Public Statement of Mehdi Karroubi on the Iranian regime's brutality during Ashura, Iran News:
"To the coup leaders and instigators of oppression and brutality against the people protesting during the ceremony of Ashura . . . The sins that you have committed today cannot be forgiven by God. If you don’t have a belief in God, at least be a human.” . . . even the Shah respected the day of Ashura and he gave orders to allow people to be free to do as they wish.
- - 27 Dec. 2009
Public Statement of President Barack Obama on the Iranian regime's brutality during Ashura:- - 27 Dec. 2009
It cannot be stated often enough that Obama's lack of leadership and his lack of strategic vision in failing to decisively support revolution in Iran are mistakes of the highest order. While Obama plays golf in Hawaii, the people of Iran are fighting, bleeding and dying in the streets for freedom from the oppression of a regime that is every bit as much our and the world's enemy as it is the Iranian people's. While Obama's foreign policy acts of his first year have been one misstep after another, it is this misstep that is exponentially the worst. [Update: Obama has since made a reasonably strong statement in support of the protesters (see here), though he still does not condemn the regime as illegitimate. I applaud Obama's decision to finally speak up. That said, it remains to be seen whether this marks a months late decision by Obama to lend decisive support to the protesters (something which even WaPo, in an editorial, is calling upon him to do) or whether Obama has made merely a pro forma statement that he does not intend to follow up.]
By all accounts, the Iranian peoples' protests against the regime yesterday on the holy day of Ashura (see here) were the "largest," "bloodiest," and most wide spread of the protests to date. There are several things of significance about yesterday's protests that suggest Ashura marks a new phase to the revolution.
In the wake of the mid level cleric-cum-Supreme Guide Khameini's ever more brutal repression, the size of Iran's protests had been dwindling since June. The people of Iran, other than a hard core at the center, appeared to be cowed. That has been reversed. The size of the protests that began earlier this week with Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral and culminated in yesterday's holy day of Ashura were back to, if not in excess of, June levels. Moreover, they involved new and different classes of protesters. The protests now included many religious Iranians outraged at the regime's lack of principals and many of the lower class. The protests show a very much revitalized opposition to the regime that is, as Michael Ledeen notes, "very broad based."
Of equal importance, the nature of the protest on Ashura was different. The protests had long ago morphed from simple calls for a new election to calls for an end to this most evil of theocracies. What changed most strikingly (pun unintentional) with the Ashura demonstrations was the degree of militancy. There were, for the first time, a significant number of reports of people, unarmed or armed only with rocks, willing to engage with IRGC and the regime's brown shirts, the basij. And there were a surprising number of reports of IRGC and basij backing down and either retreating or literally giving up. This shows not merely a lack of morale, but a fundamental lack of certainty in their cause that, if it becomes widespread or occurs at critical points, will spell sudden and immediate doom for the regime in the months ahead.
This new militancy is verified by the Washington Post:
Amid thick smoke from fires and tear gas that blanketed key parts of the city, Tehran became the scene of hand-to-hand combat between security forces and the protesters. At one point, according to witnesses, members of the pro-government Basij militia fired their handguns while ramming a car through two barriers set up by demonstrators. Elsewhere, the protesters, who in recent months had run whenever security forces moved in to disrupt demonstrations, began to attack riot police, pelting them with rocks and setting some of their vehicles ablaze.
"The people's protests have become deeper, wider and more radical," said Hamid Reza Jalaeipour, an opposition supporter and a sociology professor at Tehran University. He said to expect the government to respond with an even greater crackdown than the one over the summer. "Everything will, from now on, be harsher, tougher, stronger," he said
The Guardian had similar reports, adding that the violence extended well beyond Tehran:
Mayhem unfolded in Tehran after a brutal crackdown in which security forces fired on protesters gathered on Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shia calendar. The shootings killed at least four people, with another said to have died from head injuries after being beaten by police. Among the dead was Ali Mousavi, a nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, leader of the reformist movement. He was reported to have been shot through the heart.
Demonstrators – many chanting slogans against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – retaliated by attacking members of the security forces, in some cases beating them with their own batons. Police cars were set on fire and photographs appeared to show riot officers retreating under a hail of stones.
A further four people were killed and many others injured in the northern city of Tabriz, according to reformist websites. Clashes were also reported in several other cities, including Isfahan, Shiraz, Arak, Mashhad, Babol and Najafabad. . . .
CNN is now reporting that martial law has been imposed in Najaf, indicating that the demonstrations there must have been particularly serious.
