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More than "Velvet Revolution": The Battle Within Iran's Intelligence Ministry

The Latest from Iran (29 July): Challenges Outside and Inside the Government

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IRAN FLAGIn a week filled with confusions, intrigues, and confrontations within the Ahmadinejad Government, this may be the most extraordinary story of all.

On Monday afternoon, the pro-Green Movement website Mowj-e-Sabz announced, "Coup in the Ministry of Intelligence". While public attention was focused on the President's firing of his Minister of Intelligence, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie, there was much more happening below the headlines. Two Deputy Ministers and a number of experts --- Mowj-e-Sabz claimed more than 20 --- had been "forced into retirement".

The cause? Ministry officials had been told to compile a report, based on files and interviews of detainees, on whether the quest for a "velvet revolution" by outsiders was responsible for post-election conflict. Their investigations produced the answer: No. There was no proof that "foreign" elements had instigated the protests as part of a plan for regime change.

It was an answer that did not satisfy President Ahmadinejad. He dismissed the Vice Ministers of Intelligence and of Counter-Intelligence. According to Mowj-e-Sabz and other press reports, established a parallel service, "Tehran Intelligence", led by Hojatoleslam Ahmad Salek and Hojatoleslam Hossein Ta'eb, both of whom are affiliated to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Was this dispute over the "velvet revolution", rather than the Cabinet argument over the First Vice President, the real reason for Minister of Intelligence Ejeie's dismissal? Does the replacement of Ministry officials by activists close to the Revolutionary Guard, combined by Ahmadinejad's assertion that the Ministry reports to him rather than the Supreme Leader, constitute a "coup" by the President and the IRGC against their own Government?

I'm not sure I would go so far as to answer "Yes". But I do think that the irony is that any notion of an outside "velvet revolution" has been overtaken by an inside bureaucratic war. How far this war spreads could define the next phase of the post-election challenge to the Iranian system.

The Latest from Iran (28 July): The Regime Crumbles 

The Latest from Iran (29 July): The Memorial and the Inauguration
NEW Iran: Or Is It the Supreme Leader v. the Revolutionary Guard?
NEW Iran: Will the Supreme Leader Give Up Ahmadinejad?
Iran Video (27 July): The Nighttime Protest
The Latest from Iran (27 July): A President Dangling in the Wind?

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IRAN 40 DAY 22200 GMT: Late Breaking News. The reformist website Mardomak reports that the memorial ceremonies for the fallen protesters will most probably be held this Thursday. The website asserts, "Although a rather low-level official of the ministry has objected to holding these ceremonies...there has not been any official objection... It seems that the government officials know that if they officially object, the government would then have to shoulder the responsibility of preventing these ceremony to happen." Mardomak also stated that if the doors of the Mosala are not opened on Thursday, all participants will sit down in the middle of Beheshti Street and light candles and recite the Koran.

2115 GMT: And so to close where we began this morning, considering the problems for President Ahmadinejad.

1. It is clear that the President will now be opposed by the "Principlist" bloc in Parliament. The vocal criticism of Ali Motahari has now been joined by the Islamic Engineers Society, which has criticised both the appointment of the First Vice President and the sacking of the Minister of Intelligence: "It seems you want to be the sole speaker and do not want to hear other voices… therefore it is our duty to convey to you the voice of the people." (Significantly, this news was reported on Press TV's website.)

Principlist legislator Hamid-Reza Katouzian told Tabnak: “Allegiance to the rule of just jurisprudence is not embracing the Leader and kissing his hand; allegiance must be practical....Putting the incidents of the past 10 days together, whether they were purposeful or carried out unintentionally, only show a confrontation with the Leader, and it is my opinion and that of other Principlists that Mr. Ahmadinejad needs to determine the nature of his relationship with the Leader.”

2. A "conservative" Member of Parliament, Gholam-Reza Mesbahi-Moghaddam, has expressed support for Hashemi Rafsanjani and has advocated compensation to the families of slain protesters. He also considered demonstrators to be "young gullible individuals who can be released".

3. Perhaps in response to this pressure, Ahmadinejad has asked the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi to deal with the situation of the detainees (which Shahroudi had promised yesterday), hoping that the release of these individuals will coincide with the Birthday of Imam Mahdi. Ahmadinejad claims that most detainees have been "hoodwinked into participating these protests by individuals related to certain internal politicians or the propaganda of foreign enemies".

2045 GMT: Mohammad Tavasoli, a senior member of the Freedom Movement of Iran, has been freed after 43 days in detention.

2030 GMT: Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani, who has emerged as a vocal critic of the Government, has issued another statement criticising those who have ignored "the vote of the majority".

1945 GMT: The Memorial is On. Despite the denial of a permit from the Ministry of Interior, Mir Hossein Mousavi's Facebook page announces the gathering will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. local time on Thursday at the Grand Mosala in Tehran. The page also puts up a poster for the event (pictured).

1930 GMT: American Perceptions. After the news of the denial of the permit for the Thursday memorial, a quieter phase in Iran news. Meanwhile, in the US there is a discussion of clerical power, political roles, and individual rights under the Iranian Constitution. Francis Fukuyama started it in The Wall Street Journal, and Kevin Sullivan has continued it on Real Clear World. It's a commentary as notable for the American perception of "Islamic Iran" as it is for insight into the Iranian system.

1755 GMT: The head of the political office of the Ministry of the Interior, Abbaszadeh-Meshkini, has told Fars News that no official permission has been given to any individual or group for a "40th Day" gathering on Thursday. Abbaszdeh said, "Memorial ceremonies are considered to be private issues of citizens and any request for such ceremonies from the interior ministry has obvious political overtones".

