Friday, September 4, 2009

Khamanei's paranoia, the Revolutionary Guards, and the rifts in the system: VOA Newstalk - 2 September 2009

The following is a translation of highlights of last night's Newstalk on VOA. 

Newstalk, September 2, on Windows Media - on Real Player

For those unfamiliar with the show, Wednesday's episodes of Newstalk are very popular in Iran (midnight to 1AM). Wednesday's popularity is because of the two regular guests: Alireza Nourizadeh and Mohsen Sazegara. Nourizadeh is the director of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London. Sazegara, a founder of the Revolutionary Guards, became a regime opponent and runs the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Topic of September 2 VOA Newstalk: The Revolutionary Guards.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
IRGC political bureau chief General Yadollah Javani, following in IRGC commander Jafari's footsteps, said that those arrested in the unrest were linked to foreign powers and sought to overthrow Khamenei. Mr. Nourizadeh, wasn't the IRGC supposed to be impartial and not take sides with any faction? Why is it making accusations before any judiciary body does so?

Alireza Nourizadeh:
These statements have a unifying factor. Mr. Khamenei has long had a problem with paranoia. Khamenei thinks that the whole world, east and west, is toiling day and night to overthrow him. The tighter the circle of trusted individuals has become, the wider that of the alleged plotters. No one ever thought that Khamenei, who owes his position to the schemes hatched by Rafsanjani after Khomeini died, would one day give the order to discredit Rafsanjani. But when you hand over your mind to individuals who constantly confirm your delusions, people like Jafari and Javani, Ahmadinejad and [ex-Tehran prosecutor] Saeed Mortazavi... These people have understood which of Khamenei's buttons to push. They know that the more they tell Khamenei about plots, the more he'll be content and trust them.

Let me tell you a story. When the 'chain murders' occurred, intelligence agent Mostafa Kazemi confessed to Hajjarian, saying, 'We thought this is what the regime wanted.' Then-President Khatami went to see Khamenei and informed him of this. Khamenei chuckled and said, 'Absolutely not. This is the work of Israel.!' The information about the chain murders eventually leaked out and I and others reported on it at the time. But here's the important point. When they handed these prisoners to [torturer/interrogator] Javad Azadeh, they gave one order: 'The Supreme Leader says they're corrupt and worked for Israel. You must prove this.' (NB A few intelligence operatives, notably Saeed Emami, were left out in the cold and ultimately blamed for all the chain murders. Emami, a senior Intelligence Ministry official, 'committed suicide' in prison by eating a chemical depilatory in 1999). We all saw to what lengths Azadeh and his cohorts went to prove the Supreme Leader's suspicions.

It's true that Khamenei has been compelled by popular pressure to say he's not sure the protesters were controlled by foreign powers, but he immediately completes his sentence by saying they should be severely confronted. But the [inner circle] has convinced Khamenei that Khatami met George Soros in New York. Or that Khatami met a US envoy in Tunis. Khamenei can't say these things himself. If he says anything against Khatami, he'll provoke broad outrage. So he lets people like [IRGC head] Jafari or [IRGC political bureau chief] Javani say them. And this reassures Khamenei that the IRGC generals are protecting him from these nefarious plots. Khamenei doesn't understand that if Jafari and his gang make the decision, the exalted Supreme Leader won't see the next day. We're gradually seeing that this pact between Ahmadinejad and the IRGC does not bode well for Khamenei.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Sazegara, it's always been said that the three branches of government should not interfere with each other. But it appears that the IRGC is meddling in all the branches. Where do they get their license?

Mohsen Sazegara:
Montesquieu's separation of the branches is but a dream in Iran's constitution, where all power resides in the Leader. The Supreme Leader names the head of the judiciary, controls all the elections through the Guardian Council... I completely agree with Mr. Nourizadeh's comment on Khamenei. They call it the king's malady. In history, it led to fathers blinding their sons, mothers killing their child, because they feared losing power. From what I've heard, Khamenei is afraid of his own shadow now. He sleeps in bunkers and sees plots everywhere. This portion of the IRGC which has its hands on the levers of power, people like Jafari and [Basij head] Taeb, have somehow managed to monopolize Khamenei's attention. This in no way diminishes Khamenei's guilt, because he knew of these crimes from the start.

