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Entries in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (39)


Iran Analysis: RegimeFail?

MOHARRAM REGIME DEMO3If a demonstration occurs in the square but no one really notices, does it make a sound?

It is less than 24 hours after the Iranian regime tried to build up a mass rally on the first day of  the religious month of Moharram, not only for the pretext of protesting the burning of Ayatollah Khomeini's photograph but for the wider goal of showing the Government's political superiority over its opposition. Yet this morning, Iranian state medium Press TV, which was proclaiming that "millions" were on the streets of Iran, is not even bothering to mention the story, let alone update it. Fars News is now on the nuclear issue and promoting art about martyrs.  The Islamic Republic News Agency is trying to boost President Ahmadinejad, after his appearance at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, with his rhetoric on how Iran --- unlike European countries --- supports freedom and democracy around the world. (IRNA, further down its page, has a short, rather limp story that a million people marched in support of Khomeini and the Supreme Leader.)

Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?
The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

We tentatively suggested yesterday afternoon that the attempted demonstrations in Tehran, let alone in other parts of  Iran where I have still not seen visual evidence, were a regime "flop". No need to be tentative now: this was a clear picture, after six months, not of a regime asserting its political strength but of a Government and even Supreme Leader struggling to maintain even a 24-hour appearance of political legitimacy. The sensational cries of "Death to Mousavi", whipped up by an Ayatollah Khamenei ally, made little more than fleeting headlines; indeed, I don't think even the base charge of "insult to Khomeini" was successfully stuck upon the opposition.

This, however, is the easy analysis to make this morning. Now the ball bounces back into the court of the opposition, be that Hashemi Rafsanjani, senior clerics, or the Green movement. Once more they have both the initiative and the burden of showing that their supporters are still ready to press their demands.

So on to Ashura (27 December), the key day of mourning and commemoration in Moharram marking the death of Imam Hossein. The Green movement rallied on Qods Day (18 September), which traditionally had been a regime day as it displayed its support of the Palestinians and their claim on Jerusalem. It rallied on National Students Day (7 December), which had marked the supremacy of the Islamic Republic over the Shah with the memory of the killing of three students in 1953. Can the opposition now mark one of the most important days on the Iranian and Shi'a Islam calendar as their own?

The regime failed yesterday, but that is far from enough to argue that it has lost. Those challenging the regime now have to prove they can make a meaningful, otherwise many Iranians (how many?) may sit on their hands in passivity and resignation.

It is eight days to Ashura.


The Latest from Iran (18 December): Moharram Begins

MOHARRAM REGIME DEMO2310 GMT: A Sad End, Another Day. We took the night off to catch our breath (and catch up with some friends), as Iran winds down after an anti-climactic and possibly damaging day for the regime.

On a day that started with the cyber-drama of the attack on Twitter, probably by a group supporting the Iranian Government, the evening ends with the sad news that the domain of Mowj-e-Sabz, one of the key locations for information in this crisis, has been released for purchase. The activists of the website announced yesterday that they are taking a well-earned break.

But we'll back in a few hours to see what Saturday brings.

NEW Iran on Moharram, Day 1: The Regime Flops?
NEW Latest Iran Video: Mehdi Karroubi Interview with BBC (17 December)
NEW Iran: The Regime Takes On (Hacks?) Twitter for Moharram
Iran Analysis: The Regime’s Sword Wavers
Latest Iran Video: Interview of the “Basij Member” on the Election and Abuses (16 December)
Iran & The Arrest of Majid Tavakoli: “To Men Who Are Not Ashamed of Being a Woman” (Shirin Ebadi)
Latest Iran Video: The Larijani Threat to Arrest Green Leaders (16 December)
The Latest from Iran (17 December): An Uncertain Regime

1810 GMT: Stratospheric Media Speculation of Day. The cyber-attack on Twitter this morning (see separate analysis)? It's all down to the Iranian Government's new strategy in the nuclear negotiations.

That's according to TechCrunch, who get bored with all things computer-y and decide to become political analysts (this morning, they didn't even know that the "Iranian Cyber Army" had been assaulting Green Movement websites):

Other sources told us that the timing of the attack on Twitter is part of a concerted effort across the Iranian government and military to take a stronger diplomatic stance against the United States and European Union in the lead up to negotiations on Iran’s nuclear plans.

Oh, yes, it has to be all about "us" in the West and not about the internal political battle in Iran. That's why the hackers went after the website Mowj-e-Sabz, which as far as I know is not involved in any way with discussions of uranium enrichment. And that's why they invoked Imam Hossein, who may just have something to do with the first day of Moharram, which just happens to be today.

All of this would be end-of-day silliness were it not for the high-profile and normally perceptive blog The Daily Dish, who decided to feature this as the real story behind the Iran Regime v. Twitter fight.

