Ruholamini repeated the information, mentioned in our main article about his speech to a student organisation, that he has more than 3500 pages of evidence against the people in charge of Kahrizak. And he reiterated that there is independent evidence of the attempted murder of Kahrizak doctor Ramin Pourandarjan, who died last autumn. Ruholamini again singled out Ahmadinejad aide Saeed Mortazavi as the main suspect, saying the former Tehran prosecutor should accept the charges and resign instead of issuing political statements.
Ruholamini added the new claim that forces "behind the scenes" have been trying to get the families of victims to agree to silence, but he declared that he and some other families would "stand till the end".
These claims, however, are only the set-up for Ruholamini's political hammer blow: in a meeting with the Supreme Leader, "Ayatollah Khamenei supported my cause".
And guess where the interview has been reprinted? Well, it is in two publications linked to the central plotters against President Ahmadinejad: Tabnak, linked to Mohsen Rezaei, and in Farda, which supports Mohammad Baqer-Qalibaf.
UPDATE 1000 GMT: There has been no high-profile media coverage, to our knowledge, of our news of the Larijani-Rezaei-Qalibaf meeting. The closest intersection has been a blog post by Babak Dad, who is now writing outside Iran, and his interview on Voice of America Persian yesterday. Dad's blog considered in detail the more general story of the manoevures by Ali Larijani, Mohsen Rezaei, and Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf against the Ahmadinejad Government, while his interview but so far he has not connected this to the specific claim of a plot to curb or remove the President from power.
UPDATE 23 JANUARY, 0700 GMT: 24 hours later, how does the plot story hold up?
Well, there was no explicit confirmation --- given the sensitivity of any attempt to depose the President, that would be unlikely --- there were no development pointing away from the possibility. Indeed, the one piece of circumstantial evidence, Ali Larijani's statement before Friday Prayers in a city southwest of Tehran, gave implied support. The Speaker of Parliament made a veiled invitation to opposition leaders to join a move, and he continued the attack on the Government's management of the economy.
(Someone is also starting some pretty wicked rumours. Notable amongst these on Friday was the "Iran banks will fail on Wednesday" story.)
EA readers maintained a healthy scepticism about the day throughout the day. Some points can be answered quickly --- because of the way we received the information and checked it, I am certain it is not regime disinformation or a pretext to move against irritants like Larijani. Other questions are far trickier, such as the role of the Supreme Leader in these manoeuvres and the process by which the plotters could pull the trigger and oust Ahmadinejad.
An EA correspondent picked up on some of these issues in "A Response to the Plot Against Ahmadinejad", and this morning we have a sharp, valuable discussion between Chris Emery and another EA Iran specialist on not only the complications of deposing the President but the uncertainties of what would follow.
UPDATE 0810 GMT: In last night's debate on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Hosseinian, a member of Parliament and fervent Ahmadinejad supporter, alleged that "some people in charge want to overthrow" the Government with the help of the Parliament.
For months we have reported on the challenge to President Ahmadinejad, not just from the Green movement but from conservative and principlist members of the Iranian establishment. Since Ashura (27 December), we have noted a rising intensity in criticism, for example, from member of Parliament Ali Motahhari and his brother-in-law, Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, as well as the Parliamentary report on detainee abuses charging Ahmadinejad aide Saeed Mortazavi with responsibility.
The question still remained. Were these criticisms being made by high-profile individuals or were they part of an organised effort to limit Ahmadinejad's authority and possibly even remove him from office?
Here is what we can now report from reliable sources:
1. THE MEETING MAKES A PLAN
Sometime after the demonstrations of Ashura (27 December), three well-placed Iranian politicians met to discuss current events. The protests, with their scenes of violence and, in some cases, the retreat of Iranian security forces before the opposition, had been unsettling, raising fears not only that the challenge would persist but that the authority of the Government might collapse.
The three men were 1) Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Parliament; 2) Mohsen Rezaei, former head of the Revolutionary Guard, former Presidential candidate, and Secretary of the Expediency Council; and 3) Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Mayor of Tehran.
The meeting reached agreement on a general two-step strategy. First, the crisis with the opposition would be "solved", either through a resolution with its leaders or by finally suppressing it out of existence. Then, there would be a political campaign to get rid of the unsettling influence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Each of the three men brought not ideas but key groups to the table. Larijani, of course, commanded a good deal of backing in Parliament and was close to the Supreme Leader. Rezaei not only had the background in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps but also, in the Expediency Council, worked with Hashemi Rafsanjani. Qalibaf, although mostly quiet during the post-election crisis, had the base of support from his solid reputation overseeing Tehran.
