported it].

Muhammad Sahimi / September 12, 2010 8:20 PM

Nice piece, Mr. Sahimi. A few questions:

1) What guarantees are there that this infighting will weaken both camps? What if the IRGC wins the battle and takes full control of the government (in the form of a coup, for example)?

2) It is known that Mesbah Yazdi is a spiritual adviser to Ahmadinejad. So does this mean that he is also trying to get rid of the clerical rule as well,fighting in parallel with Ahmadinejad against them? ANd if so, then why would he criticize Mashaei after his "nationalist" remarks?

3) If Major General Hassan Firoozabadi is part of the IRGC, and therefore an ally of the President, why would he criticize him and Mashaei just like Mesbah Yazdi did?

Thanks. Keep the articles coming.

Sepand / September 12, 2010 8:48 PM

As the saying goes "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake". But at the same time, the so called "leaders" of the freedom movement ought to take a more PRO-ACTIVE stance and go beyond issuing statements (that are rapidly losing their impact on the society).


Davood / September 12, 2010 8:59 PM

their power struggle over the American woman is laughable. Who is the captain of this ship anyway, does any one know?

Ahvaz / September 13, 2010 12:06 AM

I can see at least one regime lackey has made his way here so far. Hello Pirouz:)

The fight between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad is a duel between two hardline factions over control of the dictatorship, not as Pirouz comically tried to spin, an indication of some sort of vibrant political atmosphere. Nice try though.:)

babak / September 13, 2010 2:04 AM

Dr. Sahimi,

As of last February 16, 2010,

Secretary Clinton had announced, "We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship."

Follow up, August 12, 2010,

According to his National Security Adviser Jim Jones, President Barack Obama may actually be willing to meet with Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "if the regime resumed negotiations over its nuclear programme."

Now this next point is extremely interesting,

"The retired general also indicated that the return of three American hikers held in Iran for the past year would be an 'important gesture.'"

It is obvious the release of Sarah Shourd makes sense prior to Ahmadinejad's departure for the United States.
It is quite clear Ahmadinejad is trying to position himself. Who is going to guarantee that he will not have a meeting with Obama representitives behind closed doors?

What are we doing? What mechanisms do we have on ground to ensure our success? A foreign policy combined with hope?

Niloofar / September 13, 2010 2:43 AM

Khamenei signaled permission for state funeral of Montazeri in 2009. And the Green Movement renewed their attacks after the funeral until Jannati warned of execution for any further Green movement activity. That warning shut down the Green Movement for good in early 2010.

The way Khamenei dealt with Montazeri tells you that everything is possible in Iran. If he can honor somebody like Montazeri, he definitely can reconcile with Mir Hossein Moussavi.

Shah Amir Massoud / September 13, 2010 2:54 AM

Another possibility is that Ahmadi, IRGC, et al are positioning themselves for after-khamenei era when there is no clear replacement. In that scenario, Khamenei will be like Brezhnev and will be followed by a bunch of ceremonial near-death leaders who will pass the torch of leadership to each other in rapid successions, with real power being in the hands of IRGC and its spin-offs.

Rational / September 13, 2010 3:31 AM

Thank you Dr Sahimi for yet another great informative article

it would be really interesting to see the American woman on the same plane with Ahmadinejad flying towards NY

Alal / September 13, 2010 9:24 AM


for the first time i have to agree with you too

Alal / September 13, 2010 9:32 AM

Dear Mister Sahimi,

Thank you for your article. I have two questions that I am really eager to hear an answer on from you.

1. You say the time of the Green movement will come sooner than later. Well, how can you be so sure that suggested conflict is going to cut so deep, and soon? Many people tend to think that it is going to be a long drawn out process. What is soon?

2. Don't you think there is a possibility of regime survival, when the Green leaders such as Karroubi and Mousavi strike a deal with more moderate principalists such as Larijani's, Ghalibaf, Rezai? If they would agree on having a next president from this camp, the regime theoretically can survive in terms of its political crises.

Ehsan / September 13, 2010 1:37 PM

Thank you for a great analysis as always. One recent development that was not mentioned is your article was the creation of a new political party by Mashaie. The new party is called " Edalat va Refah", The very two things that are in very short supply in Iran. I believe Ahmadinejad and company are trying to mimick the recent political development in Turkey.They want political islam without the mullah overlords. Mashaie's mission is to appeal to iranian nationalism and get set to launch his own presidential campaign with the full backing of Ahmadinejad of course. reza/ Chicago

reza / September 13, 2010 7:30 PM


RE " No clear replacement" and fight for succession..

true, I agree that is a big part of the infighting. But I am not sure who, if any one is going to come out the winner after Khamanai.

Rafsanjani still has a lot of pull (important allies, funds, and key positions), and he is fighting tooth and nail.

Then there is AHmadinejad and his IRCG backers (that you pointed out).

there are the other hardliners e.g. Ahmad Khatami, Jannati, Larijani et al, etc that are currently fighting Ahmadinejad and his allies.

also I dont know how uniform IRCG is, and how united they are with their backing of Ahmadinejad.
There may be deep divisions in IRCG as well, or may form in the future. We dont know.

What is for certain is that the infighting will escelate once Khamanai is dead.

The chaos and infighting over the release of the American woman is really fun to watch. They dont seem to be able to make a relatively simple decision because of their infighting. It looks like total chaos. it is the sign of many things to come.