1730 GMT: More "The News is No News". Fars News, spinning a tough line, only offers further testimony to the weakness of the regime's position. It headlines the warning of the Supreme Leader's aide, Mohammad Hassan Rahimian (see 1405 GMT), that those who "continue to intrigue...will encounter the worst possible situation" and the response of those demonstrating, "Green riot leaders should be executed".

At no point, however, does Fars let us know how many actually joined in this heart-warming performance.

1630 GMT: The News is No News. Our interim assessment of the regime's "flop" today is holding up pretty well. Press TV website's story drops the "millions" of its over-excited (or over-scripted) correspondent and of other state media; indeed, it puts no number at all on a rather bland description of the protest for Ayatollah Khomeini.

The non-Iranian media are nowhere to be found. Having chased after the "hacking of Twitter" story, they now have the distraction of some Iranian troops acting up on the border and occupying a (possibly out-of-use) Iraqi oil well. We're monitoring the story, but sources indicate this incident, which appears to the third incursion in recent weeks, is more a political signal by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps --- don't think of attacking Iran --- than the start of a serious conflict.

1440 GMT: Western Mediawatch. Let's give Reuters credit for at least noticing that something happened in Tehran today, as other outlets are blissfully void of news.

That said, Reuters' headline --- "Death to Mousavi" --- succeeds in being both sensationalist and tangential at the same time. It may be that some folks chanted, "Mousavi, this is our last warning. The sedition leaders should be executed," and that --- as we just noted --- the regime put out one representative (Rahimian) to issue that call.

This lifting of a few snippets from Iranian state media, however, says nothing about the size of the rallies or their political impact (or lack of such).

1405 GMT: Shaking the Fist. Actually, in the context of the threats earlier this week, the regime's efforts today were not that intimidating. Ayatollah Emami Kashani, the leader of Friday Prayers in Tehran, does not exactly cut the most menacing figure.

That said, Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, the Supreme Leader’s former representative in the Bonyad-e Shahid (Martyrs' Foundation), tried his best in his speech in front of Tehran university. Arrest the opposition leaders? Too soft, asserted Rahimian: why not execute them?

And here's today's unsubtle connection: Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has declared that the cases of several people accused of "insulting Imam Khomeini" will go to court next week.

1310 GMT: An Interim Assessment of The Regime's Demonstration on Moharram. We have enough to venture an interim assessment of the significance of today's events for the regime and its attempt to establishment of "legitimacy".

1125 GMT: Hmmm..... IRNA now has a story about today's events, but it is a dry recitation of a "Friday Prayers" resolution condemning the insult to Ayatollah Khomeini, accompanied by a photograph of a group of protesters (see inset).

1100 GMT: The Regime's Day. Press TV has now got its lines straight, "Iran Outrage", with shots of thousands in Enghelab Square in Tehran and large posters of Ayatollah Khomeini (but note: few prominent images of the Supreme Leader). Correspondent Saman Kojouri is reciting the same litany he used 30 minutes ago.

Fars and IRNA still have no visible coverage on their websites. (This has now changed with IRNA --- see our interim assessment.)

1030 GMT: Let's Try This Again. OK, now this is more like it. Here's Press TV's live coverage from "the streets of Tehran" with correspondent Saman Kojouri:
Thousands of Iranians, millions of Iranians all across the nation have taken to the streets, especially here in the capital Tehran. The people have flooded the streets after Friday prayers to show their anger over what happened a few days on December 7th, when an insult occurred against the portrait of Imam Khomeini, the Father and Founder of the Islamic Revolution.

From that day on, the Student Day on, the public outrage went high across the country and many people took to the streets, from different walks of life.

Kojouri repeats this for about four minutes. The widest shots offered by Press TV are of thousands at the venue outside Tehran Friday Prayers.

1015 GMT: Really, That's All You've Got? So far, the story has been lack of attention byIranian state media to the ceremonies for the first day of Moharram. The Islamic Republic News Agency's lead story is on 250 new suppliers of "hot meat" in Tehran.

Press TV has the Copenhagen Summit at #1, then it's Iran's nuclear programme at #2, and only then do Tehran's Friday Prayers sneak in. The spin is unsurprising: Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, leading the prayers, has criticised the defacing of the image of Imam Khomeini. He then "called on Iranians to be aware of enemy plots to take advantage of objections against the June Presidential election....The protests that started in the wake of the vote will eventually benefit the enemies."

And Kashani's reference to the political challenge from Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the Green Movement? "Officials should try to prevent radical moves that...merely triggered  new triggers in the country....All political groups should stick to the guidelines of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, to resolve disputes and promote unity."

0933 GMT: Pushing "Regime Change". The Wall Street Journal, a firm advocate of the toppling of not only the Ahmadinejad Government but the Islamic Republic, features an editorial by Heshmat Tabarzadi, leader of the Iran Democratic Front:
Dec. 7 [the protests of 16 Azar] proved that the movement for a free, democratic Iran is robust and only growing in strength. If the government continues to opt for violence, there very well may be another revolution in Iran. One side has to step down. And that side is the government—not the people.

