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IRI vs. 'Government in Exile': Foiling a Plot or Trying to Discredit Greens?

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

11 Jun 2011 23:00Comments

Regime builds external group up to tear homegrown opposition down.

[ comment ] On Wednesday, Fars, the news agency run by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, published a report claiming that the Ministry of Intelligence had foiled a plan by the United States to form an Iranian "government in exile." The claim was subsequently republished by all the websites and publications that support the hardliners. According to Fars, the plan was hatched during a conference at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), where several right-wing American political figures, such as Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht, work. Ledeen was a central participant in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. Gerecht is a former CIA operative in the Middle East, who worked there under the pseudonym Edward Shirley. Both have consistently taken a very hard line on Iran. Gerecht, for example, declared in an interview with Frontline that "Iranians have terrorism in their DNA." Thus for those, particularly in Iran, who do not know the true story behind the story, the FDD (which Fars referred to as the PDD) appears a plausible site for the hatching of such a plot.

According to Fars, U.S. government officials -- in particular, Dennis Ross, a Middle East adviser to President Obama -- began searching for an Iranian figure to lead the "government in exile." The search eventually identified Seyyed Mohammad Reza Madhi, a former commander in the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence division who was once close to the office of the Supreme Leader before he left Iran. He currently lives in Bangkok, where he is in the jewelry business, specializing in diamonds. Madhi, whose real name is apparently Seyyed Mohammad Reza Hosseini, is a "70 percent martyr," meaning that the injuries he suffered during the Iran-Iraq War -- including ones inflicted by Iraqi chemical weapons -- left only 30 percent of his body intact.

By Fars's account, Madhi was contacted by the American embassy in Thailand and accepted the role. He also claimed that he leads a group inside Iran called the Jonbesh-e Jame Yaran (Movement of Comrades) that has 20,000 members, although a check of the group's website indicates no such membership. According to Fars, Madhi then met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited Saudi Arabia and subsequently traveled to Washington where he met with Vice President Joseph Biden, who promised his full support. The State Department's Farsi-language spokesman Alan Eyre has denied that any such meetings between Madhi and U.S. officials took place.

Madhi then joined forces with Amir Hossein Jahanshahi, a businessman who supposedly has dual French-Israeli citizenship and is close to Ashraf Pahlavi (twin sister of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi), and Mehrdad Khansari, another monarchist figure. Jahanshahi and Khansari lead what they call the Green Wave, a supposedly democratic group in exile distinct from the Green Movement. After much discussion, the three went public with their alliance. Madhi was interviewed by Iranian satellite television channels based in Los Angeles and elsewhere, as well as by London-based political analyst Dr. Alireza Nourizadeh, who seemed very happy that a former Guard intelligence operative had joined the ranks of the opposition. Madhi also made revelations about corruption in the Islamic Republic; see here, for example.

The three held a press conference in Paris that was also attended by Nourizadeh; Abdollah Mohtadi, leader of the Komala, a Kurdish dissident group; Hassan Sharafi, deputy secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan; Reza Hosseinbor, leader of the Baluchistan United Front, which Fars alleges is a secessionist group; filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, whom Fars characterizes as "the link between the sedition [Green Movement] and the outside world"; and a representative of Mohsen Sazegara, an opposition figure who is currently a fellow at the George W. Bush Presidential Institute. Fars, which claimed that the United States provided $7 billion for the effort, dubbed the meeting "Guadeloupe 2."

The reference is to the summit held January 4-6, 1979, on the island of Guadeloupe attended by British Prime Minister James Callaghan, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. On Wednesday evening, a documentary about the "government in exile" operation, Diamonds for Deception, broadcast by Iranian state television, claimed that the purpose of the Guadeloupe summit was to arrange the Shah's rescue and that the Paris conference -- "Guadeloupe 2" -- was intended to topple the Islamic Republic, just as "Guadeloupe 1" was intended to defeat the 1979 Revolution. In fact, the Guadeloupe summit was held to evaluate the situation in Iran at the Revolution's height. It was decided at the conclave that the Shah's rule was no longer viable. At the close of the summit, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance said that the Shah was preparing to go on holiday outside Iran and that his role in shaping the country's future had come to an end.

As for the "government in exile" operation, one of its supposed objectives was to attract Iranian diplomats around the world. Fars claimed that Ahmad Maleki, a diplomat in the Iranian consulate in Milan and a nephew of Mehdi Karroubi, was one of three who were recruited. While Maleki did defect, no evidence was presented that he had defected to Madhi's group, or that he did so at his uncle's behest. Fars further claimed that the group decided it would move to Israel to receive military training so that it could carry out attacks in Iran and perhaps stage a military coup, but before it could do so the unknown soldiers -- as Iranian hardliners refer to intelligence operatives -- of Emam-e Zaman (Imam Mahdi) "rescued" Madhi and returned him to Iran.

The Diamonds for Deception documentary showed a meeting between Jahanshahi, Khansari, and Madhi, as well as the Paris press conference. The broadcast repeatedly emphasized alleged connections between the Madhi group and the Green Movement's leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, but no evidence for such links was ever presented. Nor was evidence presented for any of the claimed meetings between Madhi and U.S. officials.

It is still not clear whether Madhi actually defected, but for some reason changed his mind and returned to Iran -- unconfirmed reports suggest that his family was threatened -- or if he was an Intelligence Ministry agent all along. But what is abundantly clear is that the main objectives of the Fars claims and the documentary are likely as follows:

The hardliners are trying to link the Green Movement to the United States and Israel, which is utter nonsense. To buttress its case, the documentary emphasized the presence of Nourizadeh, Makhmalbaf, and Sazegara, three men who have no organic link to any of the movement's leaders inside Iran, even though they present themselves as major movement figures and Makhmalbaf has occasionally claimed that he is a spokesman for the Greens' Iran-based leadership.

Although every day the hardliners again declare that the Green Movement is "dead," another of their aims is to discredit the movement because they are well aware of its strength. When Hossein Taeb, who heads the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence unit, was asked recently why the government did not allow a normal funeral procession for Mir Esmail Mousavi, Mir Hossein's father, he responded, "Because the Greens can quickly organize and bring a huge crowd out to the streets." The second anniversary of the rigged 2009 presidential election is on Sunday, and the opposition has called for a massive silent march in Tehran and elsewhere in commemoration. The hardliners presumably hope that the documentary will turn people off.

The hardliners' third objective is to reenergize their base of support, which has been steadily shrinking due to causes that range from the terrible state of economy, to infighting among the conservatives and hardliners, to persistent doubts about their claims concerning Mousavi and Karroubi.

In fact, everything that Diamonds for Deception showed was indicative of the genuineness of the Green Movement as a homegrown democratic movement with no link whatsoever to foreign powers. As a result, the broadcast may well backfire.

On Friday, Nourizadeh said that he was always suspicious of Madhi. He did not explain why it is only now that he publicly expresses his doubts, or why he conducted many television interviews with Madhi and was apparently excited that the opposition, of which he considers himself a leader, had succeeded in recruiting a man with supposedly intimate knowledge of the Islamic Republic's inner workings.

Though the falsehood of the documentary's claims is clear, the Coordination Council for the Green Path of Hope, the temporary opposition leadership council while Mousavi and Karroubi remain under house arrest, must issue a statement clearly declaring that, unless they explicitly announce otherwise, the leadership inside Iran has nothing to do with what anyone abroad might supposedly be doing on their behalf, especially the pursuit of methods contrary to what the movement believes in: a peaceful struggle without outside intervention.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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