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Entries in Mujahedin-e-Khalq (9)


Iran Analysis: Leadership in the Green Movement

New EA correspondent Elham Gheytanchi writes:

The civil unrest that swept Iranian cities in the aftermath of the contested June 12th 2009 election escalates despite the Government crackdown. Violence has been intensifying. On Ashura (27 December), armed plain-clothed forces associated with the Basij paramilitaries beat and killed demonstrators who were also mourning the 7th day of the passing of dissident cleric Ayatollah Montazeri. Hundreds of human rights activists, journalists, opposition clerics, and women’s rights activists were detained on Ashura and the following weeks.

The question is now whether the state can suppress a grass-roots movement, albeit one without a leader, that has blossomed into broad and heterogeneous movement well-known to Iranians and to the world?

Hardliners have until now successfully headed off any attempt at organizing and institutionalizing progressive movements, while the Basij and Revolutionary Guards have freedom to organize, recruit and prosper. In the past, hardline elements in the Iranian state succeeded in suppressing the students’ semi-organized movement as well as the reformists who came to power in the 1997 election that led to the presidency of Mohammad Khatami.

Khatami’s failure to deliver reform first became evident in 1999 when the student uprising in the University of Tehran was violently crushed and the perpetuators went unpunished. In an open letter in 2004, Ayatollah Montazeri wrote to Khatami that he had let the Iranian people down by giving into the pressures exerted by the hardliners in the government. When the Alumni Association of the Office for the Consolidation of Unity (Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat) tried to organize students, the Iranian authorities arrested their leaders and indefinitely detained many of their activists. Nonetheless, for many of those hopeful for change, it took the second term of Khatami's presidency to convince them that, given the unwavering support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the hardliners would not relinquish their hold on power.

The most dynamic part of the women’s rights movement, the One Million Signatures Campaign to Change Laws Discriminating against Women, did not emerge under Khatami’s watch. This grass-roots movement has prospered during Ahmadinejad’s presidency (from 2006 onwards), despite his government proving itself to be harsh in its treatment of women. The Campaign works horizontally, without a leader and as a network of activists, and it has succeeded in becoming a widespread movement active in sixteen provinces in Iran.

Similarly, when Mousavi first started his presidential campaign about a month before the election --- the time allotted for presidential campaigns by the Iranian Constitution --- he asked his supporters to create “setads” or stations that could work independently. “Pouyesh” and “Setad 88” were examples of these independent campaign centers, part of a horizontal network of pro-Mousavi campaigners, comprised mostly of young and enthusiastic students. Later in June, when the demonstrators marched in the streets asking, “Where is my vote?”, Mousavi asked of his supporters that each one of them act as a news medium and spread information about protests, marches, demands and future actions among their family members, colleagues and in their communities. The horizontal structure served the Green Movement well, as the state-backed media refused to cover demonstrations and later denounced protesters as “agents of Western powers” or supporters of the “monafeghin” --- a derogatory term meaning "religious hypocrites", referring to the MKO (Mujahedin-e Khalq) stationed in Iraq.

As the Iranian state intensified its crackdown on protesters, Mousavi issued his 17th declaration on 1 January. This pointed to what has long been the case in Iran: civil rights movements forge ahead without much central planning or leadership. Mousavi stated that the Green Movement, like the One Million Signature Campaign, does not have a leader, and that the Ashura demonstrations took place without his leadership and without appeals from Mehdi Karoubi, other protesting presidential candidate, or Khatami.

As the use of naked violence by plainclothes forces on the streets reaches its peak, and state television and hardline newspapers show protesters’ faces in order to identify and arrest them, there is even more reason for the Green Movement to continue its existence without a leader or leaders. The stakes are high, and Mousavi has maneuvered cleverly by declaring himself not as a leader but as a strong supporter of mass protests. His proposals communicate a strong message to the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards: “You are directly responsible for the bloodshed.” The protestors showed their preference for non-violent methods on Ashura as they marched adjacent to the famous Pasteur Street where Ayatollah Khamenei lives and where Ahmadinejad’s office is located, without attacking his residence. They have done so without a leader.

The history of community organizing in post-revolutionary Iran shows that grass-roots movements flourish under harsh political conditions, relying on a horizontal structure and without much central leadership. Labor unions, city councils, students’ committees, teachers’ unions and women’s rights activism have been suppressed by the hardline-controlled Ministry of Information. There is a deep conviction in the ministry that any attempt to organize Iranian citizens for reform is led by foreign powers determined to destroy the entire Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Green Movement has behaved much like women’s rights movement, which has avoided centralized leadership and instead has mobilized ordinary people beyond what was previously thought possible.