Here's the interesting points, especially in light of the continuing debates over the aims of the Green Movement. Tabarzadi never uses the words "regime change" --- those belong to the Journal's headline writers --- but he does feature university protests "openly denouncing the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, challenging the entirety of the ruling establishment, and demanding the separation of religion and state".

So does this constitute the demise of the Islamic Republic?

0930 GMT: Karroubi Reaches the West. We've posted the video of the BBC's (rather disappointing) interview with Mehdi Karroubi.

0750 GMT: Iran Mediawatch (2). After early-morning silence on Moharram from regime outlets, Fars News is now headlining today's commemorations, claiming ownership of Ayatollah Khomenei amidst the recent "burning picture" controversy: "United Iran will declare its love for the Imam".

0740 GMT: Cyber-wars for Moharram. Here's an entry we didn't expect to write today: an Iranian group, which also took over the Mowj-e-Sabz website this week, has claimed to have hacked Twitter, which has been running slowly since 1200 GMT on Thursday. We've got the latest.

0655 GMT: Iran Mediawatch. Right now, the state media --- at least on the Web --- are more concerned with "bigging up" President Ahmadinejad and his speech in Copenhagen ("capitalism and materialism are to blame for environmental crisis", "profit-making approach to the world resources must be avoided,", ""greenhouse gas emission has dealt a blow to the planet earth") than they are with today's events. The Islamic Republic News Agency confines itself to a statement from the head of the Islamic Propaganda Organization that Moharram commemorations will be even bigger and better than last year.

0630 GMT: Eleven days after the protests of National Students Day on 16 Azar, the holy month of Moharram begins today. In contrast to the period between previous important public occasions since July, there has been no significant pause in protest, demonstration, and political manoeuvre. University campuses have continued to simmer, the regime has raised the threat level with its dark hints of arrests and trials, and opposition political figures have been more forthcoming in their statements despite (and indeed because of) those threats.

So we begin this morning watching for two signs of the political situation. The easier reading will probably be of the opposition. The indecision over whether to march today, diluting if not seizing the Government's control of the commemoration of Moharram, is likely to end in 1) a declaration from Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi that they regret that their request for a permit has been denied by the regime; and 2) an acceptance by most of the Green movement that it is best to lie low. A scattering of opposition demonstrators are likely to turn out, but this will not be an organised response.

So that leaves the public arena open to the regime for the first time in six months and raises the more difficult question: how significant will their own effort and that of their supporters be today? As an EA reader noted yesterday, the answer does not rest solely or even primarily on the number who appear at Friday Prayers and the subsequent rally: there are enough core elements such as the Basiji movement and enough people who will be brought into the demonstration to fill a television screen or the front page of a newspaper. How many others will not only turn out but will be vocal in their acclamation for not only Imam Khomeini but also the Supreme Leader? And perhaps more significantly in the short-term, how many will be raising their voices not only for Ayatollah Khamenei but also Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Iran Analysis: The Regime's Sword Wavers

SWORDEnduring America, 14 December: "What can the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard do with a Sword which, for all the detentions and all the propaganda, dangles not as a sign of its threat but of (for now) its impotence?"

Even by the standards of this post-election conflict, the last 48 hours have been extraordinary for their rhetoric. At one point, there were no less than five regime officials (head of judiciary Sadegh Larijani, Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi, Supreme Leader representative Mojtaba Zolnour, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, Tehran Governor Morteza Tamedon) throwing around threats of arrests. Yet the opposition was even more spirited and even more high-profile: both Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mehdi Karroubi met the threats with defiance and more than a little humour (both were quite concerned about Yazdi's health, physical and mental), MPs offered public support, Mir Hossein Mousavi's Alireza Beheshti challenged the regime's continuous "lies about imperialism", and Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, held up the Green Movement as the representative of the ideals of Imam Khomeini.

The Latest from Iran (17 December): An Uncertain Regime

And the outcome today, on the eve of the holy month of Moharram? A regime, nervous and possibly a bit frightened, which can neither swing its Sword of Damocles nor keep it steady.

Yesterday afternoon EA correspondent Mr Azadi began putting the pieces together. On Tuesday, Yazdi had put out his scathing ridicule of the "joke" of Karroubi and threatened Hashemi Rafsanjani's son, Mehdi Hashemi, with arrest if he stepped foot in Iran, Tamedon had talked both of security forces on alert for troublemakers on Friday and of Rafsanjani, and Zolnour apparently said all the opposition leaders should be rounded up. Then yesterday, it emerged that both Larijani and Moslehi were telling important groups of officials and clerics that the evidence was in place to hold trials; the Minister of Intelligence was now spinning a conspiracy tale in which representatives of Hashemi Rafsanjani had planned the post-election conflict in Britain with foreign agents.

