Iran: They Aim To Misbehave

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June 26, 2009: State controlled media announced that 17 demonstrators, and eight members of the Basij have died in two weeks of unrest. Also announced was the final tally of the election, with 62.6 percent for Ahmadinejad and 33.75 percent for Mousavi. Ahmadinejad is to be sworn in for his second four year term in August.

The government apparently feared a runoff election between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, as they calculated that there was a chance Mousavi might win that. Since the 1990s, Iranians have shown a clear preference for reform candidates. That's how Ahmadinejad won, but he is now discredited because of his inability to crack down on corrupt members of the government and clergy (Ahmadinejad was bullied into backing off).

Neither Mousavi, nor Ahmadinejad, are moderates. Both are hard core nationalists. In other words, both want nuclear weapons for Iran, the better to dominate the region, as Iran has done for over 3,000 years. Mousavi wants Iran to be strong, but he also calls for true democracy. That would mean taking political power away from the senior clergy. The ruling clerics are expected to fight this, if only because so many of them are corrupt, and don't want to become poor, and possibly get sent to prison. So it's a death match between the corrupt clergy (and their police state), and the majority of Iranians who are fed up and won't take it anymore.

The problem is that 60 percent of the 70 million Iranians were born after the 1979 revolution, and half of these young people have access to the Internet. They are tired of the corruption, and living in a police state run by religious leaders whose incompetence leaves over 20 percent of the young men unemployed. The demonstrations are mostly about corruption, inefficient government and phony democracy. Few are demonstrating against nuclear weapons, or Iranian foreign policy (which tends to make the neighbors nervous.)

This revolution is different from the 1979 one in that the Internet makes it possible to organize several demonstrations each day. The young, tech savvy, demonstrators know all about "flash mobs" (large groups of people brought together quickly using cell phones and the Internet.) Back in 1979, it took weeks to organize a large demonstration. But back then, the royalists did not have as many fanatics, willing to kill, and die, for the government. That may make all the difference here. Both sides claim God is on their side, but victory goes to those who can tolerate higher losses longer.

The senior clergy are leaning on Mousavi to withdraw his challenge to the presidential election. Mousavi is being offered rewards (financial and otherwise) if he backs off, and dire punishment (death to him, and some family members as well) if he does not. So far, Mousavi has held his ground. But the offer still stands, as least as long as Mousavi is still alive. That is being aided by more and more government officials openly, or otherwise, siding with Mousavi. Many members of the government, and the clergy, are upset with the extent of the corruption and mismanagement among the ruling class.

Some of the Basij paramilitary thugs, being used to assault demonstrators, are not Iranian. These foreigners are believed to be foreign terrorists (Lebanese Shia and Palestinians, for the most part) who are undergoing training in Iran (the Revolutionary Guard is in charge of this sort of thing.

June 24, 2009: Some 64 percent of the  members of Parliament did not show up for a celebration of Ahmadinejad's victory. Even the speaker of parliament, including Speaker Ali Larijani, stayed away. No matter how the current unrest ends, Ahmadinejad is damaged goods as the Iranian president. Meanwhile, the government is arresting university faculty who openly support Mousavi. Iranians are being told, often obliquely and gently, to not criticize the government openly, or show any support for Mousavi and the demonstrators. Those who ignore this advice could be arrested, or worse.

June 23, 2009: Clerics and older people (who remember the 1979 revolution) are showing up at demonstrations. The police are becoming less reliable, as many of the cops sympathize with the demonstrators. Some Basij units are showing up in the capital with fewer men than expected. Seems that even members of this volunteer force are not eager to battle demonstrators they agree with.

June 22, 2009:  Over the weekend, the government unleashed thousands of Basij irregulars, and arrested more real, or suspected, demonstration leaders. "Unreliable" (for the government) journalists are also being picked up. The government wants to beat down the demonstrators, without killing a lot of them (that just created martyrs, like the video of a young women killed by a rifle bullet to the chest.)

June 21, 2009: The government has also brought in members of the Revolutionary Guard. This is an outfit that mainly keeps an eye on the regular armed forces, and takes care of training and supporting foreign (but pro-Iran) terrorists. More Revolutionary Guards may mean that the Basij are not as loyal as was originally hoped.

June 20, 2009: Reports from the street indicate that the death toll from a week of demonstrations may already have exceeded a hundred. There are over 500 injured, but many of these stay away from the hospitals, lest they be arrested. The government is selectively shutting down cell phone service in areas where demonstrators are, or are headed for.

June 19, 2009: The senior clergy have been deployed to tell everyone that resistance is futile and those who misbehave will be severely punished. The demonstrations, and other forms of resistance, continue.