Ahvaz / September 13, 2010 7:50 PM

Hmmmm... the suggestion that the Green movement will benefit from the Khamenei/Rafsanjani repositioning and all these little spats (or raging shooutouts, depending on what sources one reads) between various elite groups is highly dubious. The facts are that the Green movement remains rudderless, whilst the top regime players are being forced to take positions that lead them further away from the Green movement; so the calculus remains the same, that nothing short of a large-scale uprising or a fair election (in 2013) can bring any change. To suggest otherwise seems more like an effort to shore up what little Green support there is for Rafsanjani – a deliberate manouevre, no doubt, on the part of this "politician's politician"; but to continue the maritime metaphors, "any port in a storm".

Ian / September 13, 2010 8:01 PM

I think the best way to avoid a "one" person supreme leadership and an infight over it, is that the "reformists/greens" should push for a "Supreme Council", "Shoraye aali Rahbari" which is made out of 5 or 7 grand Ay's; after revising the constitution the whole thing should be scraped (obviously it wouldn't be necessary in a secular constitution, but argument is to carve way to get there)

Alal / September 14, 2010 7:38 AM

I don't think Khamenei is about to die any time soon. He's only 71 and for a mullah that's pretty young. A lifetime of not working seems to increase your lifespan I guess. Khomeini died at 88. I think Khamenei probably has a good 10, 20 years in him yet. There is a healthy chance that he will outlive the Islamic Republic. Maybe not by much though. :)

Cy / September 14, 2010 9:30 AM

Dear Professor,

Great Article, and hope that this rift soon becomes evident more and more in public. Ahmadinejad is not belonging to any specified party; He has just 3 years opportunity to fight for power. I don’t know where he wants to go after his presidential period. Though, Ahmadinejad is the actual opponent of Greens, but he is a temporary resistance towards a democratic government in Iran. He helps ordinary people to understand the true nature of Islamic Republic.

HD / September 14, 2010 11:06 PM

thanks dr sahimi again for an indepth article,yes you have so much info and it would be nice if you write a book some day.thanks

fay / September 15, 2010 7:07 AM

Thanks for the nice analysis.

This aspect of Ahmadinezhad is one of the aspects that I love, i.e. always trying to challenge ayatollah's influential roles and even remove them from Iran's political game. He knows very well how to play in this game and expand his borders and territory as much as possible. Such a person is needed to weaken clerics in Iran's government. Remember khatami, such...or even Mosavoui, I expect that if he was selected as the president, he would not be dare enough to gamble on the conflict with Khanemei. I think since it is "Ahmadinezhad", lots of people are not agreed almost with everything he does, otherwise to be honest some of his actions are indeed needed to direct Iran to a "real" democracy. I am sure in future, changing a person like Ahmadinezhad is much easier and more probable than removing a concept that is above everthing...

AND please do not consider the comments like "Your writing would be a bit better if you didn't praise yourself from time to time" or "It would be nice if you could make your articles a little shorter" in your future articles, since they are just perfect and whenever I read them, I email and recommend the article at least to couple of friends.

Nima / September 15, 2010 8:16 AM

"The Green Movement has to stay calm and patient...."
- Just like a 'LE'JAN'ZAAR '.....

Bahramerad / September 15, 2010 12:06 PM

Sahimi's speculations have reached new heights. I am still awaiting the "revolutions" he promised us back in February and June of this year.

I have to second Pirouz's comments: "Pretty much business as usual in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

So much for claims that the country is a monolithic, totalitarian state." Yes, it is not a democracy and we can hope people there will enjoy freedom soon. But the article proves it is not monolithic. That is all it does.

Nima's comments are dead on when he says "This aspect of Ahmadinezhad is one of the aspects that I love, i.e. always trying to challenge ayatollah's influential roles and even remove them from Iran's political game.....I think since it is "Ahmadinezhad", lots of people are not agreed almost with everything he does, otherwise to be honest some of his actions are indeed needed to direct Iran to a "real" democracy."

The article takes political infighting and interprets as the Guards are taking over, all the while admitting the leaders of the Guards (selected by the Supreme Leader himself) have been silent. I guess they are not interfering.

Speculation will not bring change to Iran, nor will it lead to the understanding we need to have a correct policy toward Iran. This is why US policy has failed for 30 years. There is no doubt Iran has been undergoing a sea of change since mid-90's, and last years fiasco has intensified that process. The clerical regime is intensely under pressure because of the deep POLITICAL differences, and the pressure created by the need for change. That is a good thing. But the Guards trying to oust the Ayatollah... well... that's just pipe dreams, when they are hand selected by the Supreme Leader himself. But this is a point the neocons are advancing in an attempt to portray Iran a military dictatorship worthy of occupation.

I believe the regime will eventually realize that it needs wider reforms than it is currently willing to accept. Whether or not they are able to realize what is need will determine the future of the regime. As I have said before, last year was a watershed moment. Even supporter of Ahmadinejad have lost faith in his conduct and the ability of the regime to govern. Time will tell if they can heal themselves, or enough has happened to allow for a collapse from within. The Green are not even a factor for they are dead (That's why the infighting continues because there is no unified threat to the power elite, except the general public dissatisfaction).

Pouya / September 17, 2010 1:06 PM

It is tempting to see Ahmadinejad as the source of Iran's problem. Unfortunately that is not the case. I was in Iran after revolution. I remember the time that Rafsanjani and Mousavi were in power. It was a lot worse then. I was one of the one who could not get approval to attend college .Azad University made a lot of money then.
I wonder Why mousavi never spoke out during that time.

sammie / September 18, 2010 2:01 AM

Muhammad Sahimi,

How is it that you know all of these things happened? Do you have listening devices in the offices of all of Iran's leadership? Or, perhaps, as it seems to be, just an over-active imagination?

CalDre / September 22, 2010 1:08 AM