The Latest from Iran (23 January): Looking for Clues

2155 GMT: Kalemeh reports that the wife of the late Seyed Ahmad Khomeini, the son of Ayatollah Khomeini, has been attacked by clerical students.

1905 GMT: Economic Rumour or Reality (cont. --- see 1135 GMT)? The "bank crisis" continues to spark Internet chatter, whether accurate or mischievous --- the German-based Akhbar Rooz reports on bank closures after panicked customers tried to withdraw their money because of reports of bankruptcies. And Voice of America Persian is now broadcasting on the topic.

Iran Discussion: How Would Ahmadinejad Fall? (And What Would Come Next?)
Iran: A Response to “The Plot Against Ahmadinejad”
UPDATED Iran: The Plot Against President Ahmadinejad
The Latest from Iran (22 January): Breaking News

1900 GMT: You Couldn't Make It Up (Unless You're Iranian State Media). Earlier this week Kayhan, the "hard-line" Iranian newspaper, reported that a US "HARP" energy-shifting weapon caused the earthquake in Haiti.

We noted the item in amazement and good humour --- as a reader noted, shrewd Iranians think of Kayhan as Iran's version of The Onion, the satirical US "newspaper" --- and thought that would be that. However, Press TV, linking up with Venezuelan partners, keeps the joke going today:

An unconfirmed report by the Russian Northern Fleets says the Haiti earthquake was caused by a flawed US Navy 'earthquake weapons' test before the weapons could be utilized against Iran.

United States Navy test of one of its 'earthquake weapons' which was to be used against Iran, went 'horribly wrong' and caused the catastrophic quake in the Caribbean, the website of Venezuela's ViVe TV recently reported, citing the Russian report.

1845 GMT: Arrest at Beheshti Ceremony. Norooz reports that the son-in-law of Ali Reza Beheshti, the detained Mousavi chief of staff, was taken away by Iranian authorities today. The arrest occurred at the protest/ceremony (see 1500 GMT) at the grave of Ayatollah Beheshti, Ali Reza's father.

1635 GMT: Rafsanjani Chooses A Side or Issues a Warning? The Los Angeles Times, via Iranian Labor News Agency, reports on remarks by Hashemi Rafsanjani today: "At the present juncture, I consider the Supreme Leader to be the most competent individual to resolve the problems the Islamic Republic is currently faced with."

Rafsanjani's remarks follows Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's speech this week calling on "elites" to stop being ambiguous in the current conflict and to choose sides. Beyond his apparent declaration of allegiance --- note the "at the present juncture" --- Rafsanjani maintained a customary general call for unity, "I'm quite sure that moderate individual from both political camps in the country can help the Supreme Leader find solutions to the existing problems."

Then, however, Rafsanjani offered some intriguing remarks on "extremism":
I've always based my action on moderation and refrained from any extremism. Since the victory of the revolution, we have not witnessed proper conditions any time extremists were given room to maneuver....

Extremists have always cleared the way for counterrevolutionaries to damage Islam, the regime and its leadership. As far as I know (emphasis added) the Supreme Leader, he never favors illegal acts and extremisms from any political factions.

Rafsanjani followed this with an invocation which could be read either as a defense of velayat-e-faqih (clerical supremacy) or a veiled put-down that Ayatollah Khamenei has not maintained the high standards required of his position:
The Islamic Republic has managed to reach stability thanks to popular support and the leadership of Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini who won people's hearts. Today, all forces loyal to the system and the revolution should feel obliged to safeguard this valuable legacy. The world will open to us if we effectively create a free and developed country free of any superstition.

1630 GMT: Fars News has posted an article on today's trial of three detainees arrested during the Ashura protests. The three are among five defendants who are on trial; all today were accused of links to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO).

1623 GMT: Neda's Birthday Ceremony. Setareh Sabety translates the account, provided by an Iranian activist (see 1500 GMT), of today's ceremony on the birthday of Neda Agha Soltan:
Near 2 p.m. we reached plot 257, Neda’s grave was adorned with candles, rose petals and pictures of her childhood. From the first moments...plainclothesmen in cars and on motorcycles started surrounding the plot.

Neda’s mother claimed (Iranian authorities) had not allowed her to hold a 40th day memorial for her daughter so she had to commemorate her birthday instead. The previous day authorities had told Neda’s brother that holding a birthday (celebration) for her was allowed as long as no slogans were chanted.

Slowly the number of people attending the ceremony increased. Present were mourning mothers and their supporters and tens of (other) individuals who had made it to the cemetery. When Neda’s mother saw the people appearing one by one, as she was crying loudly, she addressed her martyred daughter, "Neda darling, wake up and see how many guests are here for you. Last year you were alone. Wake Up!” The distraught mother would sometimes sit by her daughter’s grave and stare at it, remembering her.... It seemed like the people surrounding this mother and her daughter’s tomb were remembering Neda’s last open-eyed look. The look that seemed to scream freedom!

