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Iran Special: The Regime Debates "Arrest Mousavi and Karroubi?"

Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi on State TV on Thursday night

We have known for months of a division within the Iranian regime over the handling of opposition figures Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Some within the establishment have pressed for the arrest and trial of the two men on charges of sedition.

The Iranian judiciary, however, is concerned that this step would make "martyrs" of Mousavi and Karroubi, renewing rather than crushing opposition. The head of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, has been joined by his brother, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, in resisting arrests.

So a rather harsh compromise has been pursued. Mousavi and Karroubi have been loudly denouced as leaders of sedition, even if they have not been prosecuted. Pro-regime groups have carried out campaigns of harassment outside their residences. Their websites have been attacked and their communications disrupted.

The debate was revived, however, by the opposition's protests of 25 Bahman (14 February), the first public marches in more than year. Those marches took place even though Mousavi and Karroubi had put under an effective house arrest, unable to leave their residences and --- in Mousavi's case --- to see anyone but his wife.

The harsh compromise was played out once more on the floor of Parliament, where Ali Larijani --- still opposed to formal arrests --- watched the show of a group of MPs charging towards the podium and calling for the prosecution and even execution of Mousavi and Karroubi. Mousavi's house arrest was reinforced by an iron gate put across the alley leading to his residence. Karroubi's home and those of his sons were raided, with one son, Ali, detained and another, Hossein, escaping arrest. Karroubi's Saham News was knocked off-line. (It has now reappeared on another domain.)

Now Omid Memarian, reporting for Asia Times Online, adds this claim:

An informed source and former Iranian government official [said]...that right after the February 14 protests, Heydar Moslehi, Iran's intelligence minister, attended a meeting with the Supreme Leader in which he asked for permission to arrest Karroubi and Mousavi. At the meeting, however, Khamenei criticized the Ministry of Information [Intelligence] for its reports, asking why its analysis of popular participation in the gatherings had been so wrong. 

"Iran's supreme leader routinely receives independent reports about the current state of affairs from the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] commander, minister of information, armed forces commander, head of the Basiji [pro-government militia], and head of the Islamic Republic Broadcasting System," the source said on condition of anonymity. 

"It appears that the reports he has received have contradicted the intensity of the protests. Therefore, though several extremist members of the parliament have demanded execution of the opposition leaders, official authorities' rhetoric only attempts to express support for the regime, and no further demands for their arrests or execution seem to be uttered publicly," the source said.

A good deal of caution needs to be exercised here. This is a report from a single source, and reports like these can be shaded by political motives. Still, the fundamental scene remains of a regime in debate over how to handle Mousavi and Karroubi and, by extension, an opposition that will not go away.

And this past Sunday, the opposition was able to stage a second public rally in a week. Once again, tens of thousands took to the streets despite a massive security presence. They were unable to gather in one place in Tehran and in other cities, but moving in pockets of hundreds, they made their presence known.

The regime was reduced to the near-comical position of denying in State media that there were any rallies at all while occasionally slipping and offering confirmation, as in the detention of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani's Faezeh Hashemi for inciting protest. She was later released --- since, of course, there had been no protests --- because she was only "out shopping".

It is in this context that the Minister of Intelligence made his prime-time appearance on national TV last night. On the one hand, he could have wanted to demonstrate that he was in charge despite the recent opposition marches. On the other, he was constrained by the decision --- at this point --- not to make formal arrests. All Moslehi could do was put up the showpiece of two arrests connected with the 14 February rallies, one of a person allegedly connected with the American CIA and another of a member of the "terrorist" Mujahedin-e-Khalq. Meanwhile, his dismissal of the 14 February marches verged on the ridiculous. He claimed there was only a few people involved, and --- in a chorus of the explanation about Faezeh Hashemi --- said the crowds caught on video were doing some early shopping for Iranian New Year.

And so this morning we are back to the stand-off. The opposition, while making its re-appearance, is searching for its next public steps. And the regime is wondering how much farther it can go to put away the men it sees as the symbols of the post-election challenge.

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