What Does the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Want Out of Iran’s Upcoming Elections?

Can the faction known as the “principalists” in Iran, loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, engineer the upcoming presidential elections‘ outcome in a manner similar to 2005 and 2009? Back then, this group resorted to fraud and vote-rigging to have their desired candidate selected. Is the Khamenei-allied faction even seeking to engineer the election outcome against the faction currently behind President Hassan Rouhani, who claim to be “reformists” or “moderates”? If the answer is yes, what measures have been taken so far?

The truth is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Khamenei’s inner circle have been planning these measures and plotting their steps for at least several months.

Their plan essentially relies on forcing the election into a second round, similar to the 2009 scenario when Ahmadinejad was selected from the ballot boxes. This time around, the Khamenei faction is seeking to have Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric known for his notorious role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, or Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, selected as president. Ghalibaf is a former IRGC member known to have undergone Airbus pilot training in France.

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To implement this, this faction first held a session with senior IRGC officials, including former IRGC intelligence chief Mehdi Taeb, IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani and others to establish the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, dubbed JAMNA, according to its Farsi abbreviation. Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr is the chair of this new entity.

Zolghadr is known for his role in rigging the 2005 presidential election that led to the selection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency while claiming to enjoy the support of 20 million voters. Zolghadr was then the regime’s chairman of the armed forces Joint Chiefs of Staff and deputy to former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezaie. He was then appointed as deputy interior minister in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet while maintaining his IRGC posts.

“The [2005] presidential election was unprecedented, held under very complicated political circumstances when foreign powers and acquisitive currents inside the country had long planned to direct the election results in their favor and prevent the establishment of a principalist cabinet. Complicated actions were needed and the principalists were fortunately able to gain the majority’s support,” Zolghadr said following Ahmadinejad’s victory.

In January 2013 Ali Saeedi, Khamenei’s envoy in the IRGC, made interesting remarks about the elections. “It is our [IRGC] inherent duty to logically engineer the elections,” he said.

Although Saeedi provided no further explanation about “logically” engineering the vote, his remarks shed further light on their plan and agenda. He referred to individuals, who according to him, attempted to “divide the state between the selected and the elected.” “In fact, those who were selected acted far better than those who were elected,” he stipulated.

This is exactly why in the past few months JAMNA has attempted to reach a consensus over a single candidate through the IRGC’s continued intervention. Numerous sessions were held with Khamenei to have him agree with Raisi taking part in the race and all principalist candidates rallying behind him.

The IRGC continued its engineering through the Guardian Council by disqualifying the vast majority of candidates. A week prior to the Council’s final announcement rumors indicated only six of over 1,600 candidates would be qualified. This made it clear all announcements by the Guardian Council were in fact decided previously by the IRGC.

The combination of the current six candidates in the presidential election is the necessary package for the IRGC to correctly rig the entire vote outcome.

An issue discussed on a daily basis among the IRGC senior command is how to plan their next move, aiming to inflict the utmost damage to the Rouhani faction and yet also prevent any possible ignition of massive protests and/or nationwide uprisings similar to those of 2009.

Following the candidate vetting process leaving only six candidates, this IRGC plan has been pursued on a daily basis in three different fields.

First, they have sought to increase the number of votes and finesse specific rigging methods. Second, they have expanded their propaganda activities in the media. And third, they have taken daily measures and guided the general rigging apparatus, such as attacking Rouhani’s brother Fereidoun Rouhani on his involvement in theft, creating havoc at Rouhani’s campaign events, depicting Raisi as the candidate of all factions.

In all three fields the IRGC apparatus enjoys a daily role, all while this security entity should have nothing to do with the elections.

Of course, Rouhani has nothing to boast about either as he too oversaw more than 3,000 executions during his tenure as president. He is also known to have ordered the horrific 1999 student uprising crackdown, especially during the protests in Tehran. Throughout his political career he has played a role in the regime’s decision-making bodies and is known to be a figure very well acquainted with the regime’s security apparatus. Rouhani was also Rafsanjani’s right-hand-man during the Iran-Iraq War, where the regime dispatched juveniles to the frontlines.

In the end, how far the IRGC’s plans can be implemented in practice is a different story altogether, depending highly on a range of factors. For example, considering the fact that Rouhani’s Interior Ministry is the administrative body running the election, will the IRGC be able to implement its objectives?

Only time will tell.

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Iran’s presidential election: Nothing new after 38 years

We were recently witness to the first debate of Iran’s 2017 presidential election, which can be evaluated from a variety of perspectives.  One simple conclusion is that all candidates failed to provide any hope for a better future.

Remembering how the 2009 debates paved the way for nationwide uprisings, rattling the regime’s entire establishment, this year’s debate was shortened in timing to prevent any uncontrollable sparks.  Despite all this, the arguments provided a vivid view into the regime’s critical domestic crises.

More important is the fact that, similar to all previous so-called “elections” in this regime, no candidate was able to provide a comprehensive political and economic agenda.  Twelve rounds of presidential elections, parliamentary polls, and votes for city councils have provided nothing but more of the same.

Why is it that nothing changes in Iran?  Why is it that with a new president in the U.S., all policies are completely refurbished, including immigration, health, education, and so forth?  The Trump administration’s foreign policy is being overhauled, to say the least.