Neda’s birthday cake was placed on her tomb with a ‘27’ on it, while her mother cried, “My darling Neda is twenty-seven, People’s Neda is 27 years old." As the crowd increased around 2:45 p.m., two cars from security forces stood facing plot 257. The security forces stepped out with three plainclothes men --- Neda’s aunt was taking pictures of the tomb when the forces spoke to Neda’s father and asked to see the pictures in Neda’s aunt’s mobile phone.

Ashkan Sohrabi’s mother called and (said) that on Navab St. officers stopped cars and kept them from going to Behesht-e Zahra cemetery. For as long as 15 minutes they had prevented Ashkan’s family from moving. Finally they managed to get to Behesht-e Zahra from another route.

At the end of the commemoration the Mourning Mothers stood in front of Neda’s tomb and quietly sang this poem from Parvin:

You left my heart is heavy
From the night you did not return
Blissful world turned sad
From the night you failed to return

At 3:25 p.m. an unmarked white van stopped in front of plot 257 and a few plainclothes men came out as though to make the crowd disperse.

1610 GMT: Radio Farda reports that, during today's meeting with the family of Ali Reza Beheshti after the ceremony protesting his detention (see 1500 GMT), Mehdi Karroubi declared that the road to resolve the issue of detainee abuse "had been closed".

It is unclear whether Karroubi's statement was in response to the overtures from Ali Larijani (see yesterday's updates) for opposition leaders to join a process of reconciliation.

1505 GMT: Amidst his further allegations of Government abuses and crimes over the Kahrizak Prison scandal (noted as part of the coverage of "The Plot Against Ahmadinejad"), Abdolhossein Rumolamini claimed that a fourth detainee, Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani, was killed at the facility last year. The incident was covered up to “avoid hurting the public's conscience”.

1500 GMT: Two Ceremonies. Family, mourning mothers, and supporters gathered at the grave of Neda Agha Soltan this afternoon. Activists report that security forces stopped some people from attending.

A ceremony was also held at the grave of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti to protest the detention of his son Ali Reza, chief advisor to Mir Hossein Mousavi. Those attending were family members of the martyrs of 7-Tir, killed in an attack soon after the 1979 Revolution which took 72 lives, including Ayatollah Beheshti. The family members also Hashemi Rafsanjani, in his role as the head of the Expidency Council and the Assembly of Experts, to protest Ali Reza Behesti's imprisonment.

1300 GMT: We have posted an urgent update in "The Plot Against Ahmadinejad": a new interview with Abdolhossein Ruholamini with claims on the Kahrizak Prison deaths, printed in the newspapers linked to both Mohsen Rezaei and Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf.

1235 GMT: Alef News has continued its pressure on the Government, opening a discussion on the problems of the Presidential election.

1225 GMT: Mohammad Hassan Haeri Shirazi, the son of Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi, has continued his challenge to the Supreme Leader. Having criticised Khamenei for overseeing a deterioration of democracy and the moves to an oppressive regime, Haeri Shirazi has declared that the Supreme Leader must be accountable for the actions of his headquarters and associated institutions (IRIB, Revolutionary Guards and Basiji, Islamic Propaganda Organization, deputies in universities, Kayhan newspaper, and the Guardian Council).

1150 GMT: Health Concerns. In addition to the heart attack of Mousavi advisor Ali Reza Beheshti, Rooz Online notes the transfer to hospital of Hassan Ahmadian, head of the Mousavi campaign's public committee, because of a worsening kidney condition.

1145 GMT: The 31 Manifesto (cont. --- see 0845 GMT). Rooz Online has an English translation of an interview with Dariush Ashouri, one of the expatriate intellectuals who signed this week's declaration: "The Green movement’s strategy of nonviolence is a reflection of a new political philosophy in Iranian society. The foundations of this philosophy are the principles of tolerance and pluralism."

1135 GMT: Economic Rumour or Reality? After chatter this week that Iran's major banks are on the verge of insolvency, Peyke Iran reports that the Bank-e Mellat branch in Tehran's Bazaar was closed by security forces. And Rah-e-Sabz writes that the Government has asked Parliament for 15 billion Toman ($15.2 million) to ease the cash problems of the banks.

1125 GMT: Mediawatch (2). Britain's Channel 4 goes for human interest rather than political recommendation, featuring an interview with Caspian Makan, the fiancé of Neda Agha Soltan. Neda, who died from a Basiji gunshot on 20 June, would have been 27 today.