The NYT also reported on the new militancy of the protests, adding that the murder of the nephew of the Green Movement leader, Mousavi, appears to have been a planned assassination:
The decision by the authorities to use deadly force on the Ashura holiday infuriated many Iranians, and some said the violence appeared to galvanize more traditional religious people who have not been part of the protests so far. Historically, Iranian rulers have honored Ashura’s prohibition of violence, even during wartime.
In Tehran, thick crowds marched down a central avenue in midmorning, defying official warnings of a harsh crackdown on protests as they chanted “death to Khamenei,” referring to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed growing intolerance for political dissent in the country.
They refused to retreat even as the police fired tear gas, charged them with batons and fired warning shots. The police then opened fire directly into the crowd, opposition Web sites said, citing witnesses. At least five people were killed in Tehran, four in the northwestern city of Tabriz, and one in Shiraz in the south, the Web sites reported. Photographs of several victims were circulated widely.
Unlike the other protesters reported killed on Sunday, Ali Moussavi appears to have been assassinated in a political gesture aimed at his uncle, according to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an opposition figure based in Paris with close ties to the Moussavi family. . . .
Michael Ledeen also points to a telling point that didn't dawn on me until he mentioned it. If you review the many pictures and videos from prior protests, you will see that it was the protesters who hid their faces behind masks, afraid of regime recriminations if they were identified. Now the tables are turned. As you review the many photos and videos from the Ashura demonstrations, what you see more often than not is the opposite. This is another indicator relating to the utter determination of the protesters and the flagging morale of the regime's troops. As Ledeen states:
. . . many of the evil Basij goons wore masks. This is new, and indicates fear that they will be identified and hunted down. The conflict is ever more violent . . .
Lastly, the Iranian regime's legitimacy has always depended on two legs - democracy and religious justification. The democratic leg was destroyed by Khameini with the stolen election in June. As to the second leg, religious legitimacy, it is logically of paramount importance to a theocracy that claims divine right to rule. To the extent that the regime still had any such legitimacy, they washed it away with their recent acts. Khameini spent the past week crossing one religious red line after another. As Michael Ledeen states:
the regime has been stripped of religious legitimacy by its own panic-driven brutality. By invading mosques and hosseiniyas, by assaulting family members of leading clerics (Grand Ayatollah Sane’i is under house arrest), and by ordering murder on Ashura, the supreme leader has violated a whole series of previously sacrosanct rules.
Michael Totten adds:
. . . Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”
“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.” . . .
Thus it is no surprise that the Ashura protests were, according to Newsweek, joined by many ". . . observant Iranians (the type who hadn't been involved in previous protests) . . ." That is ominous news indeed for the regime. All that is left now is the naked exercise of power. And since Ashura, that is what the regime has done. There have been reports of high level arrests overnight: "Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, the head of Assembly of the Teachers and Researchers of Qom, has reportedly been arrested with other clerics; Ebrahim Yazdi, the head of the Freedom Movement of Iran who was detained soon after the Presidential election but released after a few days, has again been taken by Iranian authorities."
This is clearing spiraling towards a decision point in the months ahead. But what comes next? According to Pam Gellar, a nationwide strike has been called for today. Coming across twitter are reports that many businesses in Tehran have not opened today. Further, the next major "celebration" in Iran - and thus the next likely major demonstration - falls on Feb. 11. It is, ironically enough, the day that Iran celebrates the birth of its theocracy.
We shall see if today brings calm. Even if it does, the events of Ashura are a guarantee that it will only be temporary. The ante has been upped. Let us hope, on this issue of monumental importance to Iran, the U.S., Israel and the world, Obama decides to finally and decisively engage - on the side of the protesters (with this President, I feel the need to add that qualifier).
Update: The Times of London adds:
The opposition claims that the unrest is spreading across Iran, and to every social class. It senses victory, but activists fear a bloodbath first. “The security forces, especially the Revolutionary Guards, are prepared to fight until the end as they have nowhere to go,” one member said.
This may be the start of the endgame, but it does not seem likely. The endgame will likely begin when the first major strikes occur on a national scale, much as what occurred during the 1978 revolution. As to the Revolutionary Guards, as I've pointed out before, they are inextricably entwined in all the graft and corruption of the regime and, thus, the IRGC leadership at least will order their men to fight this revolution to the death. As to whether the rank and file of the IRGC are willing to follow those orders, we saw some chinks in the armor during Ashura. If such refusals become endemic, the regime wil lbe in its final days.
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