Why is it that in smaller countries more similar to Iran – say, the Philippines, Chile, or Turkey – a new government brings with it changes across the spectrum in people’s lives, all linked to the state’s domestic and foreign policies?

Yet when it comes to Iran, we see nothing but a cycle of the same factions coming and going, while further plundering the country’s wealth and making the least difference in people’s lives.

The reason must be pursued in the very roots and nature of this regime.  This is a dictatorship ruled by the four percent, as described by presidential candidate and Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in the recent debate.  A vast 96% majority of Iran’s population remains under the wrath of this cruel minority that relies on a completely fascist-minded set of laws resembling anything but a constitution.

And when elections are held, all candidates are vigorously vetted by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 conservative clerics, of whom six are appointed directly and the other six indirectly by the supreme leader himself.  And when a president is actually selected, he is nothing more than a puppet, acting according to the supreme leader’s will.  Based on the regime’s “constitution,” the president’s authority must be confirmed by the supreme leader no matter what the people have “voted.”

All this brings us to a certain set of conclusions:

Firstly – The president in Iran has no true power or authority, as the supreme leader enjoys the final say in all subjects, including national security and foreign affairs.

Secondly – No regime president has ever had any specific economic-social agenda.  Assuming any one of them had prepared such a blueprint, his agenda would need to be in complete compliance with the supreme leader’s demands.

Thus, one may ask the purpose of holding elections in such an establishment.

Mohammad-Tai Mesbah-Yazdi, an influential senior cleric in the mullahs’ ruling elite, provided probably the best response in an interview:

Elections have two purposes[.] … [T]he nation considers itself involved in establishing a religious state. As a result, they will further strive in supporting a state established with their backing, leading to the realization of important religious state goals.

The second purpose is … the importance of the people’s role and votes disarming opponents. They intended to depict this Islamic establishment as authoritarian. However, when the people’s votes are respected, opponents will lose all excuses[.]

This brings us back to our initial argument: as faces change in this regime, it is to no avail for the greater good of the people.

For example:

  • The so-called “reformist” Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, doubled the number of executions in comparison to 1996 and quadrupled them in comparison to 1995!
  • The so-called “principalist” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was even worse, and the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani has stood above all with a record of 3,000 executions in four years.
  • Poverty and human rights violations have been on a continuous increase.  Iran has 16 intelligence services, and the numbers could go up, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.
  • The mullahs’ own laws define around 1,800 counts of crimes that people must not commit!  The slate includes what clothes to wear, what to eat, what to read, and what satellite TV they are permitted to watch.  It is worth noting that France has only 300 such criminal measures.
  • The country’s national currency has constantly nosedived.
  • Embezzlement cases have been on the rise year after year.
  • Meddling in the internal affairs of regional countries, including Iran’s involvement in Syria, has climaxed.  This has been parallel to Tehran continuing its nuclear program and ballistic missile drive.

Neither in domestic policy nor foreign strategy can we pinpoint any significant differences among Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Khatami, Ahmadinejad, and Rouhani.

To this end, don’t hold your breath or have any hope that the May 19 presidential “election” – read: “selection” – will render anything new from within the mullahs’ regime.

ANALYSIS: Is there anything Iran’s presidential election can change?

The US is said to be weighing a variety of different approaches on the regime ruling Iran after the upcoming May 19 presidential election.

This line of thought argues any punishing measure by the US now would support “hardliners” against “moderates”. The problem is that any such distinction of Iran’s political landscape is entirely incorrect.

The regime in Iran does not, to say the least, has the best interest of Iranians or people across the region at heart, let alone other nations throughout the planet. The argument of how the West’s actions may affect Iran’s elections fails to understand what Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his surrogates have in their playbooks.

In the elections, all candidates are vetted by a 12-cleric member Guardian Council body, effectively appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei, as seen last Thursday. The list has now been trimmed to six candidates.

The slate includes incumbent President Hassan Rowhani, hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s first vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former minister of culture Mostafa Mirsalim and former industry minister Mostafa Hashemitaba.

A first glance indicates the remaining four will most probably step aside eventually in favor of Rowhani and Raisi.

Elections render no change

Iran’s elections do not have any impact on domestic or foreign policy. In internal issues, the hallmark “moderate” Rouhani and former president Mohammad Khatami – also dubbed “moderate” and president from 1997 to 2005 – only increased domestic crackdown, including arrests, tortures and executions.

In the past four years, Rowhani has presided over nearly 3,000 executions – far more than his firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On foreign policy, never has there been the slightest difference in the regime’s eagerness to advance its nuclear program. Most recently, Rowhani made remarks signaling a shocking contrast to other Iranian officials: he boasted of the highly flawed Iran nuclear deal.

“Nuclear technology is a dire necessity for us, and that is exactly why [Khamenei] constantly underscores the need to continue developing this technology,” he said according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Rowhani also boasted how his cabinet increased the defense budget.

“Statistics show [this] government has increased the defense budget by 145 percent… It is the pride of [this] government that the steps taken forward in providing strategic equipment and assets for the armed forces in the past 3½ years have matched those of the past 10 years,” he explained.