1710 GMT: Another Ayatollah for Rafsanjani. Following the public support of Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Zarandi for Hashemi Rafsanjani (see 1205 GMT), Ayatollah Jaleleddin Taheri has also praised the former President and his speech at Friday prayers in Tehran.

1700 GMT: An Iranian website is reporting that politician Saeed Hajjarian will be among the 140 detainees released after a Parliamentary review.

1540 GMT: Ahmadinejad v. Khamenei? Back to our main story today. Parleman News reports that, after the dismissal of Minister of Intelligence Ejeie, President Ahmadinejad has taken direct control of the Ministry by ordering his replacement, Majid Alavi, to report directly to him. The Intelligence Ministry normally is supervised by the Supreme Leader, according to an English-language interpretation of the story.

1530 GMT: Women's rights lawyer Shadi Sadr has been released on bail of about $50,000.

1520 GMT: Fars News confirms that, after review by the Parliamentary Security Committee including a tour of the prisons and a visit to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani --- see 0750 GMT), 140 prisoners will be released today. Another 150 will continued to be held because, according to an English translation of the report, they had weapons at the time of arrest.

(Question: Are detainees like politician Saeed Hajjarian and former Government advisors like Abdollah Ramezanzadeh being held because they were carrying weapons?)Sa

141o GMT: A steady stream of Internet chatter this afternoon about the death of Amir Javadifar in prison. His body was reportedly returned to his family on Sunday for burial. There are also claims of the death of Ramin Ghahremani two days after his release from detention.

1205 GMT: The political battle amongst the clerics of the Assembly of Experts continues. Ayatollah Hossein Zarandi, the representative of the city of Kermanshah in the Assembly, has defied the letter issued by "hard-liners" last week and supported the Friday prayer address of former President Rafsanjani.

1200 GMT: Rumour of the Day. Some Iranian websites are reporting that some Grand Ayatollahs may move from Qom to Najaf in Iraq. Clerical authorities in Najaf have indicated they would welcome any cleric who joined them.

1155 GMT: Tabnak is reporting that Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Sadegh Larijani, a member of the Guardian Council and the brother of Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani, will succeed Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi as the head of Iran's judiciary on 25 August.

0945 GMT: Foreign Policy gives some attention to Iran with an interview with the former cleric Mehdi Khalaji, who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

0940 GMT: We've reposted our first morning update as a separate entry, "Will the Supreme Leader Give Up on Ahmadinejad?"

0830 GMT: Has the State Media Turned? There is a flurry of comment this morning on whether the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has changed its line. Tabnak is reporting on IRIB's "severe criticism of Ahmadinejad". Until recently, IRIB had been very supportive of the President but, after the dispute over the First Vice President, the broadcaster has given significant airtime to critics of Ahmadinejad, such as the cleric Hojatoleslam Seyed Mehdi Tabatabai and the "principlist" Member of Parliament Ali Motahari.

Our correspondent Mani makes an important point, however. This is more evidence of a dispute within conservative ranks rather than IRIB sympathy for the Green Movement. No "reformist" critic has made an appearance on the channel.

(Ansar News has also published an editorial which is fiercely critical of the President.)

0820 GMT: As the Supreme Leader considers what to do with his President (see separate entry), the fired Minister of Intelligence, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie, has chipped in. He has written a letter, which has not been public, to the Supreme Leader.

0750 GMT: Larijani Does Damage Control. Yesterday we reported how the Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Larijani, stepped in to save the President when Ahmadinejad's attempted firing of four Ministers threatened to cripple the Government.

Now Farda News reports Larijani's attempt to deal with, and limit the damage from, the detainee issue. The chairman of the Parliamentary Security Committee, Kazem Jalali, says that Larijani asked the committee "to study seriously the pathology of these issues and treat all of the detainees (especially the university students and faculty) in a manner compatible with Islamic justice and fairness and kindness tempered with a strong dose of forgiveness2.

According to Jalili, Larijani declared, "Parliament is the refuge of people and as MPs we must listen to the complaints of everyone and try to address and solve the issues....Today society needs peace and calm but foreign media is attempting to inflame our society."

0715 GMT: Preparing for the 40th Day. Mehdi Karroubi has visited the family of Neda Agha-Soltan three days before the "40th Day" memorial/rally on 30 July. Karroubi expressed his sympathy to Neda's mother, "None of us knows our fate or destiny and none can say what events are awaiting us....The dear child that lost her life was the ultimate symbol of being innocent and being wronged, [her death] had a huge effect both inside and outside Iran. Neda's death loudly proclaimed the fact that the Iranian people are being oppressed and at the same time prevented further injustices and hopefully will have great beneficial effects upon the current and future life of [the Iranian] people."

Neda's mother complained about the statements of Ayatollah Seyed Ahmed Khatami, leading Friday prayers in Tehran, and Ezatullah Zarghami, the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, "As if the death of Neda was not enough for me, one of these two called my child an actress and claimed that her death was 'generated by a computer', and the other claimed her to be an actress [faking her death]." She concluded, "Neda, like thousands of other young people, cared for the fate of her country, she like other young people protested the results of the election."

0645 GMT: The Meeting of the Ayatollahs. Meanwhile, the negotiations between the Green Movement and the clerics of Qoms are proceeding. BBC Persian reports, via the website of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri,that he has been discussing "issues regarding religious law and politics " with Grand Ayatollah Mousavi-Ardebili and Grand Ayatollah Mousa Shobeiri-Zanjani.

The details of the meeting, taking place at the summer residence of Montazeri in the village of Khaveh, have not been announced. However, BBC Persian implies that the Grand Ayatollahs are now considering the open letter of Karroubi-Khatami-Mousavi and other reformists for intervention on detainees. (Yesterday we summarised the first open response to the letter, offered by Ayatollah Yousef Sanei.)

