A Tipping Point for Tehran


July 27, 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s “elected” president, will officially assume his post next month. The elections, no doubt, were a sham and the controversy about voting irregularities is far from settled. Iran’s opposition sources revealed that the national ID cards of about five million dead people were provided to regime supporters, enabling them to vote multiple times at multiple locations.

So Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory had little to do with the fact that he campaigned as the “populist” son of a blacksmith and hoisted the flag of class warfare against the “wretched rich and corrupt.” Instead, his victory can be attributed solely to his loyalty to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) top brass. A former commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) Force in the IRGC – tasked with the planning and execution of terrorist plots and assassinations abroad – Mr. Ahmadinejad was catapulted to the presidency by Iran’s ultraconservative faction.

Even before he has taken office, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presence is already felt in the political circles and the streets of Tehran, showing a policy course that must raise serious concerns on both sides of the Atlantic. In the last three weeks alone, under the banner of a “second” Islamic revolution, the clerical regime has hanged 11 people in public, including two reportedly homosexual teenagers, and sentenced three others to death.

The real story of this election is the metamorphosis of the IRGC from an ideological army to an omnipresent political and military powerhouse. With Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory, the IRGC is now able to spread its wings over all key centers of influence in Iran. This is the most serious power realignment within the ruling theocracy since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.

The first success of the IRGC’s resurgence took place during national municipal elections in February 2003, when Mr. Ahmadinejad, leading a conservative block of winning candidates, became the mayor of Tehran. Then, in the February 2004 parliamentary elections, at least 40 former IRGC commanders were elected. Shortly thereafter Mr. Khamenei appointed a top IRGC general as head of Iran’s national broadcasting corporation, which runs all radio and television stations in Iran and is the mullahs’ primary vehicle for spreading their fundamentalist propaganda at home and to neighboring countries.

Currently, the IRGC has full control over Tehran’s terror network and has won the admiration of Mr. Khamenei for “running effective intelligence and diplomatic operations” in Iraq. Mr. Khamenei has also put the IRGC in charge of Iran’s nuclear program. Last week, Ali Larijani, a former senior IRGC commander, was appointed to replace Hassan Rowhani as the new secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Also last week Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, a top general of the IRGC and the No. 2 in the IRGC-run paramilitary Bassij Force — the shock troops primarily deployed to crackdown on protesters — was appointed as Iran’s new police chief. The appointment of Mr. Moghaddam, who once said “a country where liberal ideas rule will get nowhere,” brings Iran’s regular police force under the domination of the IRGC and signals a growing readiness to rein in social and political dissent.

Soon after assuming his new post, Mr. Moghaddam called on the security forces to deal “decisively with criminals” and use live bullets if necessary. In recent weeks, the state security forces have already used extreme force to crush political protests — considered a crime by the mullahs — throughout the country.

And earlier this month, Al-Arabia TV reported that the so-called Global Headquarters for the Commemoration of Islam’s Martyrs has recruited nearly 40,000 human “time bombs” ready to carry out “martyrdom operations to liberate Islamic lands.” The group bills itself as an NGO but in fact enjoys the full backing of the IRGC — the top commanders regularly attend its meetings — and thrived under Mayor Ahmadinejad, who provided their terrorist training centers with access to state resources. It would do even better under President Ahmadinejad.

Lastly, and as an opening to next month’s nuclear talks with Europe, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, has announced that “even if the West provided us with all economic, political and security incentives, Iran would not drop its nuclear fuel program.”

In the absence of any feasible chance of success for political engagement or a military action to neutralize the clear and present threats posed by Tehran — other alternatives must be considered in the Euro- American-Tehran policy equation. Partnering with Iranian people — and not their tyrant rulers — would be a good start.

A housewife in Tehran told Reuters news agency that she believes an Ahmadinejad presidency would hasten the regime’s collapse since there are no “fake reformers” anymore to hide behind. “This is the best result….The moment of real change has just got much closer,” she said.

This Iranian woman seems to have recognized a possible strategic implication of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency that has escaped many Iran observers: Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory may, against his own wishes, help the success of the democracy movement in Iran. In the end, only a regime change in Tehran can ultimately rid Iran and the region of the ayatollahs’ menace and the nuclear weapons that may soon be at their disposal. And this is also where EU’s policy toward Iran needs to gravitate. It is a security and policy imperative.

Mr. Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Mr. Bulorchi is executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Democratic Iran.

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