Rowhani is also known for his close relationship with the regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, dating back to 1979, while his main opponent, Raisi, spent the past three decades easily climbing up the regime’s ranks for his role in the judiciary, and sending dissidents to the gallows without any hesitation.

Raisi is most famously known for his membership in the notorious “Death Commission,” tasked to carry out Khomeini’s fatwa leading to the summer of 1988 massacre that left more than 30,000 political prisoners dead in the span of a few months. Most of the victims were members and supporters of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

In the past four years, Rowhani has presided over nearly 3,000 executions – far more than his firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Reuters)

A slate of wrongs

It would be a grave mistake for the US, and the West in general, to preemptively limit their available options on the theoretical basis of enjoying influence in the internal election, let alone its outcome, of a regime such as Iran.

A more critical mistake is constantly made by Western media, which tends to be easily misled over the scope of existing political opinions in Iran. The mere fact that Rouhani is embattled does not make him the ideal candidate for the West. A reflexive reaction in the West seems to be that if Raisi is worse, then let’s support Rowhani.

Whoever ends up becoming Iran’s next president, is – and has to be, for his own safety, politically and otherwise – absolutely in line with the supreme leader, and the radical direction of the Iranian regime in its entirety.

The mere assumption that potential US actions might be considered a major factor in Iran’s presidential election simply fails to comprehend the true nature of Iran’s political establishment, loyal only to the views of Khomeini. There is no representation by true liberals in Iran today, and nor should there be any such expectations in the future.

Even if the rivalry between Rowhani and Raisi ends with the “moderate” Rowhani gaining a second term, it changes absolutely nothing. Rowhani has been, and has to be, in service to Khamenei’s policies. Rowhani advanced the supreme leader’s nuclear policy after he blessed the nuclear talks back in 2012, prior to Rouhani’s presidency.

He supported Iran’s involvement in Syria and all the proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, parallel to supervising increasing human rights violations.

Conclusion

Iran’s presidential election is nothing but a game we witness every four years. The president has no true role in running the country, other than to implement the supreme leader’s policies. Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, has the final say on all national security and foreign policy issues, while enjoying full, unrivaled supremacy.

Khamenei even has the authority, under the regime’s so-called constitution, to veto and dismiss all powers provided to the president. The difference we will witness in Iran’s approach to domestic and international affairs will be zero. That is exactly why designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization should not be delayed for any reason – especially Iran’s presidential election.

According to The Daily Beast the IRGC “are Iran’s most important security, military, and political institution, with financial interests in most areas of the state’s economy. Its Quds Force, which is in charge of global operations, was officially designated as a terrorist entity by the US Treasury Department in 2007. Hezbollah was designated in 1997.”

It is now time to target the main root of the Middle East’s crises.

Understanding Iran’s presidential elections crisis

It appears Iran’s presidential elections, scheduled for May 19th, are becoming ever more complicated. The question of who might face the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani was a trending topic recently, including the significant news of Ebrahim Raisi‘s entry into the race (Raisi is a mullah very close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei).

The final list of six candidates in the upcoming so-called election — read selection — was announced on Thursday. The slate includes Rouhani, Raisi, Iran’s First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, former Minister of Culture Mostafa Mirsalim and former Industry Minister Mostafa Hashemitaba. A first glance indicates the remaining four will most probably step aside eventually in favor of Rouhani and Raisi.

Khamenei, the highest ranking official in Iran, is facing two major political knots in the elections. His faction, known as the “hardliners” or “principalists,” has been divided over who to promote their candidate against Rouhani, the so-called “moderate” or “reformist.” Khamenei’s faction faced a similar situation in 2012 and 2013, leading to his assent to the election of Rouhani, who was supported by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who passed away this past January.

This is a sad story. For obvious reasons, I am changing names and certain details to protect the memory of…

This first dilemma before Khamenei escalated to an unprecedented level, forcing him to very publicly call on the firebrand former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to not take part in the polls. Ahmadinejad disobeyed and registered his candidacy, only to be disqualified on Thursday by the ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-cleric body whose members are appointed directly and indirectly by Khamenei himself.

The second issue hovers over the highly sensitive subject of Khamenei’s successor as supreme leader. Raisi’s name has been heard for some time, causing quite a stir. Rafsanjani was knee-deep into this subject during the elections of Iran’s last parliament and Assembly of Experts, the entity responsible on appointing the next supreme leader.

Khamenei’s elements suffered a major defeat then. To this end, selecting the ideal figure as his successor is the second dilemma standing before Khamenei. And Rafsanjani’s death does not make the situation any easier.

Khamenei also has reservations on placing his full weight behind Raisi in the presidential elections, fearing such a policy will create dangerous divides in his establishment. Both factions in Iran share this sentiment, knowing such rifts will allow Iran’s powder keg society to explode after suffering four decades of human rights violations and economic hardship.

The issue of Khamenei’s successor goes far beyond the presidential elections, and yet it is linked to the polls in an intriguing manner. Khamenei seeks to take advantage of Raisi’s presidency as a springboard to his appointment as his successor. Despite having the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps‘ loyalty, Khamenei knows he does not enjoy his establishment’s full support. The roots of selecting a supreme leader has been a major dilemma dating back to the 1989 death of regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini.