The roles of Montazeri and Mousavi-Ardebili, who have both been critical of the Government during the post-election crisis, are not surprising. However, Shobeiri-Zanjani has not stated his position, and he is a long-time friend of the Supreme Leader. Therefore, religious analyst Hassan Shariatmadari speculates on BBC Persian that Shobeiri-Zanjani may be conveying messages from Khamenei asking for a solution to growing problems.

Iran: Or Is It the Supreme Leader v. the Revolutionary Guard?

The Latest from Iran (28 July): The Government Crumbles
Iran: Will the Supreme Leader Give Up Ahmadinejad?

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KHAMENEIJAFARIWe began this morning with an analysis of the relationship between the Supreme Leader and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, asking if Ayatollah Khamenei would stand by or jettison his President. Muhammad Sahimi of Tehran Bureau, drawing from a source, sees another, possibly bigger battle: the Supreme Leader v. the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Showdown between Khamenei and IRGC?

Two important developments over the past few days suggest a possible confrontation in the near future between Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei, and the high command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

One development was the order issued by Ayatollah Khamenei overruling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointment of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as his First Vice President (Iran’s president has eight vice presidents). The second, firing ultra hardliner Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehei, the Minister of Intelligence.

A reliable source in Tehran told the author that both episodes were meant to be signals by the IRGC’s high command to Ayatollah Khamenei that they were in control, and that he should toe the line — their line. According to the source, Ayatollah’s Khamenei’s order to fire Mashaei was delivered to the Voice and Visage (VaV) of the Islamic Republic (Iran’s national radio and television network) on the day Mashaei was appointed by Ahmadinejad. The VaV was asked to announce the order on national television and radio, but Ezzatollah Zarghami, the director of VaV and a former officer in the IRGC, refused to do so.

As if to make sure that the Ayatollah got the message loud and clear, it took Ahmadinejad one week to relent and go along with the order. And it was only then that the VaV broadcast the Ayatollah’s order. When he did accept the order, Ahmadinejad sent the Supreme Leader a terse and very formal letter, devoid of the usual praises that his past letters to Ayatollah Khamenei have carried. The letter was considered by many supporters of the Ayatollah as a total insult; but also a clear signal. In order to further demonstrate his defiance, Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei, a close relative and friend, as his chief of staff and special adviser.

According to the source, Ejehei was fired because he was reporting to the Supreme Leader without first letting Ahmadinejad know. He had reportedly said that the Intelligence Ministry had concluded that the accusations by the IRGC high command, that the demonstrations after the election were linked to foreign powers and represented a “velvet revolution,” were baseless. He had also reportedly said that the demonstrations had neither been planned in advance, nor could they have been predicted. Finally, the Intelligence Ministry is said to have reported that Mashaei, as well as Hossein Taeb, a cleric who is the commander of the Basij militia, represented security risks. The report apparently countered all the accusations made by the IRGC high command.

There is a precedent that helps explain why Ejehei may have been put aside. In the spring of 2008, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Ahmadinejad’s first Interior Minister, was also fired after he submitted a report to Ayatollah Khamenei about the elections for the 8th Majles (parliament) without Ahmadinejad’s knowledge. In that report, Pourmohammadi reported irregularities committed by Ahmadinejad’s backers. When Ahmadinejad found out about the report, he fired Pourmohammadi almost immediately.

According to the source, Ayatollah Khamenei had also ordered the closure of one of the jails, one in which the demonstrators and some of the leading reformist leaders are being kept; but the order has been ignored by the intelligence and security unit of the IRGC, which runs the prison. Saeed Jalili, Secretary-General of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, confirmed the Ayatollah’s order for the closure of a jail. Apparently, after the initial order was ignored, it was sent to the Council. While the source did not specify the prison, it might be the Kahrizak prison on the southern edge of Tehran near the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery.

The prison is usually used to hold common criminals and narcotics traffickers, but there have been credible reports indicating that many people arrested in the post-election roundup have also been imprisoned there. Ejehei had apparently complained to Ayatollah Khamenei that the Intelligence Ministry had lost control over those arrested, and that the IRGC unit had taken control of the matter.

There is much speculation about Ejehei’s successor. According to Iranian law, the head of the Ministry of Intelligence must be a mojtahed (an Islamic scholar), and hence, a cleric. It will be interesting to see how Ahmadinejad navigates that one — finding a qualified cleric whose first loyalty is to him and the IRGC high command.

The author’s source also told him that the top commanders of the IRGC are firmly behind Ahmadinejad in his struggle to wrest full control of the government away from the clerics. But, the rank and file of the IRGC is divided into two main groups. The first group supports the reformist movement and remains silent for now (or perhaps it has been forced into silence). The second group is divided. One group is behind Ahmadinejad and the high command of the IRGC; they believe that the clerics should be purged from the government, and that Ayatollah Khamenei should be transformed into an ineffective and irrelevant figurehead. Others in the second group believe that Ayatollah Khamenei is Ma’soom (free of sin, from a religious perspective) and a deputy to Mahdi, the Shiites’ hidden 12th Imam who is supposed to come back some day to rid the world of injustice and corruption. Members of this group believe that obedience to Ayatollah Khamenei is their duty.

According to the source, Hossein Saffar Harandi, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance and a former officer in the IRGC, belongs to this group and was forced to resign, after he protested the appointment of Mashaei as First VP. Officially, Saffar Harandi is still part of the cabinet, because if he is formally sacked, the Constitution requires Ahmadinejad to seek a vote of confidence from Majlis since he has replaced half of his cabinet during his four-year term. Since his first term will expire in about 10 days, however, Ahmadinejad does not want the issue before Majles for a vote.