1010 GMT: Mediawatch. A big symbol of the changing line in the US Government and associated networks towards the Green movement comes in Richard Haass' "Enough Is Enough" for Newsweek, as he explains, "Why we can no longer remain on the sidelines in the struggle for regime change in Iran".

Haass, who was a high-level official in the State Department in the Bush Administration and now heads the Council on Foreign Relations, marks himself out as a "realist" in the artificial divide from "neo-conservative".
However, given the stalemate in the talks on Iran's nuclear programme, Haass now believes, "The United States, European governments, and others should shift their Iran policy toward increasing the prospects for political change. Leaders should speak out for the Iranian people and their rights."

Given Haass' place in the Washington-New York corridor of power and his image as a "moderate", the column is being quickly picked up as a sanction for the US Government's backing of the Iranian opposition. Barbara Slavin of The Washington Times and Laura Rozen of Politico, both channels for and gatekeepers of the acceptable in US foreign policy, are already circulating the article.

0955 GMT: The Moving Image of Protest. More directors, including Britain's Ken Loach, have announced that they will not attend Iran's Fajr Film Festival.

0950 GMT: Launch of the "Greenlist". Sabzlist, a listing service for the Green movement, has been launched. Initial posts include requests for volunteers, offers of assistance, and a call for an MC for a fundraiser.

0940 GMT: Non-Story of the Week. Press TV's website announces, "An Iranian lawmaker says the Parliament (Majlis) has settled on limiting relations with Britain, rather than a full severance of ties as advocated in a bill last week."

The bill, if passed, would still have consequences, reducing the level of diplomatic representation between Iran and Britain from Ambassador to Chargé d'Affaires. However, it is primarily a vehicle for bluster about "foreign intervention", as in lawmaker Hossein Sobhani-Nia's declaration, "Considering the gross interference of the British government in the post-election developments, the Parliament (Majlis) has opted for lowering the level of ties between Tehran and London."

0830 GMT: Claims of the Week. Peyke Iran has two stories which raises eyebrows. The first asserts that the relatives of high-ranking officials are fleeing Iran and seeking asylum abroad.

The website also alleges that children are now being detained when their activist parents are arrested by Iranian authorities.

0825 GMT: The 31 Manifesto. This week's statement by 31 Iranian intellectuals and artists, calling for a new system in which government is separated from religion, continues to attract attention. Deutsche Welle Persian features an interview with signatory Hossein Bagherzadeh, who declares that the Green movement differs from the 1979 Revolution.

0820 GMT: Movin' On Up. President Ahmadinejad's advisor on press affairs, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, is reportedly going to become the head of the Islamic Republic News Agency.

0815 GMT: A new Green website, Neda-ye Sabz-e Azadi, has been launched and has immediately been filtered by Iranian authorities.

0800 GMT: We begin this morning by reviewing yesterday's feature on "The Plot Against President Ahmadinejad". There is an update evaluating how the story stands up 24 hours later, and Chris Emery and an EA Iran specialist consider the complications of removing the President and what comes next.

Latest from Iran (17 January): Setting Aside Diversions

2250 GMT: The Regime Sacrifices Mortazavi (on US Television). What a way to close the evening. In an interview on CNN tonight, Tehran University academic Seyed Mohammad Marandi effectively gave up former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi as the man responsible for the detainee abuses and deaths at Kahrizak Prison. We've got the video and a snap analysis.

NEW Latest Iran Video: Marandi on CNN on Detainee Abuses “Mortazavi to Blame” (17 January)
NEW Iran: The Ali-Mohammadi Case “A Political Assassination”
NEW Iran: The Ali-Mohammadi Funeral “The Stolen Coffin”
UPDATED Iran Video & Translation: Dr Etaat’s Opposition On State Media (14 January — Parts 3-5)
UPDATED Iran Video & Translation: Dr Etaat’s Opposition On State Media (14 January — Parts 1 and 2)
NEW Iran: The 15 Points of “The Secular Green Movement” (14 January)
Latest Iran News (16 January): Ripples

1945 GMT: Don't Look Now But.... Former 1st Vice President and Presidential ally Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai is handing out wisdom, according to Press TV: "The Islamic system's adherence to keep an 'unbreakable connection' between its legitimacy and popularity is the key to its survival."

Don't want to rain on this supremacy parade, Mr R-M, but given recent developments (see 1035 GMT and 1100 GMT), you want to think about your own survival before pronouncing on that of the Islamic Republic.

1935 GMT: Repent! Rah-e-Sabz reports supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi in Borujerd in western Iran are being summoned by the Ministry of Intelligence and asked to sign statements of repentance.

1845 GMT: Zia Nabavi, a "starred" (monitored) student and spokesman for the Right to Education Defense Council, has been given a 15-year jail term combined with 74 lashes. The sentence consists of ten years for association with the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO), three years for gathering and collusion to undermine national security; one year for spreading propaganda against the regime; one year for disturbing the public peace; and 74 lashes for antagonizing public opinion.