In 1988, Khomeini ordered the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main Iranian opposition group to this day. His designated successor, the late Ayatollah Hassan Ali Montazeri, protested Khomeini’s fatwa, leading to his house arrest and banishing from the ruling elite.

This created a major rift among the regime’s senior ranks, fueled by the dispute between Khomeini and the PMOI/MEK. With Khamenei becoming very ill, and Rafsanjani out of the picture, the subject before this regime is too complex for Khamenei to consider easily resolved as a simple dispute between his regime’s factions. This is especially important as Iran finds its role in Syria becoming a major burden.

The question is, is this entire scenario not against Khamenei’s interest?

Rest assured Khamenei had thought this move through many times before ever mentioning Raisi’s name, knowing his role in the “Death Commission” supervising the 1988 massacre has, and will, cause further dilemmas in the future. To this end, both factions in this regime have suffered defeats.

At this stage, no rival can take advantage of their opposition’s weakness in their own interest. Rouhani, also having a member of the “Death Commission” Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, ironically, as his justice minister, finds himself in a very weak position, having lost Rafsanjani and with the July 2015 nuclear deal with world powers not having changed the status quo for ordinary Iranians. However, Khamenei’s faction, unable to unite behind a single candidate, cannot adopt a strong position against Rouhani.

In short, this leaves the entire regime facing a major crisis prior to the crucial presidential elections turning point. Both factions are also terrified of a possible repeat of the 2009 scenario of nationwide uprisings, considered a red line for the entire Iranian regime establishment.

What the near future holds for Iran prior to the elections is a matter to be seen for all. What is certain, however, is the fact that such a scene has the potential of exploding into a disaster for the ruling mullahs.

As we near the so-called election day in Iran, the regime sees intensifying crisis, with potential developments ending in results in favor of the people and a future democratic Iran without the mullahs in power.

Iran’s 2017 Election: Ahmadinejad’s Candidacy Signals the Regime’s Weakening

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s entrance into Iran’s electoral race is deeply dangerous.

At a time when public hatred in Iran nears a high point for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani due to his report card of deception and influential cleric Ebrahim Raisi for his role in massive killings and massacres, firebrand former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad registered his candidacy for Iran’s presidential election. Ahmadinejad’s return has furthered already dangerous divides among the Iranian regime’s senior ranks.

First and foremost, this sheds important light on the weakness of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and serves as a litmus test of the entire regime. Ahmadinejad claims to have remained loyal to his pledge to Khamenei to keep out of this election’s fiasco, and that his candidacy is merely aimed to support that of Hamid Baqai, a former vice president to Ahmadinejad known for his role in the notorious Ministry of Intelligence. However, the rendered disputes inside the regime prove otherwise.

“This was an act of suicide. He strapped a suicide belt around himself and entered the race… he registered despite the Supreme Leader’s specific recommendation, and this is insubordination,” said Kanani Moghadam, a member of Khamenei’s faction.

Another Khamenei loyalist went a step further to accuse Ahmadinejad of staging a rebellion. Ahmadinejad’s candidacy in the elections “is a dangerous development and officials should look into this matter. In my opinion, this paves the path for many more disobediences,” said Gharavian, a conservative cleric.

Akrami, another member of Khamenei’s camp, called for Ahmadinejad’s prosecution.

“The judiciary must set all reservations aside and see into this case to officially determine to what extent he has lied and what complications he has caused for the country… From this day forward the public prosecutor’s office still enjoys the ability to see into this matter,” he threatened.

Even members of the so-called “moderate” Rouhani faction revealed their true nature in issuing hostile remarks.

“Ahmadinejad will pay an extremely heavy price for his [recent] actions,” said Sadegh Zibakalam, an influential figure in Rouhani’s camp.

Saeed Hajarian, a former Ministry of Intelligence deputy and a current Rouhani advisor, shed light on the power struggle among the so-called “principalists.”

“In these elections all parties have placed their effort to prevent any rifts. Despite all this, we are witnessing such a division while all of them originate from a single trend. When it comes down to slicing the cake, however, they have their disputes and it’s not clear until when such a division will continue among their ranks,” he explained.

The fact is that all of the Iranian regime’s factions will continue this power struggle over a larger share of power and Iran’s wealth, while remaining an undisputable aspect of this corrupt establishment.

The Associated Press described Ahmadinejad’s candidacy as capable of widening existing rifts among Iran’s factions. Last September, Khamenei specifically made it clear how he felt about this issue.

“A certain individual came to see me and… I told him you should not participate… I didn’t even say don’t participate. I said I don’t see it fit… the country will be polarized if you do,” he warned.

“This may now cause divides… one saying that certain individual said, one saying that certain individual didn’t say, another saying why weren’t these remarks made public? Now you have it. Our enemies are listening to take advantage. You have to be very careful,” the Supreme Leader added.

Khamenei’s camp also sought to take advantage of this development in their continued attacks against Rouhani.