According to a second reliable source in Tehran, seven of Ahmadinejad’s ministers, including Saffar Harandi and Ejehei, wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei last week complaining about their boss and supporting Khamenei to sack Mashaei. It is widely believed that Ahmadinejad intends to fire the remaining five after he begins his second disputed term. The author already reported on two of the five ministers to be fired.

That the IRGC high command may wish to purge the government of clerics is no surprise. In addition to the fact that the IRGC did the bulk of the fighting with Iraq and eliminated the internal opposition to the political establishment in the 1980s, the IRGC has also been guarding and protecting the high-ranking clerics for the past three decades. Therefore, the IRGC has full knowledge of their secret wheeling and dealings. Privy to information on these cases of corruption and nepotism among clerics, their relatives and aids, the IRGC it like the Sword of Damocles over their heads.

When last year, Abbas Palizdar, an ally of Ahmadinejad, spoke of 123 cases of corruption among the clerics and their families, many interpreted that as a clear attempt by Ahmadinejad and his supporters to push most of the clerics out of power. Palizdar was later jailed and Ahmadinejad disowned him. But he was recently released from prison after posting a $300,000 bail. My sources in Tehran told me that the joke there was that after Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s Friday Prayer sermon of July 17, calling for the release of political prisoners, the hardliners released Palizadar!

Ayatollah Khamenei himself has played a major role in the rise of the IRGC. When Mohammad Khatami won the presidential election in 1997 by a landslide, a group of reformist leaders met with the supreme leader and asked him to heed the nation’s message of such a victory. In order to leave a credible legacy behind and save a political system in which had had played an important role, they advised the supreme leader to personally take a lead in the reform of the system. Not only did Ayatollah Khamenei refuse to do so, he more closely sided with the hardliners who were trying to gut the Khatami administration. It got to the point that when Khatami was president, he complained that the hardliners were creating a crisis for the country every nine days.

In 2005, after Khatami had to leave office after a second term, Ahmadinejad was elected president with the support of Ayatollah Khamenei. But practically from Day 1, Ahmadinejad began attacking many clerics in the name of fighting corruption. Ayatollah Khamenei continued to throw his support behind Ahmadinejad, presumably because he believed Ahmadinejad could force out his competitor Rafsanjani, his competitor in the power struggle.

Even when Rafsanjani wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei a few days before the election and warned him about possible fraud, the Ayatollah did not take any significant action. It is widely rumored that he told Rafsanjani that “Ahmadinejad’s defeat is my defeat.”

On Tuesday June 16, four days after the election, when the country was in deep crisis due to the huge demonstrations that had erupted, Ayatollah Khamenei summoned to his office representatives of all the presidential candidates, as well as members of the Expediency Council and the staff of the Interior Ministry, which supervises the election, in order to seek a solution to the crisis. Two people in that meeting, former Tehran Mayor Morteza Alviri (representing Mahdi Karroubi, one of the two reformist candidates), and former Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, proposed that the problem be referred to the Expediency Council. But, Ayatollah Khamenei refused.

Instead, on June 19, during his Friday Prayer sermon, the Ayatollah threatened the Iranian nation and the reformists. When the next day demonstrations erupted again and many young people were killed, many Iranians held the Ayatollah (justifiably) responsible for the bloodshed. According to the author’s sources in Tehran, the high command of the IRGC recognized that the responsibility for the bloodshed would be squarely on the Ayatollah and therefore persuaded him to take a hard line. According to the same sources, the thinking of the high command of the IRGC is that, among conservative voters, Ahmadinejad is far more popular than Ayatollah Khamenei, and that therefore, the Ayatollah has trapped himself and has no clear way out of the difficult situation that he himself has created. This allows the IRGC high command to marginalize him.

What is not clear is the role of Mojtaba Khamenei, the Ayatollah’s son. Mojtaba is believed to be close to the high command of the IRGC. Will he be purged as well? Will the IRGC consider him as irrelevant, now that they have achieved their goal of “re-electing” Ahmadinejad? Or, does he have a role in any of this?

Ahmadinejad’s “re-election” is supposed to be confirmed by Ayatollah Khamenei on August 4, and he will take the oath of office in the Majles the next day. The next 10 days will be every bit as critical as they will be intriguing.

The Latest from Iran (27 July): A President Dangling in the Wind?

The Latest from Iran (28 July): Will the Supreme Leader Give Up Ahmadinejad?

NEW Iran: English Text of Khatami-Mousavi-Karroubi Letter to Grand Ayatollahs (25 July)
NEW Another View from Iran: Seyed Mohammad Marandi on CNN (26 July)
The Latest from Iran (26 July): Four Days to The Green Movement’s Next Wave

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AHMADINEJAD2035 GMT: Bad Cop, Good Cop on Detentions. "Principlist" Member of Parliament Ali Motahari presses the head of Iran's judiciary to give up the name of the killer of detainee Mohsen Roosul Amini (1945 GMT). President candidate Mohsen Rezaei, whose campaign manager was the father of Roosul Amini, praises the head of the judiciary: “I would like to express my gratitude toward Your Excellency for setting a one-week deadline for the determination of the fate of the prisoners of the unrest.”

“I hope that judiciary officials will carry out your orders as soon as possible and relieve the concerns of the families of the detainees.”

2005 GMT: Oops, Another Crack in the Cabinet. Associated Press has published the news we reported yesterday: an appeals court upheld the fraud conviction of Minister of Industry Ali Akbar Mehrabian, a close ally of the President. Researcher Farzan Salimi claimed Mehrabian had stolen his idea for an "earthquake saferoom" in homes. The court ordered the registration of the design to be taken from Mehrabian and an associate and given to Salimi, but did not otherwise assign punishment. Salimi confirmed the ruling to The Associated Press.