The speeches were not necessarily co-ordinated. Indeed, because they probably weren't, they were far short of successful. Larijani's statement, which should have been the most significant given his official position, was a bit lost in crowded airspace, while Moslehi's speech --- at least to my outside eyes --- comes across as extreme. Is the regime really saying that Mehdi Hashemi and Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashemi (who is in Iran), go on trial as part of the inner circle of the "velvet revolution"?

Instead of cowing the opposition into submission, the volley of regime shots were met by a furious counter-attack. Karroubi was careful, in a well-crafted response, to focus on Yazdi rather than swinging at officials such as Larijani and Moslehi, but Rafsanjani, durig the course of the day, took on not only Yazdi ("Get Help", "Get Cured") but the regime in general. Perhaps the former President was planning, after months of relative silence and uncertain manoeuvres, to surface but it appears that the attacks on him and his family helped make up his mind.

The irony is that, if the regime had kept its mouth shut or at least been more measured in its attacks, it could have left the opposition, rather than itself, in wobbling confusion. The Green movement seemed to be undecided, or even split, over tactics for the first day of Moharram. Should it join the Government-authorised marches, behind the message of "The Ideals of Khomeini are Our Ideals", or should it stand aside and let the regime have the field of demonstrations to itself for the first time in six months?

Supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi put out a letter, with a picture of Mousavi, favouring a public appearance but other activists balked: 1) some feared this would lead to violent clashes; 2) some did not want to associated with any march in honour of Khomeini, even if it had the symbols of resistance of Imam Hossein, whose death is marked by Moharram; 3) some argued that staying away would embarrass the regime when the outcome of a relatively small demonstration showed the lack of support for the Government. This morning, the argument is still unresolved.

Yet this debate in the opposition camp is secondary to the image of the regime's fist-shaking being met by a smack from Karroubi, who had been muted in recent weeks, Rafsanjani, and others. So why did it make such an inept move?

The more I look at events, the more I think that in part the answer is a fear of Rafsanjani. It was notable, for example, that Moslehi's attack did not name any other leader apart from the former President: Mousavi, Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami were all absent from the speech. And it may be equally notable that Tehran Government Tamedon specifically referred to Rafsanjani's 6 December speech in Mashhad as an unacceptable challenge to the regime.

At the time of the speech, we published not only an extract from the speech but an analysis pointing to discussions between senior clerics and Rafsanjani as part of a renewed effort for a "National Unity Plan" or similar political compromise between the regime and the Green opposition. This prospect was challenged by others as an illusory hope but we still maintained this: what mattered was whether the regime thought the initiative was serious, causing it discomfort and prompting a response.

The last 48 hours mark that response: the Government is worried about Rafsanjani, possibly even more than the protests on the streets or the Mousavi-Karroubi-Khatami alliance. My hunch --- and it is only a hunch --- is that regime officials think Rafsanjani might have planned a high-profile appearance, if not tomorrow than at some point leading up to or on  the special day of Ashura (27 December), to mark his defiance of the Ahmadinejad Government. For the first time since his Friday Prayer of mid-July, the trumpet (or alarm, in the ears of the regime) would be sounded: Hashemi's Back, Hashemi's Here.

If true, that's a pretty significant development in the ongoing battle. But I think the threats also come from a second fear, and this one may be more important.

The regime is worried about its own supporters. Uncertainty and fright comes from the prospect that the large numbers won't show up tomorrow. The Friday Prayer congregation at Tehran University will be full, but how many will then go on the streets? And, if they are on the streets, how loud will they be for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad rather than Imam Hossein?

For six months, from the day-after-election "they are all dust" victory speech of Ahmadinejad to the 19 June Friday Prayer speech of the Supreme Leader to this Sunday's reprise of Ayatollah Khamenei --- not to mention the actions beyond the speeches from detentions to security presence to the steady propaganda brumbeat --- the regime has relied on attack.

But a swinging sword does not necessarily find its target. And it does not necessarily bring legitimacy (irrespective of the words of Machiavelli). So tomorrow's test is not of how many come for the opposition but, arguably for the first time since 12 June, how many come out for the Supreme Leader, for the President, and for current regime and its actions.

The Latest on Iran (16 December): What's Next?

MOHARRAM31945 GMT: Khatami on Moharram. Illustrating the analysis in Mr Azadi's "Beginners Guide to Moharram", former President Mohammad Khatami put out a message linking the commemoration of the third Imam, Hussein, with today's challenge in Iran:
The Islamic society has one major goal and that is to reform the society contentiously; It could be either by reforming the government by establishing a suitable government or by reforming the way government rules and the methods it interacts with the society. Imam Hossein said that he did not fight to gain power but he did fight for reform in the Islamic society….Before the revolution the goal of the reform was to establish a new government but now that the Islamic Republic is established, reform must continue to strengthen it.