“When an individual makes baseless promises to resolve issues in 100 days only to receive votes, it is obvious they have no understanding of how to administer and manage the country. They are then forced to resort to lies… the price of deviated individuals returning to politics is the result of this cabinet only talking the talk, and not walking the walk,” Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf said.

In the meantime, the Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, ridiculed Rouhani for failing to deliver pledges based on the Iran nuclear deal.

“It has now been proven how all that brouhaha about foreign delegations coming and going opened no knots… no bank is willing to cooperate with us… Importing consumables, including even agricultural products, has literally crippled Iranian production. A large number of people are unemployed and huge investments have resulted in complete bankruptcies. Industrial complexes are closing down and many are working at half capacity,” the piece reads.

All said and done, this bring us to the conclusion that the Iranian regime in its entirety is facing a major dilemma, if not crisis. While the international community, especially the Obama administration, missed the opportunity to stand alongside the people of Iran in 2009 in their call for freedom, democracy and human rights, we are once again before a certain turning point in Iran’s modern history.

Ebrahim Raisi, the new candidate in Iran’s presidential election

The candidacy of a cleric well known for his role in the atrocious crimes by the regime ruling Iran over the past three decades was announced.  Ebrahim Raisi, currently head of the massive Astan Quds Razavi entity in control of a sacred Shiite Muslim shrine, will be running for president in the May 19 polls.

While there are claims that this new development will unify the faction opposing the incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani, it is important to shed some light on Raisi’s past to understand how, very similarly to Rouhani himself, this new candidate has played a major role in the mullahs’ crimes.  One can also conclude that this is a prerequisite for any candidate taking part in any so-called election –  read: selection – held by the regime in Iran, thus rendering no change at all.

Raisi’s announcement on Thursday, as reported by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, comes a day after two other members of the “hardliners” faction, former firebrand president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, opted out.

Analysts are voicing a variety of opinions over the fact that Raisi will tighten the race and make the stretch more difficult for Rouhani, and portraying a broader image of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, ill with prostate cancer, who is grooming Raisi to succeed him, using the presidency as a springboard.

Born in 1960, Raisi was involved in the regime’s judiciary since early after Iran’s 1979 revolution.  In 1988, as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor, Raisi was a member of the four-man team known as the “Death Commission,” appointed by Iranian regime founder Ruhollah Khomeini, to massacre all political prisoners in Iran’s prisons who maintained their opposition.  Over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), were sent to the gallows in a span of mere months.

 Last summer, a sound file surfaced, dating back to 1988 and around 20 days after the massacre began, of Khomeini’s successor, Hossein Ali Montazeri, meeting with Death Commission members, including Raisi, and describing the massacre as the most horrifying crime carried out by the Iranian regime.  Subsequent reports showed how Raisi played an active role and was known as the most ruthless Death Commission member.

Khamenei promoted Raisi in 1989 to deputy chair of the Assembly of Experts, the body in charge of selecting the next supreme leader.  Raisi continued to climb up the regime’s ranks in the judiciary, continuing his crimes against the Iranian people.

Khamenei also trusted Raisi to lead the Astan Quds Razavi, a foundation reported to be “one of the most important political and financial conglomerates of the clerical regime controlling massive assets and capital.”

However, as mentioned before, this presidential election in Iran is not between two starkly different candidates.  Rouhani has also played his role in the regime’s atrocities, proving despite his claims of being a “reformist” that all of the Iranian regime’s establishment enjoy reports full of repressive measures and crimes against the Iranian people.

Rouhani has since the 1979 revolution enjoyed a close relationship with the ultraconservative and ruthless Khomeini; acted as former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s right-hand man as he commanded Iran’s forces during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, sending millions of innocent Iranians, including juveniles, into the battlefields; was actively involved in the crackdown of the 1999 student uprising as secretariat of the Supreme National Security Council; and presided over 3,000 executions  under his tenure during the past four years.

As we wind down to the so-called “Election Day” in Iran, the international community needs to understand this new charade will not bring about any change in the characteristics of mullahs regime ruling Iran. Those who claimed Rouhani was a reformist made similar remarks during the tenure of former president Mohammad Khatami from 1997 to 2005 and Rafsanjani’s two terms prior to that.

Through the decades the world has only witnessed Iran increasing its human rights violations, further intensifying its support for terrorism with its Revolutionary Guards and warmongering across the region, especially in Syria, pressing the pedal on its ballistic missile drive and further advancing their nuclear program despite a flawed deal sealed under with the Obama administration.

Iran’s presidential election will render nothing new. And the world should begin demanding Iran end its abovementioned atrocities.

Originally published in American Thinker

Iran’s Elections: A Breaking Crisis?

The 12th presidential election in Iran will be held on May 19th. These polls are taking place at a time when the regime in Tehran, and especially Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are facing three distinct crises.

a)  Khamenei, suffering from prostate cancer, sees his days as numbered and must designate a successor. From March 2015 he has held various sessions with senior regime and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officials for this very purpose. Khamenei insists that his successor be clarified prior to his death.

b)  A major policy overhaul in Washington following the end of Obama’s tenure. This has terrified Iran and placed this regime in intense isolation on the international stage and across the region in the face of Arab and Islamic countries.

c)  The presidential election crisis in May.