So, since Ahmadinejad has just fired one Minister, will the conviction of another leave his Government vulnerable to a Parliamentary vote of confidence? Apparently not. Mohsen Koohkan, a prominent legislator, said Parliament will consider Mehrabian's conviction, but in the context of the next Government after Ahmadinejad's 5 August inauguration rather than the current one.

And there's some good news for the President. His name was also on the 2005 book that published the design for the "earthquake saferoom", but he escaped being named as a defendant.

1945 GMT: Calling the Bluff on Detainees. "Principlist" Member of Parliament Ali Motahari, an increasingly vocal critic of the Government, has demanded that the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Sharoudi, release the name of the interrogator that killed Mohsen Roohul Amini.

The declaration is not only a test of the Government's willingness to deal with the issue of detainee rights. It is an indication that the regime has been damaged amongst its own supporters by the case of Ruhol Amini, who was the son of a prominent "conservative" political activist.

1855 GMT: In a separate entry, we have published the English translation of Ayatollah Yousef Sanei's response to the Khatami-Mousavi-Karroubi letter to the Grand Ayatollahs on detainees.

1830 GMT: Did Ali Larijani Save Ahmadinejad? Jam-e-Jam Online has claimed that, after Ahmadinejad finishing his "firing spree", dismissing four ministers, Larijani informed him that firing more than one minister would require a Parliamentary vote of confidence for the Government to resume operations. This forced Ahmadinejad to reinstate Minister of Culture Saffar-Harandi and, presumably, never confirm the firings of the Ministers of Health and Labour.

1820 GMT: The conservative press is claiming that Hashemi Rafsanjani is boycotting Ahmadinejad's inauguration on 5 August.

1815 GMT: It has emerged that 205 "conservative" Members of Parliament signed an open letter to the Supreme Leader, re-stating their general support of his position and his specific actions over First Vice President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai. The letter was publicly read in parliament, while one Member of Parliament said another private letter was sent to the President: "In this letter we expressed our support for the GovernmentP but we also have asked the President to improve his behavior in a way that will facilitate rapid implementation of the Supreme Leader's comments and opinions".

The "reformists" refrained from signing this letter. One said, "[We] are of the opinion that critical letters will have a very little effect on Ahmadinejad's behavior, we doubt the efficacy of such letters and therefore have refrained from signing it."

1805 GMT: After yesterday's fun and games, the President has been quieter today, but there is one report mixing politics, amusement, and a bit of irony. Tabnak claims that Ali Kordan, the former Interior Minister, was asked to become the Inspector General of the Presidency, but that he rejected the post.

Kordan was forced to step down last year when he was inspected and found wanting: he had claimed, falsely, to have a Ph.D. from Oxford University.

1745 GMT: Another (Small) Concession. Just over two hours after we reported signs from the head of Iran's judiciary that there might be some movement regarding detainees, Press TV confirms Internet chatter of a token order by the Supreme Leader: "The head of Iran's National Security Council [Saeed Jalili] said Monday that Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei had demanded that [a "non-standard"] prison which did not measure up to the required standards to be shut down. "In the course of recent events, the Leader has ordered officials (to take measures), so that no one, God forbid, suffers injustice."

Jalili added, "Ayatollah Khamenei had insisted that officials were obliged to 'precisely' probe into incidents in which wrongdoings may have been committed against detainees."

1535 GMT: Old People Can't Drive and They Can't Run a Country. This summary of the Friday address of Hojjatoleslam Gholam-Reza Hassani, the leader is Urumiyeh, is offered without further comment:
Hassani thanked Security forces for restoring and maintaining calm throughout the country.

Hassani said that seniors should refrain from participating in activities they are incapable of doing properly. He went on to use driving as an example and opined that to prevent inflecting harm on themselves and others, seniors who cannot control their cars must stay off the road.

The senior West Azarbaijan cleric then noted the “desires of certain presidential candidates in their advanced age” and queried, “Those who do lack physical and mental capacity, why do they try to wreck havoc in the country? When you cannot even keep your ammameh (clerical hat) on your head and your dentures in your mouth how do you want to govern the country?”

NOTE 1: Attending Friday prayers in Tehran on 17 June, Mehdi Karroubi's ammameh was knocked off when he was jostled by security forces.

NOTE 2: The Supreme Leader turned 70 earlier this month.

1520 GMT: The Detentions Issue. In a clear sign that the opposition demands are having some effect, a spokesman for the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, said that a decision must come within a week on the fate of prisoners, and he indicated some prisoners should be freed. The spokesman, Ali Reza Jamshidi, said about 300 people were still detained. (English-language version of story)

1500 GMT: Keeping the Pressure On. We referred in our first update today (0545 GMT) to the "valuable breathing space [offered by President Ahmadinejad's troubles] for the opposition as they plan the memorial and other political moves". Following up his statement with Medhi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and others to Grand Ayatollahs (see separate entry), Mir Hossein Mousavi has given a clear signal on his website about the importance of the "40th Day" memorial on 30 July: ""The pro-reform path will continue. The establishment should respect the constitution and let us to gather to commemorate our killed loved ones on Thursday."

(Far from incidentally, Reuters, which reported this news, still does not understand the significance of Thursday's gathering, failing to note that it is for those killed in demonstrations on 20 June.)

The Mousavi page also endorses the moves against pro-Government members of the Assembly of Experts, publishing Ayatollah Dastghaib's letter (0708 GMT).

1200 GMT: Today's "Really? No Kidding?" Headline. In The New York Times: "Ahmadinejad Seen as Increasingly Vulnerable Since Re-election".

0930 GMT: Reports that the Iranian actress Pegah Ahangarani has been arrested.

0755 GMT: A seven-member Parliamentary committee, "despite the explicit opposition of some institutions", has visited Evin and Rajayi Prisons this morning to assess the situation and condition of detainees.