During his trial, Mr. Nabavi strenuously denied association with the MKO, saying he was being sentenced for the presence of a few of his family members at MKO’s Ashraf base in Iraq. According to Mr. Nabavi’s lawyer, the main charge was participation in a street march on June 15.

1802 GMT: A new website has been created by journalists and human rights activists to bring attention to the cases of less prominent post-election detainees.

1800 GMT: We've posted the video of the concluding part of Dr Javad Etaat's powerful criticism of the regime which was aired on Iranian state media this week.

1720 GMT: The files of 17 The files of 17 detained killed protesters have been sent by Tehran's Chief Prosecutor to the criminal court of Tehran.

1705 GMT: Two more members of the Freedom Movement of Iran, Solmaz Alimoradi and Farid Taheri, were arrested today. The regime has targeted the group with a series of arrests on and after Ashura (27 December).

(An activist is now reporting that four members were arrested, adding the names of Mamood Naimpoor and Khosro Ghashghai.)

1700 GMT: Oh, Mahmoud, You Crazy Guy. Who needs to worry about an internal crisis when you can do this to highlight the evil wrought by others upon Iran? "A task force assigned by Iran's president has begun their work in estimating the amount of damage inflicted on the Iranian nation during the Second World War."

1645 GMT: Targeting Mortazavi. Not a good omen for Saeed Mortazavi: Press TV's website headlines, "Ex-Tehran prosecutor should stand 'trial'". The article carries Mortazavi's denial that he was responsible for detainees abuses in Kahrizak Prison, taken from his comments to Fars News, but closes with this stinger:
Parviz Sorouri, the lawmaker who heads the panel, told Mehr News Agency that the report was "based on undeniable evidence and documents" gathered by his team. The lawmaker insisted a tribunal should be established to consider the panel's report. "Mr. Mortazavi should also present his evidence in this court," Sorouri said.

A total of 55 members of Parliament, led by Sorouri, have written to demand that Mortazavi be brought to court.

1445 GMT: Death Sentence Propaganda. We reported earlier (0823 GMT) that a Hossein Mahmoodi, who had supposedly been sentenced to death as "mohareb" (warrior against God), was the nephew of Hojatoleslam Jafar Montazeri, the head of Iran's Administrative Justice Court.

Only one catch here: Hojatolislam Montazeri is saying he does not have a nephew named Hossein Mahmoodi.

So, if that is true, who is spreading the lie?

1420 GMT: Student activist Majid Dorri has received an 11-year jail sentence.

1328 GMT: Member of Parliament Ali Motahhari (see 1035 GMT) has called for Mir Hossein Mousavi to be allowed into debates on the post-election situation.

1325 GMT: The Mothers of Mourning Persist. A week after their protest was disrupted by 33 arrests, the Mothers of Mourning and their supporters gathered again in Laleh Park yesterday, chanting, "You can occupy Laleh Park, but not our country."

1205 GMT: Another Reformist Put Away. Opposition websites report that senior reformist and former member of Parliament Mohsen Safai Farahani has been sentenced to six years in jail.

1150 GMT: A Newspaper Offensive Against the Regime? If this is interpreted accurately, the "challenge within" to the regime seems to be moving up a notch.

Ayande News has published an analysis by a senior official which, painting a bleak picture of the post-election situation, indirectly blames misjudgments by the Supreme Leader and a disregard for Constitution in siding with “extremists and rogues”. The unnamed official asks where the regime is headed, given the gap between people and Ayatollah Khamenei and the stagnation of the regime and Government.

In Alef News, Mohammad Hassan Haeri Shirazi, the son of Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi, asks whether the intention is to establish an absolute Islamic state or a one-party regime. He criticises the Supreme Leader for manipulating elections, causing a deterioration of democracy and a move towards an oppressive regime.

1100 GMT: P.S. And Khabar Online also has this parting shot of news for Ahmadinejad aide Rahim-Mashai: Iranian state media kept him off TV screens during recent public appearances.

1035 GMT: Ahmadinejad's Buddy v. The Larijanis? We noted earlier (0800 GMT) that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's close ally Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai has been taking potshots at member of Parliament Ali Motahhari, the brother-in-law of Ali Larijani). Well, if true, here is another front in the battle, offered by Khabar Online (which, remember, is a publication connected with Ali Larijani):
In [a] gathering of the members of Ahmadinejad election headquarters held in the grand hall of [the] Interior Ministry, his backers chanted slogans against Mir Hossein Mousavi, opposition leader, as well as Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and his top aide.