The regime's crimes of the past couple of months are like a declaration of war against the nation. When you arrest people's children, torture them, kill them, burn them, rape them...! I have to quote Gene Sharp, one of the great experts of non-violent struggle. He's created a term based on martial arts, where you divert the force of an opponent's blow back to him severalfold. When autocracies employ violence against the people, you may witness 'political jiu-jitsu', in which the blowback to the regime is severalfold. I believe we're seeing this in Iran right now.

These gentlemen have employed the most savage measures against the nation to compensate for their own lack of numbers. But this has blown up in their faces. It has created rifts among them. Khamenei himself said last week that the regime's reputation has been sullied. They're flailing around, trying to shirk responsibility and find a scapegoat. They're trying to revive the 'Saeed Emami scenario.' Arrest a few people and blame everything on them. Just last week Ahmadinejad said, These were Israeli or US agents who killed and tortured and raped people.

In this way, they're trying to alleviate some of the pressure they're under from public opinion in Iran and the world. Jafari and Khamenei are trying to find a way to arrest a few of their own plainclothesmen -- Jafari even said that the plainclothesmen have nothing to do with the IRGC! This brigade operates under the Basij, is commanded by Mr. Mohaghegh, one of the coup plotters! You've seen the videos of these individuals shooting protesters on the streets. Now Jafari is saying, 'These plainclothesmen have nothing to do with us. In fact the dead people were Basijis!'

This shows the distressed state of these gentlemen. (NB The term gentlemen -- aghayoun -- is generally used in Iran to refer to regime insiders.) We should expect these gentlemen to find some 'Saeed Emamis' in the near future, to force them to commit suicide, to do to their wives and children as they did to Emami's family in order to obtain confessions and try to burnish their own image. This will widen the rifts between them even more.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Nourizadeh, there have been numerous reports of differences between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Is this true?

Alireza Nourizadeh:
One of the reasons people like Jafari and Javani keep talking about plots is that they see some weakness creeping into Khamenei's positions. Maybe after giving the reins of the coup to [his son] Mojtaba, [his security adviser] Asghar Hejazi, and others, Khamenei momentarily came to himself and realized for whom he was paying such a heavy price! Maybe Khamenei mulled the pros and cons, though he should have done this before the fact. 'My reputation is gone! I have no more credibility among the people! I'm facing my greatest fear! What am I to do if 3 million people hit the streets on Ghods Day? (NB Friday September 18). If Khatami speaks at the Ahya ceremony at Khomeini's mausoleum, what am I to do? Khomeini's grandson has already turned his back to me. So have the people. What am I to do?'

I know Mr. Khamenei, though he's changed greatly in the past 20 years.So I'm sure he's taken a measure of the situation and the price he has had to pay. You can see the distress in his words. The start of the sentence does not match the end. He's conciliatory in his introduction, then suddenly becomes severe and violent as if someone is signaling to him, or something within him is rebelling and saying, 'What are you doing!?' You don't see a healthy psyche within him. You see something disheveled.

These rifts were inevitable. There are honorable people in the IRGC who are weeping for what has occurred. They are honorable people who defended their country against a foreign invader [in the Iran-Iraq War.] Some became 60% or 70% invalid. You and I and Dr. Sazegara know some of them. When they see how the name of the IRGC has been mired in filth because of the actions of some lackeys who kill for 250,000 toumans a day, they cannot agree with Mr. Jafari. Other parts of the regime are also being torn asunder. Look at the unprecedented resignation of 5 deputy intelligence ministers: Habibollah, Firouzabadi, Khazai... Majid Alavi didn't even accept to become the acting Intelligence Minister!

