Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ashura Violence in Iran and the U.S. Response

Washington, DC—During the second half of December 2009, anti-regime protest in Iran accelerated. The latest and most brutally repressed demonstrations centered on the Shiite holiday of Ashura commemorating the death of Hussein, the most holy Shiite martyr. Regime security forces reportedly fired into crowds of protestors, killing at least ten, wounding hundreds, and arresting hundreds more.According to IPC President and former member of the National Security Council Staff at the White House, Professor Raymond Tanter, “This outburst of protests is only the latest in a cycle of protest and repression that began following the fraudulent 12 June presidential election in Iran and was punctuated again by demonstrations on National Student Day, 7 December.”

Prof. Tanter continued, “Just as the scale of protest and level of repression have followed an upward trajectory, so has the firmness of President Obama’s response. At the beginning of the June 2009 demonstrations, the Obama administration took a decidedly mild tone in condemning the Iranian regime’s use of violence against peaceful protestors. As a rationale for such a tone, administration officials cited the imperative of keeping open the door for a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear program and a fear that association with the United States could detract from the protest movement. Faced with criticism from the right, Obama escalated his rhetoric on 23 June, saying, ‘The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions.’

“As the prospects of a negotiated settlement on Iran’s nuclear program have become all but moot, the Obama administration has become more outspoken in its condemnation of the Iranian regime during the most recent spasm of violence in Iran. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said of the Ashura violence, ‘Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States’, placing the United States firmly on the side of the demonstrators and in opposition to the Iranian regime for the first time.”

According to MG Paul Vallely (US Army Ret, IPC Advisory Council), “With the lights gone out on engagement, there must be pressure exerted on the Iranian regime for its appalling human rights record and abuse of innocent people. The United States must send a strong signal of support to the Iranian people as this will enhance divisions that are already appearing among the ruling theocratic elite.

“Washington must take note of Tehran’s use of propaganda to attempt to discredit Iran’s main dissident group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). Iranian official media blamed the MEK for hijacking Ashura festivities to incite violence. Because the Iranian regime pays so much attention to the MEK, the United States must now engage Iran’s main opposition group by removing it from the U.S Foreign Terrorist Organizations list following the lead of the European Union and United Kingdom, which have delisted the MEK. Such delisting will provide an opportunity for oppositionists to coalesce.”

General Thomas McInerney (Lt Gen, US Air Force Ret, chair of the IPC Advisory Council), states, “Amid rumors of military defections to the side of the demonstrators, the Iranian regime is as divided as it has been since the days of the 1979 Revolution. During June 2009 protests, several IRGC commanders were arrested because they refused to get involved in the repression. One leading commander was arrested for arranging a secret meeting with other officers.

“The most remarkable development in the protest movement is the shift in focus from Ahmadinejad as the object of scorn to Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. To chant ‘Death to Khamenei!’, who claims to be God’s representative on Earth, highlights the degree to which the entire political system of the Islamic Republic has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of its people.”

According to R. Bruce McColm (President of the Institute for Democratic Strategies, IPC Board of Directors), “An important distinction to make is between Iran’s loyal opposition and disloyal opposition. Initially, protests revolved around support for Ahmadinejad’s main electoral rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is part of Iran’s ‘loyal opposition’, in the sense that he in no way opposed the legitimacy of the clerical regime. As protests turned violent, though, activists became less enamored of Mousavi and began protesting against the entire system, not only the fraudulent election, and became a ‘disloyal opposition’ movement. Some went as far as to burn photos of not only the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but also the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, thus breaking an untouchable taboo. Such disloyal actions brought the spontaneous street protesters more in line with opposition groups that had long questioned the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, such as the MEK.”

According to IPC President and former member of the National Security Council Staff at the White House, Professor Raymond Tanter, “While State repression helps unify the opposition, the clerical elites are developing fissures as their legitimacy is called into question. ‘Crippling sanctions’ would likely exacerbate such splits and increase the likelihood that the current cycle of peaceful protest and State violence leads to the kind of regime change that vastly reduces the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. As would rhetoric from President Obama that highlights the egregious human rights violations of the Iranian regime, the nobility of those Iranians who sacrifice their bodies to protest for democracy, and the commitment of the United States to the principle of self-determination for all peoples.”

Paul E. Vallely

Chairman - Stand Up America US - Save Our Democracy



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