According to Khabar Online correspondent who exclusively reported on the issue, the event took place at 8 to 12 a.m. Friday and was attended by the officials of Ahmadinejad election headquarters. Among them officials from the provinces of Azerbaijan and Mazandaran made speeches and after a known cleric, Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi delivered the lecture, [the] Iranian President...made a speech.

During his speech, the government supporters shouted "Death to Mousavi!" But interestingly when the ceremony came to an end several attendants chanted slogans against Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's close aide: "Mashaei Shame on You! Leave Ahmadi Alone!" and "Ahmadi Replace Mashaei!" They began to shout when the attendants were leaving the hall.

0828 GMT: Not Me. Former Tehran Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi has rejected the Parliamentary report that holds him accountable for the post-election abuses at Kahrizak Prison.

0823 GMT: The Death Penalty and the Regime. Amir Kabir Newsletter claims that Hossein Mahmoodi, the nephew of Hojatoleslam Jafar Montazeri, the head of Iran's Administrative Justice Court, is amongst a number of Ashura protesters who have been marked out for execution.

0817 GMT: Detention Update. As the regime tries to break protests with more arrests, there are claims that Eshrat Abad Prison could become a "second Kahrizak". Kahrizak Prison was site of post-election detainee abuses and at least three deaths before it was closed on the orders of the Supreme Leader.

0815 GMT: A "corrected" issue of the weekly newspaper Hemmat has been printed after the publication was banned, apparently for insulting Hashemi Rafsanjani.

0810 GMT: No "Mohareb". Amidst Government threats to try demonstrators for the crime of "mohareb" (war against God), more than 60 journalists and human rights activists have signed an open letter denouncing the threat.

0800 GMT: Indeed, the important issue may not be just the Government's reaction to protests (see 0730 GMT) but to its challengers "within". Consider this provocative statement from President Ahmadinejad's ally and Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

No real shocker that Rahim-Mashai would trot out the line that American and Israeli denials of responsibility in the assassination of Professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi "are revealing". The intriguing passage, instead, is Rahim-Mashai's allegation that high-profile member of Parliament (and brother-in-law of Ali Larijani) Ali Motahhari has tried to diminish the offences of riot leaders with his criticisms of the Government. So Rahim-Mashai's assurance that legal prosecution is underway is not just a slap-down to the Green movement but to Mottahari.

0730 GMT: Two weeks to go until 11 days of celebration begin, marking the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, and the political manoeuvring continues. Since the protest and counter-protest of Ashura (27 and 30 December), the public scenes have been less dramatic, but the chatter and preparations continue. Those preparations may be supported by the symbol of the death of Professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi this week: we have two pieces from Ahmad Shirzad on the "political assassination" and on the drama of Ali-Mohammadi's funeral.

Most of the Western media, however, is diverted today from these events. The Saturday talks of the "5+1" powers (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China) on Iran's nuclear programme were never going to produce any outcome, but just their occurrence is enough for reporters to fill up columns with the non-development. The Washington Post headlines, "Major powers reach no deal on new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program", while The New York Times tries to rescue a bit of significance, "6 Major Powers Move Closer to Considering More Iran Sanctions".

Inside Iran, the attention is on the Government's approach to protests. Prominent cleric and politician Mohammad Reyshahri has caused a stir by breaking from "hard-line" supporters of the regime, condemning extremism and neglect in dealing with post-election demonstrations.

Reyshahri --- Supervisor of Iranian Pilgrims, a former representative of the Supreme Leader and former Minister of Intelligence --- declared, “It is no accomplishment to turn a martyr’s family into supporters of a coup. Transforming coup organizers into martyrs is the real accomplishment.” He added, “We must manage things so that if someone supports Velayat-e Faghih (Supreme Leadership of an expert cleric) only 10 percent and is against it 90 percent, we add to that 10 percent rather than completely destroying that 10 percent.”

Iran Analysis: Nuclear Myths, Rogue Elements, and Professor Ali-Mohammadi's Murder

Enduring America's Mr Smith, who has first-hand sources and knowledge of Professor Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, the physicist killed yesterday in the explosion of a booby-trapped motorcycle, assesses the consequences of the murder:

The murder of Massoud Ali-Mohammadi adds yet another mystery to the litany of violence, unexplained circumstances, and unpredictable twists that Iran has been witnessing since June 12.

Iran Special: Interpreting the Death of Professor Ali-Mohammadi
Latest Iran Video: The Leverett Line on Killing of Professor Mohammadi (13 January)
Latest Iran Video: How State Media Frames Killing of “Nuclear” Professor (12 January)
The Latest from Iran (13 January): Speculations and Realities
The Latest from Iran (12 January): The Killing of the Professor

Ali-Mohammadi was a mild-mannered academic who, like most of his colleagues, quietly supported reformist leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi in the run-up to the presidential vote and who became more vocal in its aftermath. However, his association with physics --- he was among the very first scholars to emerge from the Islamic Republic's universities with a Ph.D., made it easy for state media to link him to the nuclear field and for Western news organisations and Israeli analysts to quickly claim he was active in the nuclear programme of Iran.