What does this show? Look inside Khamenei's own office! We haven't heard from [chief of staff] Golpayegani in ages. Mohammadi Golpayegani is very close to Khamenei and his son is Khamenei's son-in-law. They're saying Khamenei is being isolated [by the coup plotters] and is constantly followed around by Mr. Vahid. Who is this Vahid who reportedly even stands outside Khamenei's bathroom door? That's why I think that this breach within the regime will get larger and larger.

But this rift does not only exist among the conservatives. You're going to see it among the reformists too. Where is [reformist Association of Combatant Clerics head] Mousavi Khoiniha? He's in his $10-million estate. He doesn't care what's happening to the people. Like a godfather, Mousavi Khoiniha was eager to profit from the reform movement, but now he's missing in action. Ali Akbar Mohtashami, who was chirping away during the election campaign, is now sitting in his 4-story home and saying prayers.

The events have shown who the honorable individuals who respected their pact with the people really are. Karroubi showed that he will not run away from the arena. Mousavi showed he believes in principles. The same is true of Khatami. So we see that the lines are being drawn, not only within the regime, but even among the reformists.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Sazegara, where are these Revolutionary Guards who regret what is happening?

Mohsen Sazegara: 
Many are homebound, others are in non-essential roles within the IRGC.

But more importantly, I've been recently investigating the business activities of the IRGC and have to say that I've been shocked by the way that it has seeped into every facet of the country's economy, particularly in the past four years.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
In what respect? In line with national interests?

Mohsen Sazegara: 
Not at all. For example, look at the Basij fund which has now become the Mehr fund. This fund has taken money from the Ahmadinejad government and used it to purchase factories. For example, the Tabriz tractor manufacturing company, which has some 1,000 heavy machinery units and is one of the country's great industrial assets. They've run it into the ground. There are reports that the company's production of 130 tractors a day has now dwindled down to 13.

The IRGC controls everything from the import of foreign cigarettes to Mohsen brand rice, from drug trafficking to the oil industry. They're not killing people for nothing! They know full well that someone like Mr. Mousavi -- agree with him or not, you can't doubt his sincerity and clean hands -- would put a stop to this type of theft.

They've got Ahmadinejad, who like [leader of the coup government] Papadopoulos in Greece, is their puppet... At times, since he's a populist, he wants to cozy up to the poeple. He didn't accept [Basij head] Taeb as his Intelligence Minister because of his disrepute, but he did hand over the Interior Ministry to General Najjar. He's named Moslehi to the post of Intelligence Minister and his only task is to dissolve his own ministry and bring an official veneer to the intelligence operations of the IRGC.

Ahmadinejad has allowed the IRGC to gain control over upwards of 800 companies in the country.

The people are organizing boycotts of IRGC goods. They're making announcements on web sites, publishing posters, identifying these goods and calling for a boycott of them. That's on top of the boycott of goods adevrtised on the state media.

The IRGC has become... I can't even call it a seven-headed dragon... It's become a seven-hundred-headed dragon, each of whose heads is poking into some aspect of the country.

Then at the same time you have people like Saeedeh Pour-Aghai's father, who was a veteran of the war and an invalid from chemical weapons -- and people who are injured by chemical weapons, as you know, die a slow and painful death after 15 or 20 years -- They took the daughter of this man, who died two years ago, and raped and tortured her. (NB You can read about Saeedeh Pour-Aghai's case in a previous post.)

Host Jamshid Chalangi:

Mohsen Sazegara: 
Because this girl was chanting Allaho-akbar from her rooftop.

One of the reasons behind this type of violence, which even a foreign army would not commit, is... it's true that power is sweet, but one of the main reasons is money. These gentleman have obtained a free hand, without accountability or measure.

Look at this Mehr fund, which is apparently the main war chest of this coup d'état. Where has all this money come from?

But to return to your question, many of these compassionate IRGC guys, who made great sacrifices, aren't in the game any more. Some of them who object are imprisoned in the IRGC's detention center number 66.

