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Iran Analysis: Ahmadinejad's Latest Defeat --- Senior Advisor Mortazavi Arrested

On Monday night, after more than three years of political and legal controversy, the news suddenly erupted. Saeed Mortazavi --- senior Presidential advisor, head of the Social Security Funds, former Tehran Prosecutor General, "Butcher of the Press" --- had been arrested.

The arrest stemmed from the summer 2009 abuse and killing of post-election protesters in Kahrizak detention centre. Mortazavi, then Tehran Prosecutor General, was accused by his political critics and suspected by prosecutors of complicity in the crimes; however, while a few guards have been convicted and some judges charged, he has never faced trial.

So why now?

While it has been 42 months since the Kahrizak revelations, only 36 hours elapsed between Mortazavi's arrest and Sunday's humiliation of President Ahmadinejad in Parliament by Speaker Ali Larijani. There is also the more-than-coincidental fact that the head of the judiciary is Ali Larijani's brother Sadegh.

Yet this is far more than Ahmadinejad v. the Larijanis, whom the President unsuccessfully accused of corrupton on the floor of Parliament. It is even more than Ahmadinejad v. his wide range of political foes. The order to arrest Mortazavi could not have been issued without the endorsement of the Supreme Leader.

The door to the detention was opened on Sunday. Mortazavi was the catalyst for Ahmadinejad's Parliamentary humilitiation, because of the Government's refusal to accept a court order and remove him as head of the Social Security Funds. However, no one would have stepped farther if Ayatollah Khamenei opposed the arrest.

Why the Supreme Leader changed his mind on Monday may never be known. It could be the decision that the judiciary could no longer be defied by the President. It could be the impending Presidential election, with the need to block any Ahmadinejad attempts at a successor and legacy. It could be an immediate reaction to the President's gamble on Sunday.

Whatever the reason, the outcome is stark. When Ahmadinejad loudly drew his "red line" against political and legal prosecution of his inner circle in summer 2011, he was referring to Mortazavi among others. He backed up that "red line" by saying, if it was crossed, he would reveal thousands of files with damaging information on his rivals.

On Sunday, the President tried to pre-empt the impeachment of his Minister of Labor, accused of shielding Mortazavi, by revealing one of those "files": an audio tape which supposedly had another Larijani, Fazel, asking for a political favour from the same Mortazavi whose removal was being demanded.

Ahmadinejad failed, spectacularly. And now his "red line" --- thanks not just to Ali Larijani, not just to Sadegh Larijani, but also to the Supreme Leader --- is gone.

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