NEW Iran Document: The Rafsanjani Speech in Mashhad (6 December)
NEW Iran: Why the US Sanctions Game on Tehran is All Wrong
NEW Iran Picture of the Day: Mohammad Khatami’s Cellphone
Iran: A Beginner’s Guide to Moharram
Latest Iran Video: The University Protests (15 December)
Iran: US State Department Pushes for “Proper” Sanctions in 2010
UPDATED “Where is My Vote?” (Part 2): TIME Snubs Green Movement as “Person of the Year”
The Latest on Iran (16 December): What’s Next?

1900 GMT: So Is Raf Ready for the Fight? He's sure talking like it. Following his advice to Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, "Get Help" (1730 GMT), he's taken on other critics: "Some people make their reputation by slandering others and the appropriate response to such people is silence."

Rafsanjani advised regime officials to strengthen “society’s trust” in the system by executing the provisions of the constitution and respecting peoples' rights. No amount of Government restrictions could prevent the legitimate demands of the Iranian population: “With the dismantling of media monopolies, today’s generation are well-informed and they’ll only be more so in the future.”

1730 GMT: Karroubi and Rafsanjani Smack Down Yazdi, Part 2 (see 0740 GMT). Payvand has an English translation of Mehdi Karroubi's verbal demolition of Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the Ahmadinejad ally who threatened him with punishment over claims of detainee abuse:

Regarding your remark and your concern about me being a "joke", I should remind you that those who are briefing you, are telling you jokes; that's why you have this illusion that the political turmoil and the critical situation of the society is like a joke!...I remind you that what I do and will do is based on my belief and duty in defending the rights of each and every citizen, and this for me is the main goal and responsibility.

If you use clear and free sources, you will see that wherever Mehdi Karroubi joined the people, they received him with kindness. Unlike some, his popularity did not diminish with time, but with the kindness of the people --- despite all the limitations and closing down my newspaper and offices --- I am blessed with their support every day.

If you don't agree with the views of someone, why don't you act according to the law? Why do you deal with it by hiring a number of thugs and causing trouble in the neighbourhood in the middle of the night? Is this what you are proudly talking about that if Karoubi did not have bodyguards what you could have done to him? Is this what you promised people at the beginning of the revolution? What has happened to your dignity as a member of the Guardian Council?!

Karroubi, after expressing concern's for Yazdi's "age and illness" ("I hope you get better soon"), "pointed out the financial interests that Ayatollah Yazdi and his son have in the country and the incidents that has shown his incompetence as a former head of the judiciary; he then asked him to resign from his public posts as a member of the Guardian Council and a member of the Assembly of Experts so that he won't make more mistakes either for his own gain or due to wrong information".

Meanwhile, Rafsanjani had a succinct suggestion for Yazdi, who argued that Rafsanjani's family members should be tried for activities surrounding the Presidential election, "Get Help":
For many years my response to Ayatollah Yazdi has been greetings and wishing him health. If some think that by intimidation and bullying they can solve the problems they are making a mistake and even if they can solve the problems temporarily but after a short while those problems will return in greater extent than before.

1628 GMT: Tearing Down Internet Walls. The US State Department has notified Congress that is waiving the threat of sanctions on US companies that provide anti-censorship software:
The Department of State is recommending that the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issue a general license that would authorize downloads of free mass market software by companies such as Microsoft and Google to Iran necessary for the exchange of personal communications and/or sharing of information over the internet such as instant messaging, chat and email, and social networking. This software is necessary to foster and support the free flow of information to individual Iranian citizens and is therefore essential to the national interest of the United States.

1617 GMT: Lemming Mediawatch Alert. Forgive me for being cranky, but we've been immersed for a few hours in an intense period of political activity inside Iran --- an episode which could lead to a breaking-point conflict between the regime and figures like Hashemi Rafsanjani --- and the "Western" media are still fluttering about the Iranian missile test from this morning, which frankly doesn't mean that much. (Really.) So --- CNN, Los Angeles Times, Washington PostNew York Times --- you're on notice.

(Credit to Reuters, which has picked up on the threat of the head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, that there is "enough evidence" to try opposition leaders --- see 1125 GMT.)

1614 GMT: What's the Fuss About Rafsanjani About? Have a look --- we've posted a second English summary of his 6 December speech in Mashhad, together with background on his "unity" strategy and a link to the first summary of the speech.

1610 GMT: Peyke Iran have published an updated list of people detained in 16 Azar (7 December) protests.

1538 GMT: Accessing Mowjcamp. The Green Movement website, which was hacked earlier today (0725 GMT), can now be accessed via an alternative Internet address.

1530 GMT: Mortazavi's Back. Amidst the rhetorical drama of today, an announcment which is relatively low-profile. It is confirmed that former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi, who has led the legal crackdown on post-election protests but had been rumoured to have fallen out of favour in Tehran, is now back in the Presidential fold. He has been appointed as Ahmadinejad's special representative to combat smuggling of goods and currency.

1525 GMT: And Now from the Reformist Side. The regime makes its threat, and reformist MPs hit back. Darius Ghanbari has warned that pro-Government "extremists" want to put millions in Iran's jails.

