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Iran's Powerful Revolutionary Guard Chief Comes Under Fire

Is Revolutionary Guard chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari (right) showing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the hard-liners the way?
Is Revolutionary Guard chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari (right) showing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the hard-liners the way?
Who is damaging the Islamic republic?

This question pits two increasingly irreconcilable camps against each other as the debate continues to heat up in Tehran.

To hard-liners, the answer is clear: it is the reformists, who are accused of plotting a "velvet coup." To reformists, it is the hard-liners themselves, whose actions undermine the very system they seek to preserve.

Now, hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose fraud-tainted reelection led to massive street protests and widened the gulf between the two sides, has reiterated his call for opposition leaders to be put on trial for directing the postelection unrest.

"Those who led the [unrest] and planned it, those who accepted the support of the enemy" should be prosecuted, Ahmadinejad said at a press conference with Iranian and foreign media.

"The least was that they didn't react and by their silence they accepted the support of the enemy and they tried to strike a blow."

Concern has grown that key figures who are seen as the leaders of the opposition movement could be arrested. They include former President Mohammad Khatami, presidential candidates Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, and the head of the Assembly of Experts, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

This concern has grown following recent comments by the head of the powerful Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Jafari said on September 2 that senior reformist figures encouraged the massive street protests following the June 12 presidential vote and tried to undermine the authority of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate of power in the Islamic republic.

The Revolutionary Guard played a key role in the postelection crackdown that left a number of dead and many injured. Officials say some 30 people were killed, but according to the opposition 72 people died in the violence.

'Military Interference'

But some reformists are hitting back at Jafari.

One of the strongest criticisms has come from a lawmaker, Hossein Hashemian, the head of the Imam faction in the Iranian parliament, who said on September 6 that Jafari has become too proud of his military rank.

Hashemian said Jafari should be prosecuted for his comments, which he said go against the views of the founder of the Islamic republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Hashemian said Khomeini was against the interference of the military in politics.

Does Supreme Leader Khamenei (right) back Jafari?
Jafari, in his statement, cited some of the "confessions" by reformists who are currently on trial over the postelection unrest. He said the goal of what he called the postelection "riots" was to bring a change in the direction of the Islamic republic and bring about a "deviation from principles."

Hashemian said Jafari has labeled figures who have held top posts in the Islamic establishment and served the system for the past 30 years as potential foes of the Islamic state.

Hashemian told the website "Parlemannews" that Jafari's comments could be interpreted as an attempt to destroy Khomeini's legacy. He added that Jafari, as a military figure, didn't have the right to interfere in politics.

Going To Court

Two reformist political parties, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Militant Clerics Association, have also blasted Jafari over his comments and said that he should be charged.

U.S.-based political activist Mohsen Sazgara tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the demand for Jafari's prosecution is a positive political move by the reformists, even though it might not lead anywhere.

"Iran's judiciary is not independent and big parts of it are influenced by the security forces and it's likely that they will never investigate such a complaint, but bringing it up has a positive political effect," says Sazgara says, one of the founders of the Revolutionary Guard.

"This should also be among the people's long list of demands from the judiciary."

The Militant Clerics Association said it had decided to file a legal compliant against Jafari for spreading lies and leveling accusations against some of its members.

The Participation Front, some of whose key members are on trial over the postelection unrest, said that Jafari's comments could open room for more action against reformist leaders. The party said that Jafari's comments and his access to forced confessions by reformists could be a confirmation of the Revolutionary Guard's role in the June vote and reformists' allegations that a coup has taken place.

The party says the judiciary should prove its independence by bringing one of its own to court -- for the first time.

Opposition Continues

Former President Khatami, who is one of the figures named by Jafari, hit back on September 6, accusing the hard-liners of taking a "fascist" approach. He said the hard-liners destroyed "the biggest opportunity" that has come along for Iran and the Islamic establishment in the June 12 vote.

Mohammad Khatami has decried military "interference" in politics.
Khatami was scheduled to speak this week at Khomeini's tomb at a religious ceremony, but the annual event was cancelled in what seems to be an attempt by hard-liners to prevent the speech from being turned into an opposition rally against the reelection of Ahmadinejad.

The disputed election has plunged the Islamic republic into the worst crisis in its 30-year history. And three months after the vote, the crisis is far from over.

The rift between the hardliners and the reformists seem to be deepening as the two sides accuse each other of drifting away from revolutionary values and damaging the Islamic republic.

For now, power is in the hands of the hard-liners, who have arrested a number of senior reformist figures and put them on trial in an exercise dismissed by reformists as a parody of justice.

Despite the growing pressure, opposition members seem determined to keep challenging the hard-liners.

Musavi on September 5 urged his supporters to continue their protests -- big and small -- against the results of the presidential vote, which he says was fraudulent.

He also called for "preventing military men from interfering in politics and financial activities," and said that those who abused postelection detainees should be punished.

Opposition members are planning to protest on September 18 during the annual "Quds Day," when state-organized anti-Israel demonstrations usually take place.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.