The accusations brought forward by the latter group are baseless and sensationalist. Stuck with a complex topic that required careful attention, the Western media committed a series of major blunders. While experts of the field pored over Ali-Mohammadi's publication list and concluded that there was nothing nuclear in it, the Los Angeles Times claimed that the scientist had authored books on the nuclear topic, mixing up journal articles and full-fledged books as well as Ali-Mohammadi's specialism, particle physics, and nuclear physics. [A later revision of the profile changed "books" to "articles"] Other news sources merrily parroted the official Iranian state media line, which lost more and more credibility as the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation denied any relationship with Ali-Mohammadi and Ahmad Shirzad, a close friend and lifelong colleague, ruled out any academic interest of the slain physicist in the field.

Friends, colleagues, and even specialists were adamant in stating that Ali-Mohammadi had no role whatsoever in Iran's nuclear programme. In an interview with the website Isracast, a former head of Israel's Mossad admitted that he had never heard of the physicist. The head of BBC Persian TV, Sadeq Saba, summed up the channel's exhaustive research yesterday on the flagship 60 Minutes programme with one clear message: Ali-Mohammadi was not, to the best of their knowledge, a nuclear scientist.

The question therefore arises: why would a foreign intelligence service venture so deep inside the heart of the present-day high-security atmosphere which looms over Tehran and plant such a powerful bomb to kill someone who was, at the most, an extremely peripheral figure in the much-feared Iranian nuclear programme? Why would opposition movements such as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MKO) spend so many resources to kill a relatively anonymous university professor, when the power of the explosives planted in the motorcycle outside Ali-Mohammadi's home could have killed far more prominent people?

Clues as to what really happened yesterday may be gathered from the reaction of Ali-Mohammadi's colleagues and an ominous message put forth by the Combatant Clerics Association, the reformist group which counts Mohammad Khatami and Mehdi Karroubi as its members and which has been extremely forthright in its critical communiques since June 12.

The former group were cowering in fear last night, thinking that they could have been slain instead of Ali-Mohammadi and that they could be next. They had no doubts about what happened. The physicist was killed to bring about silence and terror within the restive community of scientists and academics who had produced a long list of open letters and appeals against the ongoing assaults of the Basiji on the university campuses.

The latter association's communique is even more revealing. It calls on the the authorities to stamp down upon the "autonomous activities" of the nirooha-yi khodsar ("self-acting groups"), a term used by the reformist press and leaders for the rogue elements within the more extremist branches of the security forces. These groups have been already active in the late 1990s in the "Chain Murders", during which at least 80 dissidents from various walks of life were killed.

The murder of Ali-Mohammadi was therefore almost certainly completely void of any government sanction or planning. It would be far-fetched to pin the blame on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government or on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. However, the hasty reaction of the authorities and the statements associating the event to foreign agents --- which, as cogently noted by Sadeq Saba, imply that Iran is utterly unable to protect its own capital from foreign terrorist attacks ---- are more an attempt to cover up an embarrassing operation by rogue internal forces than a plausible explanation for what really went on in Qeytarieh in northern Tehran yesterday.

The onus is therefore on the authorities to prevent the killings of Seyed Ali Mousavi, Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew, and Massoud Ali-Mohammadi from developing into a sequel to the Chain Murders.

Iran Special: Interpreting the Death of Professor Ali-Mohammadi

Perhaps the first rule of analysis, when considering an event such as yesterday's killing of Tehran University physicist Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, is this:

Wait. Wait and watch the analyses of others.

Throughout the day, Iranian state media beat out a steady rhythm. Ali-Mohammadi was a worthy "revolutionary" for the Islamic Republic, who was involved with its nuclear programme. He had been murdered by "anti-revolutionaries" and "enemies" as part of the plot to overthrow the Republic. The only distinction in the coverage was whether Ali-Mohammadi's assassins were monarchists or members of the "terrorist" Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MKO).

Latest Iran Video: The Leverett Line on Killing of Professor Ali-Mohammadi (13 January)
Latest Iran Video: How State Media Frames Killing of “Nuclear” Professor (12 January)
The Latest from Iran (12 January): The Killing of the Professor

As there was no evidence for this line --- apart from an assertion that the "Iran Royal Association" had taken responsibility for the assassination, a report immediately denied by the group --- any analysis based on it is spurious. What is more interesting is that the Iranian regime's declarations were echoed by another source: Israel.