0708 GMT: After Ayatollah Hareesi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, declared that last week's letter --- issued in the name of the Assembly but signed by only 16 of the 86 Experts --- denouncing Hashemi Rafsanjani was invalid, Dastgheib has supported Rafsanjani in even stronger terms, publishing a scathing reply that seriously questions the motives and integrity of Rafsanjani's right wing critics:
Some people think that any support of Ayatollah Hashemi [Rafsanjani]'s speech is equivalent to a personal defense of Hashemi and a swipe at his enemies. As a matter of fact this is not the case, any reasonable listener will admire this speech and realize that [adherence to] its statements leads to a long term strengthening of the Islamic Republic....

You advise ethics and morality. [If you were sincere] it would have been moral if you had condemened all the instances that Islamic law was ignored during the televised presidential debates, or if you had condemned all the Anti-Islamic torture that goes on in state prisons, prisons that deliver dead bodies every day.

Be sure that if you treat people with sincerity they would treat the clerical class with the correct respect and deference.... Your policy of defamation, supression and accusations of heresy, treason, working against the establishment has repelled any reputable personality or society. Instead of would be much better if you treat people with kindness, apologize for your behavior, free prisoners, by freeing them you are attending the demands of the majority.

0700 GMT: Untangling the Government mess. The Minister of Intelligence was fired. Minister of Culture Saffar-Harandi, after Ahmadinejad tried to fire him but then pulled back, submitted a letter of resignation. However, Saffar-Harandi said that he would postpone the effective date of resignation "so that he can merely be used as a number [to prevent a vote of confidence] in the remaining eight days of Ahmadinejad's Government"

0545 GMT: More than 12 hours after news first appeared of the firing of Cabinet members, it is still unclear how far President Ahmadinejad has gone to remake his Government and how effective he will be. It appears that at least one Minister, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie (Intelligence), has been fired, but reports vary on whether a second Minister, Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi (Culture), has been dismissed. Earlier reports of the firing of the Ministers of Health and Labour were never verified.

At this point, the best explanation for the confusion (although there is no way of knowing if it is true without the confirmation of Ahmadinejad) is that the President considered removing all four ministers, leading to stories of a mass firing, but then pulled back when he realised his Government would no longer be able to act without a Parliamentary vote of confidence.

After his defeat over the appointment of First Vice President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, has Ahmadinejad been able to salvage some authority? Equally important, has he been able to establish the legitimacy of his Government, a legitimacy in question ever since the election on 12 June? We're working on an analysis, which we hope to publish later today.

Ahmadinejad's troubles are a double-edged development for the opposition. The news has overshadowed the announcement of the next major show of protest, the "40th Day" memorial service on 30 July for those who died in demonstrations on 20 June. Many in the media appear to have missed the significance of the event. Although there will be no speeches, only readings from the Koran, the memorial will be a public sign that people will come out in large numbers to challenge the regime. (There is a parallel with the only other legal gathering allowed by the Government since 15 June, the memorial service 13 days later at Qoba Mosque for Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti. On that occasion, the opposition was in disarray and had little time or space to organise the demonstration. Still, thousands of people turned up.)

Our correspondent Mani summarises the practical and symbolic importance of the location for the event:
1) It was an prayer area that was designed when Mir Hossein Mousavi was Prime Minister in the late 1980s.
2) It is located in a highly accessible area of Tehran but not in downtown Tehran.
3) It can accommodate a huge number of people. If Mousavi and Karroubi are able to fill it (and personally I have no doubt than they can do so). they will show a strength in numbers that is an challenge that will make it difficult for the conservatives to respond. Given the contrast between the number of people participating in Rafsanjani's Friday prayers with the audience at the other Friday prayers, I doubt that the conservatives will be able to amass the same number of supporters.
4) It is also interesting that in the request it has been explicitly stated that no speeches and rallys will take place and only traditional Koran recitations will happen. I think this has been a stroke of genius. First, it will make it very hard for the Government to deny a orderly request to pay respects, which isItotally within the framework of islamic protocol. Second, Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are publicly avowing the islamic nature of their protest. Third, Mousavi and Karroubi by organizing this memorial service have constructed an orderly conduit for their supporters (especially the younger more hotheaded elements) to express their grief and frustration, preventing the possibility that this grief and frustration will be converted into a rage that would be uncontrollable by the organizers. This will help demoMousavi and Karroubi to demonstrate, calmly yet effectively, the level of societal support that exists for their movement in a controlled fashion.

Yet, if the President has taken the headlines with his Cabinet discussions, this also gives valuable breathing space for the opposition as they plan the memorial and other political moves. We are still awaiting, for example, the effects of Saturday's call by Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami to Grand Ayatollahs to intervene on behalf of detainees.

It is far from incidental that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, amidst the gathering news of Ahmadinejad's troubles, seized the opportunity to give a carefully-calibrated interview. His public support for the Supreme Leader, coupled with his continued references to the difficulties raised by the election, keep up pressure on the Government while protecting Rafsanjani from the charges --- levelled by his hard-line opponents in the Assembly of Experts --- that he is undermining Khamenei. Correspondent Mani sets out the position:
Behind all the polite talk Rafsanjani is sticking to his guns. If indeed " the Supreme Leader solves the current problems based on ... the solutions I [Rafsanjani] offered in the Friday prayer", a very weak and irrelevant Khamenei will be the result. What we must remember is that the opposition is protesting from within the system, so it is Khamenei's weakening not his elimination that they are seeking. One must remember that saving face is the underlying principle of all interactions between clerics.