And then you have a bunch of individuals, like this Ahmadinejad, who have no record of service in the revolution or the war or the country, and they've entered the stage as the new rulers with free hands to pillage billions upon billions of the country's money, to do as they please in terms of security, imprisonment, crackdowns... As if the country has no judiciary branch, judges...

This is the tragedy that has beset our country.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Mr. Nourizadeh, the judiciary was just mentioned. The new judiciary chief, Sadegh Larijani, had spoken of restoring justice and so on. But despite all expectations, Larijani gave Saeed Mortazavi a promotion [from Tehran prosecutor to deputy prosecutor-general]. Clouds of suspicion hang over Mortazavi, notably in the prison death of [Canadian-Iranian photographer] Zahra Kazemi [in 2003]. What's your analysis?

Alireza Nourizadeh:
I personally think that Mortazavi's removal as Tehran's Revolutionary and Criminal Prosecutor is good news.

Also, Mortazavi's new job description is vague. I've spoken to several jurists about this. The prosecutor-general has, for example, a political deputy, a judicial deputy, an administrative deputy... We still don't know where Mortazavi fits in. It is still unclear whether Mortazavi can work in the shadows of a prosecutor-general like [former Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein] Mohseni Ejei.

It is not easy for Khamenei to wash his hands of Saeed Mortazavi. Whenever Khamenei has ordered Mortazavi to fetch a finger, he's brought back a head. So it will be difficult for Khamenei to wash his hands of this hard-working servant. Keep in mind that he paid a heavy price for abandoning Saeed Emami [of the chain murders case]. He sacrificed his dear Saeed. He can't sacrifice this dear Saeed now. Perhaps his transfer to the prosecutor-general's office will take him out of the limelight and allow him to carry out tasks from behind the curtain.

I believe that the position of Tehran prosecutor is much more important than deputy prosecutor-general.

But I see that we have a minute until the newscast, so I'll quickly give two bits of news.

First, we really have to applaud Iran's businessmen, who have reduced their advertising on state media to such a degree that even the radio-television head had to admit to the fact, though he gave some other excuses. State radio-television's income has fallen by 40%.

Second, a source from Tehran's city hall told me that Ahmadinejad, when he was Tehran mayor, gave the IRGC whatever it wanted. Millions of square meters of Tehran's most expensive land and homes which belonged to City Hall were given to the IRGC. That's when the pact between Mahmoud [Ahmadinejad] and the IRGC was sealed.

[Newscast is broadcast. Second part resumes at 32:30 mark. I'm providing a much sparser translation of the section devoted to the Majlis vote on the new cabinet]

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
Even the government's principlist allies in the Majlis have objected to the composition of this new cabinet. (NB Principlists -- or oosoolgara -- are conservatives who seek a return to the founding principles of the revolution) What do you think, Mr. Sazegara?

Mohsen Sazegara:
The vote has been postponed to tomorrow, Thursday.

The behind-the-scenes news is that [Basij head] Taeb and other coup plotters, who are trying to obtain a vote of confidence for Ahmadinejad's cabinet from the Majlis, have divided the representatives into several categories: supporters, protesting supporters, opponents, and hypocrites (NB The term monafeghin - hypocrites - has a very bad connotation because it is used by the regime to refer to the MKO). The interesting thing is that they've placed Speaker Ali Larijani (NB principlist, but Ahmadinejad rival) among the hypocrites.

Today, Wednesday, it was heavily rumored that Khamenei had sent a message to the representatives to vote for the cabinet. [Principlist Tehran representative in the Majlis] Ali Motahari said, 'Don't listen to rumors. Wait for something in writing.' And some Majlis respresentative responded, 'A signal from him and we will come running!' You see, Mr. Chalangi, its embarrassing to call such individuals representatives of the people. We should say they're all Khamenei's representatives in that Majlis.

There's a serious risk that the Majlis will not vote for 30% of the proposed ministers. But it appears that Khamenei and the coup plotters are trying to do whatever they can to create unity behind this cabinet.