Khamenei, witnessing his establishment coming to its knees during the 2009 uprisings, is extremely concerned about a repeat scenario. In such circumstances, the possibility of his entire regime crumbling at the hands of a revolting population is very serious and even likely. Khamenei is weighing how to properly engineer the elections while not providing any pretext for popular upheaval.

In contrast to the viewpoints of various parties in the West, the rifts inside Khamenei’s faction and those supporting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani does not arise from a difference between two so-called “moderate” and/or “hardline” mentalities. The fact is that the sham election is a dispute over two solutions aimed at safeguarding and maintaining a religious dictatorship in power, furthering their expansionism and ambitions.

Both factions, including Khamenei and the current formerly represented by the influential Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, believe in resorting to a domestic crackdown, obtaining nuclear weapons, meddling in the internal affairs of other countries such as Iraq and Syria, and using instability and terrorism leverage as a tool to pursue their foreign policy. The only difference is how to advance in their goal to realize these objectives. Therefore, when we are talking about two factions, we must not mistakenly compare the Iranian regime with today’s advanced democracies.

Khamenei is considered very weak due to the current crises his regime is facing. In contrast to last year, when he constantly lashed out at Rouhani for the deal sealed to curb Iran’s nuclear program and similar initiatives sought for other purposes, Khamenei refused to mention Iran’s current political crises. Furthermore, following the major U.S,-Iran policy change, Khamenei has set aside his stereotype threats against the U.S. and maintained a state of hesitancy in his remarks.

Khamenei and Election Engineering

Candidates for Iran’s presidential elections will register from April 11th to the 16th. The ultraconservative Guardian Council, a 12-man body directly and indirectly appointed by Khamenei himself, will weigh the candidates’ qualifications from April 17th to the 27th. The elections are scheduled for May 19th.

Iran’s presidential elections always feature a large number of candidates. However, the main candidates from the two main factions must receive Khamenei’s explicit or implicit approval.

“Rouhani’s candidacy was confirmed after gaining the approval of the establishment’s senior officials,” according to the Ebtekar daily.

By establishing the “Popular Party of Revolutionary Forces” and the membership of the same individuals who elevated firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president from the ballot boxes back in 2005, Khamenei has revealed signs of how he has engineered the upcoming elections.

In his “Nowruz” message marking the Iranian calendar New Year, Khamenei came to admit his role in the results of the 2009 presidential election.

“I entered the 2009 [presidential election] and stood firm,” he said. In his remarks, Khamenei warned about the May election by stipulating, “I will stand firm and intervene.”

It is worth noting the IRGC command, and especially Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, are seeking the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, who is also considered one of Khamenei’s options as his successor. Khamenei has yet to reach a final decision over Reisi’s candidacy in the May elections. If he registers as a candidate and fails to become president, his chances of succeeding Khamenei will be severely undermined. And if Khamenei seeks to select Reisi as the next president at all costs, he faces the severe possibility of instigating nationwide uprisings.

What is the Forecast?

Naturally, due to the numerous different elements facing Khamenei and his regime’s factions, forecasting even the near future is quite a challenging task. However, there are three different scenarios facing Khamenei:

1) Eliminating Rouhani and selecting a candidate meeting his standards, and that of the IRGC.

2) Rouhani is severely weakened after losing Rafsanjani, considered a major pillar in the regime’s apparatus. He will be reappointed as president on the condition of succumbing to the hegemony of Khamenei and the IRGC.

3) Rouhani views Khamenei weak in the balance of power and stands as a major opponent against his faction.

Of course, Khamenei prefers to realize the first scenario. If concerns of nationwide uprisings cancel this possibility, he will give in to the second scenario.

Although Rouhani is in favor of the third scenario, considering the society’s powder keg conditions and losing the support of Rafsanjani, such a turn of events would be considered dangerous for both the regime’s factions. This outcome can bring an end to the public’s fear of the regime’s domestic crackdown machine and ignite a new nationwide uprising. This is a red line for both of Iran’s factions.

Those supporting Khamenei, and especially the IRGC, seek to eliminate Rouhani from these elections. However, Khamenei cannot take very bold measures and officially oppose Rouhani’s candidacy. When confirming Rouhani’s candidacy, Khamenei asked him to hold coordinating meetings with Sulemani and IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari. This request brings us closer to the second scenario.

However, the Iranian people and their organized opposition, symbolized in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), consider such elections under the mullahs’ regime as baseless and demand free and fair elections held under the United Nations auspices. Such polls are only possible through regime change in Iran and establishing a democratic system.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst and member of Iranian opposition (PMOI/MEK). He graduated from North Texas University. He tweets at @shahriarkia.

The Iran opportunity before Donald Trump

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If the Trump administration seeks to make Iran more amenable to take meaningful measures, they can be reminded with reference to the NCRI that their days are numbered. (AFP)

By Heshmat Alavi
Friday, 20 January 2017

Obama’s doctrine has allowed Iran to launch a string of anti-American measures and remarks throughout the course of his two terms, and most recently refuse any renegotiation of the nuclear deal sealed between the P5+1 and Tehran.