On the clerical front, but almost lost in yesterday's drama, Ayatollah Mousavi-Ardebili issued a public statement demanding that: 1) the rights of the detainees be respected; b) detainees who have not committed any crime be freed immediately; c) families who have lost members be compensated. The Ayatollah stated,
The recent regrettable events are incompatible with the dignity of Islamic Establishment....and have caused a great concern for all true supporters of the country and the Islamic Republic.....Unsubstantiated accusations and disrespect towards prominent national and religious figures will not only fail to pacify the country but will in fact feed the flames of the crisis.......I fear that prolonging the cuurent situation will both weaken the foundations of the establishment and the erode the trust of the people in the establishment and will lead to an exacerbation of the crisis.... I demand that all officials and influential individuals try to reverse the damage that has already been done and try to rebuild the confidence of the people in this establishment.

The Ayatollah concluded with an apparent hint to Rafsanjani, and possibly Khatami-Karroubi-Mousavi, as he hoped "that the prudence of capable people that have already served this establishment for a long time will provide a solution for rescuing the country from this painfully complicated situation and that the experience gained through these events will provide a blueprint for a much better methodolgy for administering the issues of society".

The Latest from Iran (26 July): Four Days to The Green Movement's Next Wave

The Latest from Iran (25 July): A President Retreats

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UNITED4IRAN2115 GMT: Meanwhile, Rafsanjani Plays It Cool. Amidst the Government chaos, the former President is playing down talk of a serious rift within the regime. According to Mehr News Agency, Rafsanjani praised the Supreme Leader, "He is a progressive and forward-looking thinker in different subjects. The propaganda by the foreign media who try to suggest that there is a power struggle in the top level of the regime is unfair injustice to the Islamic revolution."

The statement appears to be a continuation of Rafsanjani's strategy to show allegiance to Ayatollah Khamenei while manoeuvring against a weakened President: "I have hope in the supreme leader to solve the current problems based on his knowledge and experience and I still stick to the solutions I offered in the Friday prayer."

With these comments, Rafsanjani is also maintaining his position against the "hard-line" members of the Assembly of Experts, who attempted to undermine him in a statement earlier this week.

2100 GMT: Well, This is a Fine Mess. Conflicting reports all night over the state of the Ahmadinejad Cabinet. Some accounts now say that the President fired only Minister of Intelligence Ejeie and has not dismissed the other three (Culture, Health, and Labour); Ahmadinejad apparently realised he would face a vote of confidence in Parliament if all four ministers were removed from office.

Other accounts say Minister of Culture Saffar-Harandi resigned in protest. Still others say both Ejeie and Saffar-Harandi were sacked.

1700 GMT: Confusion. There are reports that President Ahmadinejad has withdrawn the dismissal of Minister of Culture Saffar-Harandi (and presumably other ministers), as he did not realise that the Cabinet could no longer meet without a vote of confidence from the Iranian Parliament.

1642 GMT: Our correspondent Mani confirms our suspicions (1325 GMT) that Press TV and Fars News misrepresented the statement of Mehdi Karroubi, which supposedly criticised other opposition politicians for supporting Hashemi Rafsanjani. The "genuine" statement of Karroubi is in Etemade Melli.

1638 GMT: Abdolhossein Roohul Amini, the father of Mohsen Ruholamini, who died in detention, has published a statement after the cancellation of his son's funeral. He has thanked all people expressing their sympathies to his family and said the memorial was cancelled to prevent any violence against the public by "oppurtunistic factions".

1635 GMT: Confirming earlier news --- President Ahmadinejad's inauguration has been scheduled for 5 August.

1630 GMT: Darius Ghanbari, a "reformist" Member of Parliament, has said, "Decisions regarding the participation of reformist MPs in the swearing-in ceremonies of Ahmadinejad, in the votes of confidence in Ahmadinejad's cabinet, and on interaction with the overnment has been postponed to the general meeting of the reformist fraction that will convene this Tuesday."

1615 GMT: Ayatollah Hashim Hashim-Zadeh Hareesi, the representative of East Azerbaijan in the Assembly of Experts, has denied that the statement signed by 16 members, which denounced Hashemi Rafsanjani, represented the opinion of the 86 representatives in the Assembly. Hareesi told journalists, "Collecting signatures by telephone, while most members of the Assembly of Experts are scattered in various cities, cannot constitute a statement."

1445 GMT: Ayatollah Yousef Sanei has declared his readiness to attend the 30 July "40th Day" ceremony for those killed by security forces on 20 June.

1430 GMT: Another Iranian official has joined the chorus against television confessions. Mohammad-Javad Larijani, Secretary of the Human Rights Headquarters of Iran's judiciary, said, “I am against the broadcasting of confessions. I think it is the judiciary officials who should explain to the people the issues and violations of election laws by the Reformists.”

The Press TV article is notable, however, for other reasons. Larijani is a possible successor to the current head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, and his interview raises other issues about detention: "When asked why some of the detainees have not been allowed to contact their families yet, Larijani stressed that all the rights of the detainees should be respected." And it breaks the silence on suspicions over abuse of prisoners, prompted by the high profile of one death: "At least one of the detainees, named Mohsen Roholamini [son of an ally of Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei], has died in prison."

Larijani is the most possible candidate to replace Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi.

1325 GMT: Meanwhile, on Press TV. The state network's website says nothing about the dramatic news of Ministers being fired. Instead, it runs an article trying to break Mehdi Karroubi away from the Green Movement.

The supposed quotes from Karroubi initially portray a leader accepting the election results and working for changes in his party: “Times have changed and there is an urgent need for far-reaching party reforms. We should review the post-election developments and plan our actions accordingly."

There is a hint of Karroubi's wider concerns in his statement, “After all, we are working in an environment that is biased and unfair. Our rivals are well-equipped and we are empty-handed, in the same way we were during the elections," but Press TV then emphasises the difference between Karroubi and other challengers to the Government: "It is most interesting how the very Reformist figures, who had criticized Hashemi-Rafsanjani and had stated that his political heyday is over, are now supporting him. This is not right.”

