Why Iran's conservatives are airing their dirty laundry
In a striking move Tuesday, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei personally called for a detention center to be closed, citing mistreatment, while President Ahmadinejad sanctions repressive tactics.
In the final days before President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inauguration next week, splits among the country's conservative elite have become increasingly conspicuous. Sometimes portrayed as a lackey for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, he appears to be jockeying for power and authority – publicly defying Ayatollah Khamenei, sacking his intelligence minister less than a week before his Cabinet would have been dissolved anyway, and angering fellow conservatives by pressing for the broadcast of confessions forced from political prisoners.Skip to next paragraph
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On Tuesday, amid growing public anger about reports of torture of political prisoners following the deaths of two young protestors in regime custody last week, Iran released 140 political prisoners. Khamenei made the striking decision to personally announce the closure of a detention center, criticizing the treatment of prisoners held there.
"At this stage, there's cleavage in every part of the government," says Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "It can be seen in the Intelligence Ministry between those who say that [presidential challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi's] green movement was part of a velvet revolution and a plot to overthrow the regime, and those who argue that this is ridiculous."
Mr. Ahmadinejad has sought to deflect attention from accusations that his June 12 reelection was rigged by reviving an old theme: that Western agents, rather than loyal Iranians, have been working to prompt a bloodless coup. But the president's latest tactic for proving that thesis has caused even some of his allies to distance themselves from him.
Power struggle over forced confessions
In recent days, Ahmadinejad has been pressing for videotaped confessions from detainees saying the protests were secretly organized by the British or the Americans to be broadcast, despite the fact that many conservatives find this distasteful. The opposition say such confessions have been obtained through torture and other coercive methods. Showtrials are feared for Hossein Rassam, a political consultant for the British Embassy who was released on bail July 19, and Bijan Khajehpour, the director of the Atieh Bahar consultancy.
"There's an internal power struggle going on," says a Tehran-based political analyst with ties to Iran's intelligence ministry who requested his name not be used. "Ahmadinejad went to the intelligence ministry and pressed them to focus more on the angle of how this was a foreign-backed velvet revolution and to release some of the confessions they had secured in prison among the arrested."
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad fired his intelligence minister – the conservative Gholam Hossein Mohsen Ezheie – after a reportedly heated exchange during a Cabinet meeting. Analysts say that Ahmadinejad is seeking to put his own loyalists into such posts – as evidenced by his failed attempt to install his close friend Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as vice president, resisting Khamenei's public opposition to the appointment before capitulating this weekend.