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Iran's First Postrevolutionary President Talks About The Current Power Struggle

In the latest sign of growing pressure on Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, conservative politician Hamid Reza Taragh has announced that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has tasked a committee with looking into "legal violations" committed by the government. Taraghi, a senior member of the Islamic Coalition Party, did not provide details, but he said Khamenei would not allow the current tensions within the Iranian establishment to continue. On July 7, RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari discussed the ongoing power struggle between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad with the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Paris-based Abolhassan Banisadr. Banisadr, who was removed from power and fled the country in 1981, talked about the comparisons being made between his ouster and Ahmadinejad's situation.

RFE/RL: Ali Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has reportedly created a committee to look into violations committed by the Iranian government. What does this mean in practice? Is the Iranian establishment getting ready to dismiss President Mahmud Ahmadinejad?

Abolhassan Banisadr (file photo)
Banisadr: It means that authorities are building a case against Ahmadinejad and his close aides. If it was really about the violations of the law, then Khamenei violates the laws more than anyone else: He has made orders against the constitution [and] has prevented the president from changing his intelligence minister, and he's violated the constitution in many other instances. [This move] comes at a time when 100 lawmakers have issued eight questions for Ahmadinejad, including several that deal with violations of the law. This therefore means that a case is being prepared so that if Ahmadinejad refuses to become obedient and submissive until the end of his term, then the case will be used by the parliament to impeach Ahmadinejad.

RFE/RL: So do you think at this point no decision has been made yet to impeach and dismiss Ahmadinejad?

Banisadr: Just about an hour ago, I was informed that there is disagreement between Khamenei and his son Mojtaba regarding the fate of Ahmadinejad. Even though Mojtaba Khamenei was a supporter of Ahmadinejad and he also managed the electoral fraud [alleged in the disputed reelection of Mahmud Ahmadinejad in June 2009], he now believes that he should be dismissed immediately because he believes Ahmadinejad hurt the authority and legitimacy of the supreme leader -- who has the last say in the Islamic Republic -- when he sulked for 10 days [after Khamenei reinstated Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, who reportedly had been forced to resign by Ahmadinejad]. And if Ahmadinejad were not punished, that would mean others could do the same. This is Mojatba's view.

[Khamenei], on the other hand, believes [Ahmadinejad's dismissal] would damage the Iranian establishment -- and the "establishment" means Khamenei himself, because he imposed Ahmadinejad with electoral fraud, the crackdown on popular protests, and human rights crimes such as the Kahrizak detention center [where at least three detainees were reported to have died as a result of torture] and other issues. Then he went to Qom and told clerics that he has full trust in him. Now he [can't come out] and say that "everything I said was wrong," nothing would be left of him.

RFE/RL: You said you have information that Khamenei and his son disagree on how to deal with President Ahmadinejad. Did you obtain that information from sources close to the establishment?

Banisadr: I have that information from my sources. I had it first from one source, then I checked the accuracy of that information with two other sources.

RFE/RL: Let me return to the committee that has reportedly been set up to review violations [allegedly] committed by the government. You seem to believe this is a move aimed at increasing pressure on Ahmadinejad and giving him another warning? The report of the committee could be used in the event the establishment decides to get rid of Ahmadinejad?

Banisadr: Yes, they're preparing the case to use if needed. This is a step further than a warning. When he refused to go to work and was told that "if you don't stop sulking, the parliament will move to impeach you," that was a warning. But now they've entered the action stage.

RFE/RL: Where do you think the power struggle is going? Will Ahmadinejad be impeached or will he manage to finish out his presidential term?

Banisadr: The dispute over power has its own dynamics, as Khamenei told [different factions within the establishment] not to fight with each other. But he's currently playing the main role in the discord. Everything depends on Ahmadinejad: If he wants to become [irrelevant], they might let him stay till the end of his term. If not, as Mahdavi Kani [the chairman of the Assembly of Experts] said, it's likely that parliamentary and presidential elections will be held at the same time -- meaning that [Ahmadinejad] won't remain [in office] until even [March 2012]."

RFE/RL: How do you view the current power struggle in Iran and the increasing comparisons that are being made with what happened to you in 1981, when you were impeached and you had to flee Iran?

Banisadr: It is a superficial comparison; the reality is different. At that time, the leader wasn't the vali faghih [supreme jurist], he had an oversight role. [Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] violated the constitution. Khamenei enjoys now the supreme leadership, this is one difference.

The other difference is that at that time the type of dispute that is going on now was meaningless. If Khomeini had acted at that time under the constitution, there wouldn't have been any problem. The rule of the people would have been meaningful. The dispute was between the rule of the people and another rule that was not included in the constitution but that Khomeini would enforce. Now it's the contrary meaning -- that that the rule of the people has lost its meaning. Even if they won't rig the election, and elected people make it into the parliament, and the president is also elected, they can't do anything but obey the supreme leader.

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