That attack both on Rafsanjani and other opposition leaders overshadows the final sentences of the article: "Karroubi asserted that he would continue his challenge to the legitimacy of the Ahmadinejad government: 'I will not step down from my complaints to the election results for as long as I live.'"

1305 GMT: The Government Breaks Apart. Now Tabnak reports that Minister of Intelligence Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejeie has been dismissed. Like Minister of Culture Saffar-Harandi, also fired by the President (see 1255 GMT), Ejeie challenged Ahmadinejad in a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday over the selection of the First Vice President.

There are unconfirmed reports that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour have also been removed from office.

1255 GMT: Is the Ahmadinejad Government Imploding? Mehr News reports that the President has fired his Minister of Culture, Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi. Earlier this week Saffar-Harandi walked out of a Cabinet meeting amidst heated debate over the appointment of the First Vice President, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai.

1245 GMT: Despite its recent setbacks, the Government seems intent on provoking a fight. It is being reported that the funeral of Mohsen Roohul Amini, the son of Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei's campaign manager, has been cancelled because of pressure from the authorities. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi had announced they would attend the funeral of Roohul Amini, who died in detention (see 0640 GMT).

0800 GMT: In our first update just over an hour ago, we asked our Big Question: after the successes of the last week, what will be the next steps for the opposition?

Our correspondent Mani has just given us the Big Answer. Mir Hossein Mousavi Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have sent the following request to the Minister of the Interior:
We take the oppurtunity to inform you that we intend to hold a memorial service to commemorate fellow citizens of our country who lost their lives due to to the recent horrific events. We request permission to hold this memorial service on mordad 8 1388 [30 July 2009], the 40th day after the starting of these events, at the grand prayer centre of Tehran. We would like to mention that this service will not include any speeches and will only involve listening to recitations from the Holy Koran. We will also request that the participants show their respects to the departed by maintaining silence.

Significantly, this Thursday, 30 July, is not the 40th day after the 12 June election or after the first mass demonstrations (and first deaths of protestors) on 15 June. Instead it is the 40th day after 20 June, when dozens of demonstrators, including Neda Agha Soltan, were killed by Iranian security forces.

(Agence France Press now has the story, which originally appeared in the Iranian Students News Agency.)

0750 GMT: After recent reports, including footage on BBC Persian, indicating that its members have been working with Iranian security forces, Lebanon's Hezbollah has denied any involvement: these are rumours "spreading sedition and division between the two brother nations of Lebanon and Iran".

0740 GMT: The "Power Overload" Protest. Remember the recent attempts to black out Iranian cities, at the start of the 9 p.m. national news, by turning on all applicances to overload the electrical grid?

The Revolutionary Guard certainly does. General Seyed Mohammad Hejazi has announced, "The plugging in of irons at 9 pm every night is an act of subversive sabotage."

0735 GMT: More Cabinet Difficulties. The Ministry of Industry, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, has been found guilty of fraudulently trying to register an invention of another researcher as his own. Last year, the Minister of Science was forced to resign when he falsely claimed to hold a Ph.D. from Oxford University.

0725 GMT: Larijani Breaks Ranks? The Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Larijani, is resigning his position as Majority Whip. Officially, the reason is that he "understands that there is a conflict of interest" between the two roles. Given that the conflict is pretty obvious, it is more likely that Larijani is distancing himself from pro-Ahmadinejad MPs. Larijani has never sat comfortable alongside the President's supporters, and relations were further strained after the election when the Speaker called for investigations of security forces' raids on Tehran University and criticised the Guardian Council.

0715 GMT: Two weeks ago, we reported on the protest of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, the leading Iranian classical singer, against President Ahmadinejad's portrayal of his opposition as "dust". Shajarian has refused to allow Iranian state media to broadcast any of his music.

Etemade Melli has the latest on the dispute, with Shajarian promising to use all legal means to prevent any airplay.

0705 GMT: I Didn't Give In....Really. President Ahmadinejad may have been forced to dismiss the First Vice President, but he is still trying to save some face in the showdown. He has put Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai in charge of his office staff.

0640 GMT: Another boost for the Green Movement yesterday with the impressive show of support in "United4Iran" gatherings across the world. As news came in of more than 2000 people in New York, the "green scroll" from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and other demonstrations from Amsterdam to Dubai, there was a notable lifting of spirits amongst Iran activists.

Now, however, the opposition has to think through its next steps. Today "reformists" will decide whether to attend next week's inauguration of President Ahmadinejad. In an act of great political as well as humanitarian significance, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have announced they will attend the funeral of Mohsen Roohul Amini. Roohul Amini was the son of the campaign manager of Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei; he died in prison after he was detained on 9 July.

Meanwhile, the regime is trying to repair internal relations. The Kayhan newspaper, having played a significant role in the pressure on President Ahmadinejad to get rid of his First Vice President, offered a limited apology to restore the image of Ahmadinejad acting in line with the Supreme Leader (see yesterday's updates). Ayatollah Khamenei, speaking to the participants in the 26th Koran competition, said:
The meaning of unity is that we must agree on fundamentals. Although we may disagree on less important issues this must not lead to disunity....Absolute ostracizing of others over these less important issues is not good [for the establishment] everyone must help in rebuilding the country....[The issues of the last few days] must not increase divisions, and one should not defame an individual and subsequently reject all of his capabilities based on a single issue....The Islamic republic allows people [that believe in the establishment] to have different viewpoints.

There was, however, a possible rebuke to Ahmadinejad in the Supreme Leader's warning, "These differences should not be mixed with sinful personal ambitions.