1510 GMT: More on Regime v. Rafsanjani. Yep, as we noted below (1440 GMT), it is Rafsanjani's Mashaad speech that has lit the fire under the Government. The Governor of Tehran Province, Morteza Tamedon, admitted as much with his own challenge to the former President: the recent remarks had put the "wood" on the "fire" of the post-election conflict.

1455 GMT: The Green Counter-Attack. Alireza Beheshti, the chief advisor to Mir Hossein Mousavi, has said in an interview that it is curious how the Iranian regime leaves no time and space to "replace their lies about imperialism". In a direct rebuke to the Supreme Leader's representative to the Revolutionary Guard, Mojtaba Zolnour, who called yesterday for the arrests of opposition figures, Beheshti said that the lies were being spread to destroy the leaders of the Green Wave.

Beheshti's statement is also an implicit attack on the Supreme Leader's continuing focus on the evils of the US and Israel, including their attempts to use the opposition for regime change in Iran.

Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's wife, has also intervened against the regime's criticisms on the "burning of Khomeini" incident, arguing that the Green Movement is a result of the ideals and approach of the Imam.

1440 GMT: Urgent --- The Attack on Rafsanjani. This can now be classified as an all-out assault, short of arrest, on former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to shut him up and block any manoeuvres against the Government.

We have more details of Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi's attack (see 1125 GMT), made in a meeting with the leaders of Tehran's mosques, military representatives, and officials. Moslehi, in a conference about the post-election crisis, emphasised that meetings had been held in Britain before the 12 June Presidential vote to stir up trouble against the Ahmadinejad Government and the Islamic Republic.

Moslehi claimed that Rafsanjani and an unnamed leader of the Green movement had sent emissaries to these meetings. He also noted that Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi is now in Britain, where he has spent most of his time since June amidst allegations that he has been involved in illegal activity surrounding the election.

The specific naming of Rafsanjani, rather than a figure such as Mir Hossein Mousavi, indicates that the Government has specifically targeted him as a threat who must now be removed amidst the continuing protests and calls for "unity" to remedy post-election problems and injustices. The move is probably linked to Rafsanjani's recent speech in Mashhad, which we covered extensively on Enduring America two weeks ago.

1235 GMT: Defending Opposition Leaders. With the regime stepping up its verbal attacks on the opposition, two reformist members of Parliament, Mohamad Tabesh (the nephew of Mohammad Khatami) and Nasrullah Torabi, have defended the movement's top political figures. Torabi said that, if the regime tried Mousavi-Karroubi-Khatami on charges, they "should try the history of the Islamic Revolution", given the important role that the three men had played in that revolution since 1979.

1230 GMT: March Manoeuvres. With Mir Hossein Mousavi's petition, submitted with Mehdi Karroubi, for a march protesting the attacks on Imam Khomeini, likely to be rejected, his supporters have  a new approach this morning: a letter calling on the Green movement to join the already-authorised marches after Friday Prayers.

1125 GMT: A Renewed Threat of Arrests? EA correspondent Mr Azadi brings us a rush of stories and invites us to connect the dots:

1. Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi has launched a new attack on the family of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. In a speech on the "intrigues" of those who wanted to undermine the Islamic Republic, Moslehi specifically mentioned the "children of Rafsanjani". The assault is now the lead story on the Islamic Republic News Agency website.

2. The previous IRNA lead story: Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, has called the opposition "un-Islamic" and opposed to Iran's Revolution and the ideals of Imam Khomeini.

3. Perhaps most ominously, the head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani --- only days after meeting with President Ahmadinejad -- has said that his offices have "enough evidence" to bring opposition leaders to trial. He specifically indicated that Mehdi Karroubi may be prosecuted over false allegations of the rapes of post-election detainees, and he added that Mir Hossein Mousavi's statements of the last month are similar to those of the "terrorist" Mujahedin-e-Khalq in the early years of the Islamic Revolution.

0955 GMT: Sanctions Folly, Khatami Fun. We've got two new entries: a story from Gary Sick about a US simulation pointing out the weaknesses in American strategy on Iran and a Picture of the Day of Mohammad Khatami's cellphone.

We also have an update on the Time "Person of the Year" story.

0905 GMT: Lemming News. The BBC has joined the Iran missile story, although it at least puts in a caveat before getting panicky: "Correspondents say it is not the first time this missile has been tested, but it is likely to provoke condemnation from the West as a provocative act." (Al Jazeera English has the story, but without the tagline promoting how the "West" will respond.)

CNN is promising on Twitter, "More on", but the folks on their website don't seem to have gotten the message yet.

0755 GMT: The "We're Tough-You're Scary-Stop the Presses" Roadshow. And here's one that may keep the media diverted from other issues today. The Iranian military is declaring that it "has successfully tested an optimized version of the solid-fuel Sejjil-2 deterrent missile as part of its long-term plans to defend the country's borders". Look for "Western" media to seize on this as more evidence of Iran's offensive intentions, linking it to the nuclear issue.

