Geopolitical Diary: Tensions in Iran Coming to a Boil?

4 MINS READJun 19, 2009 | 01:17 GMT
Editor's Note: Events in Iran are moving rapidly, and STRATFOR is on watch to update its coverage of the situation as events transpire. Given the difference in time zones, the situation in Iran is likely to have evolved since this diary's publication. For updated information, please visit Friday, June 19 — which marks a full week since Iran's presidential election — is shaping up to be a tumultuous day in the Islamic Republic. On this day, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will lead the Friday prayers at the University of Tehran, where several students were attacked and killed on June 14, apparently by volunteer Basij militiamen allied to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad and his challengers — Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezaie — are all invited to attend the sermon, along with voters from both sides of the political divide. A STRATFOR source privy to the details of the sermon claims that Khamenei is likely to issue an ultimatum to opposition candidates and their supporters during his sermon — calling for Iranians to cease their protests, accept the election results and restore calm to the Islamic Republic, lest outside powers attempt to exploit the tensions. But the regime also appears to be preparing for worst-case scenarios. Friday prayers typically start at noon and end in early afternoon in Iran. At 4 p.m. local time on Friday, a large opposition rally was expected to take place in south Tehran's Imam Khomeini Square. Though Mousavi — likely trying to avoid a crisis in the streets — reportedly has postponed that rally until Saturday without stating a reason, there is no guarantee that his call will be heeded. Considering the potential for the demonstrations to spiral out of control, particularly if Khamenei's appeal ends up backfiring, Iran's state security apparatus may resort to more extreme measures to put down the protests. Thus far, plainclothes Basij militiamen — which form the paramilitary arm of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — and local police have been intimidating opposition protesters and breaking up demonstrations. A source in Tehran told STRATFOR on Thursday that the IRGC has now taken command of law and order operations in the capital. We have not been able to confirm that regular IRGC forces have moved into Tehran and are preparing for a crackdown. The IRGC is the state's iron fist, but thus far it has been kept in reserve for fear of further destabilizing the situation and galvanizing the protesters. However, the street demonstrations and level of behind-the-scenes efforts by clerical elites to contain Ahmadinejad are extremely worrying from the Supreme Leader's point of view. If he feels that the foundation of the Islamic Republic is at stake, he very well could be compelled to turn to the IRGC. As discussed in Wednesday's diary, the IRGC (or Pasdaran) is an enormously powerful institution, created with a mandate to guard the Islamic revolution. Over the past three decades, the IRGC has kept busy developing and nurturing Iran's militant proxies, building up its own economic heft and enhancing its role in Iranian policymaking. Now, a unique opportunity may be opening up for the Pasdaran elite. Iran is in uncharted territory: There is a battle under way between clerics, the presidency is under attack and the Supreme Leader is getting backed into a corner while trying to manage the fracas. Should the IRGC — which was designed to serve and protect the clerics — be called into Tehran to impose martial law, it would be in a position to exceed those traditional constraints and gain a much bigger say in how the Islamic Republic is run. This, of course, all depends on how events play out on Friday. But if the Supreme Leader's appeal for calm is openly flouted, his patience runs out and a decision is made to send in the IRGC, the post-election saga could be approaching its climax.

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