DEBKAfile, the website linked to Israeli Government and private sources, should always be read for misinformation and "spin" rather than straight-up analysis. So it was intriguing that the site quickly posted:
The covert war against Iran's nuclear program struck deep inside the Islamic Republic with the death Tuesday, Jan. 12 of nuclear physicist professor Masoud Ali Mohammadi, 50, by a remote-controlled exploding motorbike as he left his Tehran home. He was a senior professor at Tehran University which DEBKAfile's Iranian sources say is an important hub of nuclear weapons research....

Iranian authorities see Mohammadi's death as ramping up the Western effort to recruit, intimidate or liquidate the brains behind Iran's nuclear progress and a warning

Meir Javedanfar, the Israel-based analyst whose readings are given more weight in the "mainstream" than the assertions of DEBKAfile, was not as definitive in The Guardian. However, he started from the premise that Ali-Mohammadi was in Iran's nuclear programme, and all his scenarios were of "foreign" hands in the killing. After putting forth the MKO option, he got to his argument:
It is also possible that Mohammadi was assassinated by a foreign intelligence agency. Should that be the case, this recent incident comes amid a series of setbacks for [Iran's] Oghab-2 counter-intelligence bureau.

There is evidence of an Israeli covert programme, supported by the US, to disrupt Iran's nuclear development through kidnappings and killings. However, there is no evidence that Mohammadi was a target. Instead, throughout yesterday, the public record put forth, mainly through activists searching the Internet, was not of a nuclear scientist. Ali-Mohammadi was a professor of particle physics who had published dozens of academic papers and had an international reputation in his field (see HomyLafayette's blog for a summary). Indeed, Ali-Mohammadi was even involved in a multi-national project which brought contact with Israeli colleagues:
The regional research project in which Ali-Mohammadi participated, along with other scientists from Iran, Israel and various Middle Eastern countries, is called Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, or SESAME. It is based in Jordan and operates under United Nations auspices. Iranian and foreign scientists said the project has applications in industry, medicine, nanotechnology and other fields unrelated to nuclear power.

The Iranian and Israeli participation in the project is unusual because the two countries have had no ties since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and Iran refuses to recognize the Israeli government. Palestinian scientists also participate in the SESAME project, whose last meeting was held in November in Jordan.

So why this Israel-first line for the murder, for which (again) there is no evidence yet, out of Israel?

To show that it can. The message to Tehran: if you pursue your nuclear programme, we will get you. Possibly not through military action, since the US Government has objected, but through covert disruption. No one in that programme is safe.

In other words, it is irrelevant whether Mohammadi was a nuclear scientist. It is besides the point that Israel may not have had any role in the murder. Just the possibility is enough for a bit of psychological warfare against Tehran.

The problem with this too-clever-by-half spin is that it plays into the hands of those in the Iranian regime whose first priority is not necessarily the nuclear option but crushing internal opposition. The US Government, which is not as keen as Israel to be seen as a covert threat to Iran's ambitions, is staying well away from the line put out by DEBKAfile and Javedanfar as well as Iranian state media, calling the assertions "absurd". In a curious but convenient alliance, therefore, Tehran will be quite happy for Israeli "analysts" to put out the We Might Have Done It story.

But what of the Iranian opposition who might be affected by that story? That brings us to a far different scenario and spin, put out by elements of that opposition, that Ali-Mohammadi was killed by agents of the regime. Muhammad Sahimi of Tehran Bureau, picking up on the fact that Ali-Mohammadi supported the Presidential candidacy of Mir Hossein Mousavi and the assertion that the physicist had become a vocal critic of the Government, offers an example:
Given that Professor Ali-Mohammadi was apparently well informed about many of the IRGC [Revolutionary Guard] projects, and was a prominent academic supporter of the reformists and the Green Movement, and given also his prominence, his murder would send a message to others, particularly the academics, that the hardliners may have started a campaign of assassination in order to silence the opposition -- that is if the hardliners were behind the assassination.

Another characteristic of the hardliners is that they never forgive anyone who deserts them and joins the opposition. The deserters are usually dealt with much more harshly than bona fide members of the opposition. This only adds to the suspicion that the hardliners may have had something to do with Professor Ali-Mohammadi's murder....

If the assassination signals a new campaign by the hardliners, Iran may be moving toward becoming a second Pakistan, where the military and intelligence services eliminate the opposition with impunity and make the country even more unstable than it already is.

The truth is that, for all these scenarios and purported analyses, we do not know who is responsible for yesterday's murder.

What is most important this morning is that a man has been assassinated. What is significant is many participants in conflicts inside and outside Iran --- the regime, the Green movement, Israel --- will use that death to gain political advantage.