One of my friends joked, 'They don't need Mr. Khamenei's order. They should just bring Mahsouli, the former Interior Minister who was in charge of the presidential election, and he can count the votes in the urn. And if any Majlis representative objects, he can be hauled off to jail.'

So they're employing entreaties and threats to get the vote for this cabinet.

Host Jamshid Chalangi: 
Are all the representatives Khamenei's men?

Mohsen Sazegara: 
To be fair, there are some good ones. Motahari has been saying some very serious and resolute things. And the reformists have been voicing some good objections.

But the vast majority of the Majlis is engaged in a competition to see which one can grovel and fawn more than the other. The only thing they don't care about is the people's will.

The interesting thing is that the people are expressing their disapproval and they've notified their representatives or have posted fliers in the streets. They've had to bolster security at the homes of some representatives in the provinces. The people are enraged and they're saying, If you vote for this foreign-engineered, bloodthirsty, coup government, your name is going in the list of traitors to the nation. 

Host Jamshid Chalangi: 
Engineered by which foreign government?

Mohsen Sazegara: 
There is much evidence that the Russians aided and abetted this coup, gave advice, provided technology... Now there's news that the IRGC is buying Iran's telecom, so they'll be able to go to the mother lode for technology to control communications.

Host Jamshid Chalangi: 
Many people, including senior clerics like Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, have mentioned a crisis of legitimacy for this government. Will this create any problems for Ahmadinejad's adiministration?

Alireza Nourizadeh: 
Ahmadinejad showed great disrespect for the Majlis -- and those representatives deserve it -- by walking out of the session. He knew that despite promises of 100-million touman handouts, some representatives wouldn't vote for his cabinet.

In our history, very few have had the honor and dignity to stand up when those rare winds of freedom have blown. I think back to the glorious days of the constitutional movement [of the early 20th century], or people like [independent representative] Ali Asghar Mazhari whose impassioned speeches in the Majlis [in the waning days of the Shah] I still remember.

But even in this Majlis, there are those whose conscience has been awakened by the horror stories of what was done to Saeedeh Pour-Aghai or Mohsen Rouholamini. I believe that if the vote was held today, at least six ministers would not be confirmed. But the vote has been postponed to tomorrow so some backroom horsetrading can take place tonight. The Supreme Security Council will convene an emergency meeting tonight.

I think that this government will go down in our history as one of the lowest of the low because of the mediocrity of those who make it up.

Most of the proposed ministers are tied up with the security-military apparatus. This cabinet holds many dangers for Iran.

Host Jamshid Chalangi: 
Mr. Sazegara, if this cabinet is confirmed and it pursues the same old policies, what can we expect, especially on the international front?

Mohsen Sazegara: 
Even if the unrest had not occurred, the greatest challenge of this government would have been the economy. And this regime is incapable of resolving those issues.

Just last week Iran Khodro, one of the largest automakers in the region, posted a loss of 123 billion toumans, the biggest of its history. Wagon Pars workers have been striking for some time to obtain back pay and they've gained the support of other workers in places like Iralco [aluminum works]. Direct investment has sunk to a minimum. Inflation and unemployment are growing.

So the government will have to contend with problems like this at a time when it is being confronted by the nation.

Such governments start giving over-generous concessions abroad, at a heavy cost to national interests. [Supreme Security Council chairman] Saeed Jalili said we're ready to listen to the 5+1 countries. In Washington corridors, I've heard that Khamenei has already sent two letters to Obama. Ahmadinejad is planning his trip to New York -- and, in this respect, all Iranians abroad are organizing to give him a nice welcome. It's interesting that his trip will be several days after Ghods Day, when we expect millions to demonstrate in the streets of Iran. So there will be a harmony of protests inside and outside Iran once again. Anyway, I've heard in Washington that Ahmadinejad is desperately trying to set up a meeting with Obama if he can. If not, Biden. If not, the Secretary of State. If not, some senior senators, like Kerry. Talking is not bad, but this government isn't even legitimate.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
But what would be the point of getting some kind of approval from the US?