(It is likely, according to sources, that Rafsanjani knows of the plan, especially given the connection with Rezaei. It is unclear whether the Supreme Leader knows its details.)
The plan, however, soon ran into trouble with its first objective. The group was unable to get the support of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Despite the sustained wave of post-Ashura arrests, striking at the top levels of the Green movement, the prospect of large demonstrations on 22 Bahman (11 February), the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, remains. And it is that prospect that was reportedly worrying the Supreme Leader when he spoke last week to ask the "elites" to choose sides and stop being "ambiguous".
So the possibility arose that the second step --- the removal of Ahmadinejad --- would take priority over the first. Newspapers connected to the three men stepped up their articles criticising the Government over the post-election crisis, over the Kahrizak Prison scandal, and over the economy. Larijani went public in statements alleging mismanagement by the Ahmadinejad administration and referring to the dangers of "extremism" within, as well as outside, the Government.
Meanwhile, a key distinction was being made at every opportunity. While the Government could and should be criticised, Ayatollah Khameini should not be challenged. Larijani in particular set out the line: velayat-e-faqih, the system of ultimate clerical authority, is beyond dispute.
The immediate goals are the downfall of two men in Ahmadinejad's camp: former Tehran Prosecutor General Mortazavi, who is vulnerable because of the detainee scandal, and former First Vice-President and current Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, whose management skills as well as his character are being attacked across a range of issues.
It may be possible for Mortazavi to be removed and for Ahmadinejad to survive, assuming that none of the Kahrizak scandal sticks to him. Victory over Rahim-Mashai, however, would be a major blow to the President. After all, this was the fight of the summer, where Ahmadinejad had to give way over his relative and friend as First Vice-President --- notably because of pressure from the Supreme Leader --- but then brought him back as his closest aide.
To lose Esfandiar once is misfortune; to lose him twice political calamity. Ahmadinejad's authority would be open to further attack, and the post-election crisis could be brought upon him personally. Which brings us to....
2. THE FATHER EXPRESSES HIS ANGER.
"It may be possible for Mortazavi to be removed and for Ahmadinejad to survive, assuming that none of the Kahrizak scandal sticks to him."
Abdolhossein Ruholamini is a prominent Tehran University professor who was the chief advisor to Mohsen Rezaei. He is also the father of Mohsen Ruholamini, who died from abuse this summer in Kahrizak Prison. That death was instrumental in prompting both the closure of Kahrizak, by personal order of the Supreme Leader, and the Parliamentary enquiry into events there.
Abdolhossein Ruholamini, however, is still campaigning. Last week he met with the student movement, Islamic Community from European Countries to Iran. In a forceful speech, he declared his anger with Ahmadinejad and the Government. He made clear that he and others had decided to "claim and appeal" over the authorities at Kahrizak, Saeed Mortazavi, the police, and the judiciary: (I paraphrase) "We have much evidence against Mortazavi, against police, against some judges. (Ruholamini said that, in one case, a single judge had condemned 700 people to jail in one day.) We even have phone conversations over the killing of the doctor [Ramin Pourandarjan] in Kahrizak.”
Ruholamini made clear that his claim and appeal is also against President Ahmadinejad. And he has also said that he met the Supreme Leader over the matter and Khamenei said (paraphrasing), "Go ahead. The way is clear for you."
3. THE OUTCOME?
EA sources report the sentiment of those in and around the Larijani-Rezaei-Qalibaf meeting and the statements of Ruholamini: “We have decided to replace Ahmadinejad”. At the same time, the group is insisting that the removal has to done within the framework of law. It is notable, for example, how Mohsen Rezaei --- in an extended interview with Press TV last week --- insisted repeatedly that the difference between him and other Presidential candidates (Mousavi and Karroubi) in the post-election conflict was that Rezaei had always made his complaints within Iran's system, rather than on the streets.
The most likely path for that campaign is Parliamentary removal of Ahmadinejad --- similar to the US process of impeachment and conviction of a President --- for negligence in carrying out his duties and leading the country in a good direction. This was the process used to oust the first President of the Islamic Republic, Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr, in 1981.
That case, however, raises a question and possible complication. In 1981 Ayatollah Khomeini was behind the removal of Bani-Sadr. In this case, it is still not clear if the current Supreme Leader, and those close to him such as his son Mojtaba, are fully aware of or in line with the campaign against Ahmadinejad.
Which in turn brings us back to the earlier disputes of summer 2009, when the Supreme Leader --- after protracted battles with Ahmadinejad including not only Rahim-Mashai but also control of key ministries --- proceeded with the President's inauguration. This time, given the mounting fears over 22 Bahman, which way does he turn? Does he intervene or stand aside, letting others play out this political showdown?