June 16, 2009: The state run mass media is spinning the violence in the capital as the work of foreign agitators. The U.S. and Britain are being blamed for organizing and sustaining the demonstrations. Most Iranians don't believe this, because they have been lied to so often before. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were on the streets of the capital.

June 15, 2009: The state controlled media is largely ignoring the demonstrations and accusations of vote rigging. Officials say there will be no recount, even though some voting officials admit that there were some irregularities. The government has also banned foreign reporters. But the protestors continue to communicate and organize demonstrations via the Internet. This is also how foreign news organizations are getting their stories. Email and twitter provide lots of raw material (including pictures and videos) for news editors to work with.

June 14, 2009: Most of the protest activity has shifted to the night, when you can now hear cries of  "death to the dictator" and "God is great". This is technique first used 30 years ago, as popular protests sought to overthrow the monarchy.

June 13, 2009: Police are arresting prominent opponents to the government. More demonstrators hit the streets in the capital, and the government made unsuccessful attempts to block the protesters from using the Internet to communicate and organize their activities. The government has also banned pro-Mousavi publications. Details of how the vote was manipulated are leaking out. State media announced that seven demonstrators have been killed, most of them as thousands of people tried to get into a Basij base.

The government has apparently mobilized some  Basij units. The Basij is supposed to have  over 2,000 battalions, each, on paper, with some 500 troops. Although equipped almost exclusively with small arms, most Basij battalions have apparently been reasonably well-trained and some select units may be comparable to regular light infantry. In addition to the "active" Basij, numbering on paper about 1,250,000 men and women, there are supposedly some 2 million more inactive militia members, though they are usually older personnel, and often lack equipment. In practice, there are believed to be less than half a million Basij that are armed and available for action. The Basij are basically the reserve of the Revolutionary Guard, which is a separate (from the regular army, navy and air force) organization, which also contains air, land and naval forces. Normally, the Revolutionary Guards have 125,000 members on duty, all selected more for loyalty than for military skills.

But not all these are considered loyal enough for internal security duty. There are 90,000 full time Basij (a third of them Revolutionary Guard regulars, and the rest mobilized Basij), and these are the leaders of the Basij battalions. Most of the Basij are in rural areas, where the battalions serve as a political club, offering jobs and other benefits to the young and loyal. The regular armed forces have about 800,000 personnel, and it is also considered more of a jobs program than a military force. Any real violence needed is usually carried out by the Revolutionary Guard. The clerics do not trust the regular armed forces.

About a third of the Basij are well enough trained and led to be ready for active service in days. It is these loyal militiamen that the government will use to face down any popular insurrection. Several free elections over the past decade have shown that the Islamic conservatives can  control the government, while only having the support of about 10-20 million Iranians. So, in effect, the Basij is largely composed of that minority of the population that supports the Islamic conservatives, and are willing to carry, and presumably use, a gun to keep their boys in power. The  police are outnumbered, and of uncertain loyalty (as they are recruited locally), so Basij battalions are being brought in to act as street gangs. This is an old Basij tactic. These guys are just told to use fists, knives and clubs to terrorize (and injure) demonstrators. But the demonstrators know this, and are apparently planning to fight the Basij on their own terms. The Basij being brought in are being well paid for their work (over $100 a day each), so these toughs are able to combine business and pleasure.

 June 12, 2009: The government announced the preliminary results of the election. President Ahmadinejad got 62.6 percent, to 33.75 percent for Mousavi. The breakout by age and location gave Ahmadinejad the same percentage across the board. This makes no sense historically or statistically, and convinced most Iranians that the vote count was being manipulated.

In the capital, several hundred Mousavi supporters, protesting the election results that gave Ahmadinejad a landslide victory. Police used tear gas and physical force to disperse the demonstrators.

June 8, 2009: There are four approved (in May, by the clerics who have the final say on most everything) candidates running for president. A recent telephone opinion poll, commissioned by two U.S. NGOs, shows 53 year old president Ahmadinejad ahead with 34 percent of the vote, and his main rival, 67 year old Mir Hossein Mousavi (a retired politician who was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war), only getting 14 percent, and 27 percent undecided. If no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, there has to be a runoff election. Some 90 percent of Iranian voters plan to vote, and 70 percent believe the vote will be free and fair.  The other two candidates are Mohsen Rezai, a conservative former commander of the Revolutionary Guard (he is wanted in several countries for terrorist acts), and Mehdi Karroubi, a 72 year old cleric and critic of   Ahmadinejad.

 

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