In response, sources say President-elect Donald Trump has received a hand-delivered letter signed by 23 top former US officials urging the adoption of a new approach vis-à-vis the regime in Iran. The text calls on the incoming Trump administration to engage and actively work with the Iranian opposition, an opportunity neglected and set aside by previous administrations.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) is an umbrella group of Iranian dissident groups, including mainly the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), known to first blow the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

The letter is signed by a colorful slate of bipartisan civil and military officials, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former senator Joe Lieberman, former attorney general Michael Mukasey and General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Clinton administration, to name a few.

“President Obama expressed the hope that nuclear negotiations would induce Iran’s leaders to act with greater consideration of American interests. It is now clear that Iran’s leaders have shown no interest in reciprocating… Iran’s rulers have directly targeted US strategic interests, policies and principles, and those of our allies and friends in the Middle East…” the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Fox News, reads. “…to restore American influence and credibility in the world, the United States needs a revised policy,” the text adds.

Obama’s Iran doctrine

This prominent slate of influential American dignitaries has touched on a very right tone, calling for an overhaul of Obama’s Iran doctrine in its entirety. Ever since day one after hijacking the Iranian revolution back in 1979, the basic problem has been none other than the very mullahs’ regime sitting on the throne in Tehran.

While in this day and age many talk about terrorism and refer to ISIS and al-Qaeda, Tehran remains the true source of terrorism across the globe. The US State Department continues to designate this regime as a—if not the—leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran is the world’s central banker of international terrorism by funding Hamas, the Lebanese Hezbollah and a long slate of other extremist Shiite militia groups rampaging Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This letter, signaling a significant gathering very rare in Washington politics for the past 8 years and beyond, is underscoring the fact that the unpopular regime in Iran is the source of a variety of dilemmas. The mullahs are maintaining their control over 80 million Iranians through the ruthless Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary Basij Revomilitia and other security entities.

These oppressive entities showed their wrath in 2009 following the highly disputed reelection–read reselection of firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–as the regime’s president and quelling any and all dissent. The Obama administration missed the opportunity and turned its back on the Iranian people then.

Days numbered?

There is an alternative to the mullahs’ regime in Iran. If the Trump administration seeks to make Iran more amenable to actually take meaningful measures, they can be reminded with reference to the NCRI that their days are numbered, and counting down fast.

It would represent a remarkable message to Tehran if the new administration in Washington made a direct call to NCRI President Maryam Rajavi, a progressive Muslim woman who has devoted her life to regime change in Iran based on a 10-point plan aiming to bring about freedom, democracy, human rights, gender-religious-ethnic equality and a non-nuclear Iran.

Such a policy is not only in the best interest of the United States, but the Middle East and all nations who have suffered from Iran’s mischievous meddling policies. Of course, the mullahs and their lobbies in the US will not be happy at all if President Trump or members of his administration establish direct contact with the NCRI.

However, this should signal Tehran’s soft spot to Washington, and make the Trump administration even more interested about what can be done to support Iran’s legitimate opposition.

Originally posted in Al Arabiya English

Iran: Why “moderate” Rouhani can’t tolerate 2 motorcycling women

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By Heshmat Alavi

Two young women were arrested last week in Dezful, southwest Iran, for riding a motorcycle, according to a report wired by state-run IRNA news agency. As images went viral a social-media backlash was sparked against the ultra-conservative establishment ruling the country. But nothing heard from the so-called “moderate” camp, now symbolled only in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, orphaned following the sudden death of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and senior figure in Iranian politics.

The tale of the two young women, when read, resembled a crime report or breaking news about a major security or political development.

“This manifested the utmost denunciation of religious norms by the two girls and caused serious torment and anxiety among city officials,” said local police commander Colonel Ali Elhami. “The state security forces carried out an extensive investigation and finally managed to find, arrest, and deliver them to judiciary officials.”

The charges raised for this arrest has been violating “religious norms” as their adventure was filmed and posted online. Religious extremists in Iran responded by demanding the women be arrested for their dress, appearance and interaction with men seen in the online video images.

This is a regime with an amazingly low tolerance for any social freedoms. Iranian authorities have described this act as “exploiting the opportunity” due to the lack of police in a national park to take part in an “obscene act.” Yet it seems the regime is more concerned about the footage spreading online so quickly, and more individuals seeking to challenge the establishment through such practices.

A woman would not be officially breaking the law in Iran for riding a motorcycle, yet the very extreme interpretation of modesty laws can provide grounds for authorities to punish such acts.

We are talking about a country of strict attire regulations, especially targeting women, whom are obligated to wear headscarves and abide by so-called “modest” clothing. The regime is also known for dispatching undercover agents in the thousands, parallel to so-called “morality police” patrolling the streets hunting for cases of violations.

In the 21st century when hundreds of millions of social media users are communicating like never before, Iran is known for its frequent social media crackdowns. In 2016 a number of women were apprehended for posting images on Instagram and one was humiliated as authorities forced her to publicly apologize on state television.

Iranian women endure discrimination in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance and even freedom of movement, according to the 2017 Human Rights Watch world report.

Women and girls are also banned from entering sports stadiums to attend certain events, such as men’s soccer and volleyball matches

Knowing the potential of Iran’s powder keg society, and women capable of spearheading protests across the country, the mullahs have for the past 38 years continuously kept women under harsh crackdown measures.