(Well done, Sky News, for making my prediction come true within two minutes of posting: "The move is likely to increase tensions with the West over Tehran's nuclear ambitions." Two minutes, it's MSNBC from the US with "an announcement likely to add to tension with the West".)

0753 GMT: The Sanctions Cycle. Well, here's a surprise on all fronts: US House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, passes bill for sanctions on foreign companies supplying gas and petroleum to Iran; Iranian official declares, "They cannot succeed...."

The question beyond the posturing is whether the Congress rams through the measures despite opposition from the US State Department, which fears that the bill in current form could alienate American allies.

0750 GMT: Mahmoud Gives Danish TV a Slap. Hundreds of miles away from the main action, President Ahmadinejad can strike a tough pose. In an interview with Danish television, Ahmadinejad, was asked, "Would you like a nuclear bomb?" He offered the response that nuclear bombs were a bad thing which brought the journalist's follow-up, "So you can say to me, the whole world and all viewers in Denmark and Europe that you will never have a nuclear bomb?"

Oops, that crossed a line. The President replied, "I gave a clear answer to your question. I would like you to be aware of who you are talking to."

0740 GMT: Karroubi Gives Yazdi a Slap. An interview I wish was available in English: Mehdi Karroubi spoke on Tuesday about Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the Ahmadinejad ally and former head of judiciary who has been issuing threats of prosecution against opposition leaders and Hashemi Rafsanjani's family. Karroubi's message to Yazdi? Step down from your positions, do a bit of learning, and just get back to me.

0725 GMT: One success for the regime this morning: the key reformist website Mowjcamp has been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army.

0715 GMT: The feeling yesterday was of chesspieces being moved once again. Mir Hossein Mousavi put out a statement of encouragement to the students while he and Mehdi Karroubi waited for an answer on their petition for a march to promote the defacing of the image of Imam Khomeini. Their supporters also highlighted the latest declaration of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri supporting protest and denouncing the oppression of the regime.

On the Government side, officials such as the Governor of Tehran made noises about security being out in force to prevent the opposition spoiling the month of Moharram and the days of Tasua and Ashura (26-27 December). The Supreme Leader devoted himself, in a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, to the "Israel is very, very bad" theme. Notably, however, President Ahmadinejad is again removed from the scene, attending the climate change summit at Copenhagen.

News of university protests was concentrated on two campuses, Tehran Azad (where state media was also playing up a pro-Government rally, for which we have still seen no visual evidence) and the science and technology institution Elm-o-Sanat, with reports and footage of a rally at Razi University in Kermanshah. But here was the new twist: students were demonstrating at Qom University. That's Qom, as in the heart of the Tehran clerical system and establishment.

The Latest from Iran (15 December): The Path to Moharram

MOHARRAM11955 GMT: Dealing with Insults. Tabnak reports that a special order has been has issued from high-level officials declared that anyone who insults the heads of the three branches of Government (Presidency, judiciary, legislature) and the head of Assembly of Experts "will be dealt with severely".

(Crazy question: since Hashemi Rafsanjani is the head of the Assembly of Experts, will Ahmadinejad allies like Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who have implied Rafsanjani and his family have acted illegally, "be dealt with severely"?)

1909 GMT: Mir Hossein Mousavi's website Kalemeh has published his latest message to students.

1904 GMT: Montazeri on Responsible Protest. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has declared that the regime "raises the 'overthrowing' charges so that they can repress people; possibly they send some individuals among the people to chant slogans in favour of overthrowing the system".

Montazeri continued, “If the authorities give permission for free and peaceful gatherings, they will witness that the majority of people do not want anything but to reinstate their denied rights and be compensated for them. They want the freedoms that have been clearly mentioned in the Constitution and, in general, the reform of the system.”

NEW Iran: A Beginner’s Guide to Moharram
NEW Latest Iran Video: The University Protests (15 December)
NEW Iran: US State Department Pushes for “Proper” Sanctions in 2010
NEW “Where is My Vote?” (Part 2): TIME Snubs Green Movement as “Person of the Year”
Latest Iran Video: And Your University Protests Today…. (14 December)
NEW Latest Iran Video: Challenging the Regime’s Forces on 16 Azar (7 December)
NEW Iran: Scott Lucas in La Stampa on “Khamenei’s Final Warning”

NEW Iran: “Arrests” and the Regime’s Sword of Damocles
The Latest from Iran (14 December): Taking Stock

1850 GMT: Tavakoli Moved to Solitary Under Eyes of Revolutionary Guard. A reliable Iranian activist reports that Majid Tavakoli, the student leader detained during the 16 Azar protests, has been brought to Revolutionary Court and then put in solitary confinement in Evin Prison's Ward 240, overseen by the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps.

