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Iran 101

How does Iran work?

Let’s just say it’s as top down as it gets. Flow charts are here and here. Below is the Iran narrative as I see it.

Max Blumenthal sees Iran through the prism of Palestine.

via Stephen M. Walt

So, if you want to know what any revolution is up against, here’s the heavy lift Iranians have to face. If the people are to take back the power it won’t come through peace.

The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, regardless of his lackluster religious creds, is where the recent crackdown originates. Roger Cohen mentioned a “crushing” of the Iranian protests recently, which means the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, through the paramilitary thugs called the Basij malitia, are getting the okay to unleash their fury. The Basij militia’s leader is reportedly an ally of Ahmadinejad, which isn’t all that surprising given what we’ve seen play out. Khamenei is the IRG’s “commander in chief,” so to speak.

So it flows nicely for the Supreme Leader that it is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is next in power, even as they have close ties with Iran’s president. The flow chart Bill Marsh did over the weekend number the IRG as “perhaps” 120,000 strong. But even though Khamenei is in charge, one of the reasons Ahmadinejad is so secure is his close ties to the IRG. You can bet Khamenei knows this and won’t overstep, as it wouldn’t be all that outrageous to think the IRG could step in if Khamenei weakens significantly. Unlikely, but not out of the question. The Quds Force is an elite branch of the IRG, which has been reported in the news during the Iraq war. They operate exclusively outside Iran.

The Supreme Leader also has control through appointing the Guardian Council, which is headed by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who is in Ahmadinejad’s corner. It’s comprised of 6 clerics and 6 jurists. They have blocked all females from their ranks. Also appointed is the head of the judiciary, whose name is Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi (and very close to the SL), and other council members, with the GC controlling elections, who can run in these elections, as well as having the last say on anything the Parliament passes. Their current speaker is Ali Larijani, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator. If the GC doesn’t like a law they simply block it. Bill Marsh calls the Guardian Council “the regime’s gatekeeper,” as they have the power to obliterate all reform ideas that incubate in the Parliament or anywhere else. The GC also approves candidates for Parliament, which basically is a toothless chamber, because it has no power over the SL, with the GC also having ultimate power over any decisions made.

The SL also has control over the president and can even kick him out of office. However, don’t forget the IRG, which can be moved to act on behalf of the president. Since the “green wave,” Ahmadinejad is now completely dependent on Khamenei, so any independence once imbued in the Iranian presidency is now a formality. However, the president has the power to put his people throughout the government, but also into the Iranian media. Another way to control the message and know who’s not toeing the line.

The Expediency Council is headed by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, but is appointed by the SL. Rafsanjani intervenes between GC and Parliament disputes, but also aids the SL when asked.

Finally, the all important Assembly of Experts, who chooses but also can remove the Supreme Leader. It is headed by Rafsanjani, who backed Mousavi and is adamantly opposed to Ahmadinejad, who defeated him for president in 2005.

Fouad Ajami, who analyzed Iran from the neoconservative perspective, thinks Obama has to choose between the regime and the people on the street.

But if you look at the Iranian hierarchy and where the power is entrenched there’s really no choice at all, at least right now.

Only the Iranians can change this fact and it won’t come in the short-term and it won’t come without mayhem, death and destruction. That is, unless the people get help from inside the Iranian structure, peeling away power from Khamenei, which would weaken Ahmadinejad that could bring down the regime. But never forget the Revolutionary Guard, where Ahmadinejad has strong allies. It’s a long, likely bloody, road to “freedom.” Remembering that we are talking about the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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