This goes against any and all arguments of Iran possessing a faction of so-called “moderates” or “reformists,” especially since four years of Rouhani’s tenure rendered no significant improvement in freedoms.

Despite his smiles aimed at fueling the West’s pro-appeasement policy camp, Rouhani’s grim report card shows a horrendous surge to nearly 3,000 executions, unrivaled even by his predecessor, firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The case of these two innocent motorcycling girls further proves the growing intolerance of a regime on the brink of collapse. With Rafsanjani gone, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has lost his balancing factor, and any opening divide in the senior hierarchy will pave the path for 2009-like uprisings that shook the regime’s very foundations.

Interestingly, women lead the main Iranian opposition movement threatening the mullahs’ rule. Mrs. Maryam Rajavi is President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Women play a very significant role in this entity, acting as a role model for women inside Iran.

This is exactly why the mullahs’ regime has no tolerance for the Iranian population to sense any increase in freedoms. With crucial presidential elections only a few months away, Khamenei and his apparatus seek to maintain a tight grip on the un-resting society. Even such simple cases of two young women riding a motorcycle.

Iran after Rafsanjani

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By Amir Basiri

Dying at the age of 82 from a heart attack on Sunday, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had a long record of guiding the regime’s lethal measures domestically and abroad, including suicide bombings and eliminating exiled dissidents. Such an image is far from the “moderate” that Western media found in him.

Rafsanjani was known for his central role in Iranian politics. From the 1979 revolution forward, he placed himself amongst the inner circle of regime founder and first supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini. He served as the regime’s parliamentary speaker in the 1980s, while in parallel acted as Khomeini’s envoy to supervise operations in the Iran-Iraq War.

As Khomeini died and the war wound down, Rafsanjani assumed the mantle of presidency in 1989 and played a significant part in Ali Khamenei’s rise as Khomeini’s successor. Rafsanjani continued his political life by chairing the Assembly of Experts — in charge of appointing the supreme leader and acting as an oversight body over his role — and move on to the Expediency Council before his death, both advising Khamenei and finalizing conflicts between the ultra-conservative Guardian Council and the parliament.

Following eight years of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, in 2005 Rafsanjani made an effort to reclaim this position. This campaign ended in humiliation as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency. For the next eight years Rafsanjani publicly criticized and denounced Ahmadinejad’s policies and actions, distancing himself from the hardliners and further attempting to portray himself as a “reformist” favoring warm relations with the West.

Despite serious differences and rivalry over power and influence, Khamenei fully comprehended his need for Rafsanjani as a stabilizing factor and could never fully eliminate him. Rafsanjani’s death is now evaluated as the loss of a significant pillar for the entire regime, as explained by Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Rajavi declared in a statement on Sunday defining Rafsanjani’s death as the downfall of “one of the two pillars and key to the equilibrium of the religious fascism ruling Iran.”

“Rafsanjani, who had always been the regime’s number two, acted as its balancing factor and played a decisive role in its preservation. Now, the regime will lose its internal and external equilibrium,” she added, also predicting the “approaching overthrow” of the mullahs’ regime.

For 38 years Rafsanjani “played a critical role in suppression at home and export of terrorism abroad, as well as in the quest to acquire nuclear weapons,” Rajavi underscored.

In 2006 Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman filed suit against Rafsanjani for his role in one of the deadliest Iran-supported terrorist attacks abroad — the 1994 suicide truck bombing targeting the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. The massive blast leveled entire buildings and resulted in the death of 85 people with hundreds more wounded. The investigators specifically issued arrest warrants for Rafsanjani and seven other senior Iranian regime figures.

Rafsanjani also ordered numerous assassinations of dissidents in exile, including former Iranian ambassador the United Nations and prominent human rights activist Dr. Kazem Rajavi. Iranian assassins murdered him in 1990 near his Geneva home. Swiss investigators raised charges against Tehran and authorities issued an arrest warrant for Rafsanjani’s spy chief Ali Fallahian.

The March 1993 assassination of 42-year-old NCRI Rome envoy Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in the Italian capital and the February 1996 murder of the NCRI’s refugee envoy Zahra Rajabi in Istanbul were also ordered by Rafsanjani.

He also had a particular enmity against the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the central entity in the NCRI umbrella group.

“Four rulings are a must for [MEK members]: 1– Be killed. 2 — Be hanged. 3 — Arms and legs be amputated. 4 — Be separated from society,” Rafsanjani is quoted in saying back in 1981. As Khomeini’s right hand, he also presided over the summer 1988 massacre, sending over 30,000 political prisoners to the gallows throughout Iran.

Rafsanjani has been a balancing factor through the course of the past four decades. The regime in its entirety has suffered a major defeat and will significantly decline down the road.

Khamenei’s focus will be to prevent this development from sparking into an uncontrollable turn of events for the entire establishment. Considering this regime’s past approach, there is a high probably of Tehran’s mullahs resorting to enhancing their effort to spread violence, exporting extremism and terrorism, and promoting Islamic fundamentalism across the region and beyond.

Amir Basiri is a human rights activist and analyst. He tweets at @amir_bas

Originally published in American Thinker