Mohsen Sazegara:
You're right. A government which has the support of the nation behind it, does not need to bow its head in front of other governments. But these gentlemen think, for example, that this program we're broadcasting now is a plot by the US. They think that if they give concessions to the US, then they can get VOA closed.

They think that Huntington's Third Wave, which is one of his worst books by the way, is also a part of this plot against them.

But their greatest enemy is neither the US nor Israel, it is the nation of Iran.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
I'd like to announce that VOA's doors are open to Mr. Ahmadinejad if he wishes to come. We'll organize a tour for him and he can participate in this program, with Mr. Sazegara and Mr. Nourizadeh, and respond to questions and make his opinion known.

Mr. Nourizadeh, how come this regime has become so separated from the people?

Alireza Nourizadeh:
This regime can't even tolerate these types of controlled elections... When Mr. Khatami was elected president, Khamenei became tongue-tied for a week. Khatami was a child of the revolution, a former minister! What would have been so horrible if Mousavi had been elected? Khamenei's reputation would have remained intact, Iran and the US could have been engaged in constructive talks, foreign investment could have picked up...

The main reason for their eagerness to talk with the US, is that they want to tell the Iranian nation, 'This US which you count on, this US whose president you think is a champion of human rights, this US whose president sheds a tear for Neda Agha Soltan, well this US is nothing and doesn't support you. It's after its own interests. Look, it's talking to me, Ahmadinejad, with my bloody hands!'

The Iranian people are the only ones in the Middle East whose majority has no enmity with the US. You saw how at the first opportunity that was presented to them, during Rafsanjani's Friday prayer, the people responded to calls of 'Death to America' with 'Death to Russia' instead. The Iranian nation has no animosity towards the US.

The regime would love to do something about VOA. Look at all the rubbish, just about VOA, that they publish in their media outlets, even in the official news agency of Iran. Just a few nights ago, their TV devoted half an hour to you and me and Mr. Sazegara.

The regime seeks talks because it wants to tell the people, 'Don't think that the US is with you. No, its with us.' I was participating in a BBC program several nights ago and an Iranian official said, 'We're engaged in talks with the US. We have no problem with them.' They want to convince the Iranian people that the US has entered into secret talks with them. Mohsen Rezai's web site said a few days ago, 'Mr. Obama's second letter has arrived.'

They just want to say, 'The US is with us!' This is the same US that they have been calling a Satan for thirty years.

No, people of Iran, the US is pursuing its own interests, but as a democracy it must also heed the opinion of its people. The Green Wave has become a reality for Americans. Neda is present in the minds of millions of Americans. If the US government goes against the wishes of its people, it will not obtain votes in the next elections. The people can change their government, their representatives and senators. It is not like in Iran, where Khamenei can name whoever is the best lackey to the post of Majlis representative.

Host Jamshid Chalangi:
What place do human rights have in US foreign policy?

Mohsen Sazegara:
Western governments must at least pay lip service to human rights, because they are under pressure from their people and press. Democratic governments must bow to the will of their people.

In any case, support from foreign governments has never durably propped up unpopular governments. Khamenei should be told that instead of writing two letters or running after the Russians, he should reconcile with the Iranian nation. But he is incapable of this.

There's no time tonight, but next time I'd like to talk about my worries about the regime employing greater violence.

1 comment:

  1. I find it fascinating. The specifics are so different, and yet the form and function of the players so resemble our own. Khamenei and Cheney might have been clones separated at birth or whatever passed for that, as well each one's belligerent hand puppet.

    Unlike Iran we got our Obama in office, though apparently not in power and the stage is indeed being set for an Iranian style coup in the next election.

    Of particular interest are the tactics being used on each side as I am sure tacticians on both sides in the US are taking notes as we are very likely to have a very similar fight here.