1830 GMT: Ahh, Someone Noticed. Several hours after we mentioned the case of jailed Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, largely absent in the US media, the high-profile blog The Daily Dish summarises the claim of his lawyer that he was sentenced to 15 years on the basis of little, if any, evidence.

1715 GMT: Video has come in of a protest today at Razi University in Kermanshah.

1555 GMT: The Khaje Nasir University Demo. Reformist sites explain that today's protest (see video) was over the arrest of Kamran Aasa, whose brother of Kiyanoush Aasa was killed in the post-election conflict.

1545 GMT: Warnings and Protest Claims. On a pretty slow day, Morteza Tamedon, the Governor of Tehran Province, has grabbed a couple of headlines by declaring that security forces will be mobilised to deal with any demonstrations on the days of Tasua and Ashura (26-27 December). Tamedon also waved aside the request of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi for a permit for a march honouring the image of Imam Khomeini, since they could protest the recent "burning of Khomeini" in a statement.

The Islamic Republic News Agency has put out its interpretation of today's demonstrations at Tehran Azad University, with 700 students rallying for the Government and 100 opposition students gathering nearby. Hmm.... Might want to check that against the video.

1420 GMT: Radio Farda has a report on one of the student demonstrations/discussion at a packed seminar in Tehran.

1310 GMT: Guides and Videos. Mr Azadi has written an introduction to Moharram, the holy month that begins on Friday, and we have the first video from today's university protests.

1125 GMT: Conservative Bust-Up? Iranian state media is now reporting a story we heard yessterday from sources: Tehran's Chief Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi has filed a lawsuit against the websites of Jahan News and Alef News for "insulting" President Ahmadinejad.

Alef belongs to the prominent member of Parliament and relative of the Larijani brothers, Ahmad Tavakoli, who has been critical of Ahmadinejad on numerous occasions since June. Jahan is connected with MP Ali Reza Zakani and is often labelled as linked to "Iranian intelligence circles".

1000 GMT: We've posted a separate entry on the manoevures within the US Government on sanctions against Iran. The State Department is trying to get control of the process, being pushed by Congress, to ensure international support.

0935 GMT: The "Other" American Prisoner. A paradox: while "Western" media overheated yesterday over the passing comment from Iran's Foreign Minister that the three US hikers might be tried, none of them seems to notice the latest developments in the case of Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, sentenced this autumn to 15 years in prison. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has issued a statement that "the case against the Iranian-American social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh contains no evidence to support the allegations against him, according to...interviews with Masoud Shafie, Tajbakhsh’s lawyer".

0855 GMT: A "Sensible" Engagement? An interesting passage from today's editorial in The Guardian of London:

"It has become a cliche to say there are no good options about Iran. This does not mean that Washington is doomed to choose the worst option – barring military assault – each time negotiations fail. Giving diplomacy no more than three months to work, as opposed to sanctions on Iran which lasted for more than 20 years, may have been a mistake. So too was limiting the talks to the enrichment process alone. There are many other fronts on which Iran should be engaged."

0600 GMT: The Counter-Attack of Engagement. For days, the Iran news from the US Congress has been of a push towards stricter sanctions, with a bill proposing measures against the gas and oil industries as well as other financial penalties. A group of Congressmen offered an alternative yesterday with the introduction of two proposals.

The Stand with the Iranian People Act would pursue "targeted" measures against companies providing the Iranian regime with software and technology for Internet censorship and surveillance, cutting off their US Government contracts, and impose travel restrictions on "human rights abusers" within the Iranian Government. At the same time, the measure would "enable US non-governmental Organizations to work directly with the Iranian people".

The Iranian Digital Empowerment Act would remove restrictions on companies and private citizens in the US who wish to send software to the people of Iran, including communication and anti-censorship tools, by clarifying that sanctions do not apply.

0530 GMT: After a week of activity and rumour, there was a relative calm yesterday. The regime did launch a few attacks on its foes, with Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi's attack on Hashemi Rafsanjani and the Supreme Leader's representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps speaking darkly of the "hypocrites" (who just happen to be the Khomeini family) running the Imam Khomeini Archives. President Ahmadinejad, after almost a week's silence on the internal crisis, offered a few words about the offensive act against the Imam, then apparently returned to his battle with Parliament to get passage of economic legislation. The sense was that the Government was either planning its next manoeuvre or scrambling about, trying to figure out where to go after the "burning of Khomeini" episode.

Meanwhile, University students made clear, in quadrangles and in classrooms, that they are not going to ease the protests before Moharram begins on Friday. Mir Hossein Mousavi set down the lines for the upcoming challenge --- demonstrate peacefully and lawfully while making clear that it is the regime that has committed injustices and denied rights --- as he and Mehdi Karroubi emerged after a meeting to announce they would request a permit for a march, protesting the insult to Imam Khomeini, from the Ministry of Interior. Former President Mohammad Khatami also chipped in with a general statement of support for protest.

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