Monday, July 25, 2005

Man of neocon dreams?

July 25 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Man of neocon dream?

A conservative has won Iranian presidential elections, meaning that the country's theocratic camp has dug in its heels in power at a crucial period in history not only for the Iranians but also for the entire region. The emergence of Tehran's conservative mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the next president after winning an upset victory in the run-off presidential elections on June 24, need not necessarily mean that the Iranian voters also have turned conservative, but it signals tough times ahead. The collision course between the US and Iran had been kept in relative abeyance during the reign of Mohammed Khatami as president, and Ahmadinejad's victory has given a fillip to that confrontation.
Ahmadinejad's victory gives the conservatives control of Iran's two highest elected offices: The presidency and parliament. This combination strengthens the theocratic camp that is bitterly opposed to any rapprochement with the US.
Ahmadinejad, who served as mayor of Tehran, garnered 62 per cent or 27.8 million votes whereas former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, described by many as a reformist, polled only 37 per cent. That in itself was surprising because it was widely assumed that Rafanjani had the edge in the race.
There are indeed allegations of rigging and irregularities in the elections, but they are not going to make any difference to the reality that governance of the country has been returned to the theocratic camp.
The all powerful Guardian Council has confirmed the election results, adding that there had not been any irregularities in the voting process. The Council, which approves all the candidates before the election takes place, also confirmed that the deadline of June 28 had passed, after which it was no longer possible to formally contest the electoral process, and that no one had lodged any official protest.
Reform candidate Mehdi Karroubi resigned from two high-ranking government posts last week after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to investigate charges of irregularities in the first round of elections.
Ahmadinejad, who has worked closely with the outgoing government of Mohammed Khatami as well as the conservative camp, is seen to enjoy the support of the powerful Basij Islamist volunteer militia, which helped turn out voters in his favour.
Ahmedinejad will be Iran's first non-cleric president for 24 years when he assumes office next month as Khatami's successor.

Iran in US cross-hairs

It might indeed be argued that Ahmedinejad's victory has played neatly into the neoconservative camp in the US, because it negates the possibility of a compromise between Washington and Tehran and clears the ground for the neocons to step up their efforts to engineer a "regime change" in Iran.
Washington's ideal goal is a free hand that would allow it to shape Iran into suiting American interests. It does not want any hangovers from the hardline camp in Iran. An immediate example is Iraq, where it was clear that even if Saddam Hussein were to accept all American conditions and demands in the run-up to the March 2003 war, the Bush administration would not have accepted a compromise with him since the American strategists wanted absolute control of Iraq without someone like Saddam tagging along for a share of power.
Similarly, in Iran, Washington wants the Iranian groups it supports, including the monarchists, to be in power so that the US could call the shots in the country without having to worry about the theocrats who ousted the monarchy and assumed power in 1979.
There is no ambiguity in the American goal for regime change in Iran. President George W Bush promised his neoconvervative camp prior to his re-election in November that this would be one of his priorities during the second term in the White House.
Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy, who was in Iran for the first round of presidential elections, believes the election results have delighted the neoconservative camp.
"Now we're in a situation where unfortunately somebody who has risen to power, carried forward by the Basijis and other vigilantes and people who are opposed to loosening of repression on women and political dissidents, and so forth," he says. "I think it's quite correct, this is a dream come true, these election results, for (US Defence Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and (US Vice-President Dick) Cheney and Bush .... because they see now a wonderful foil.

Neocon's want collision

"I suspect they were worried about Rafsanjani's statements in recent weeks about wanting to be open to the US for rapprochement. This is really a dream come true for the neo-cons."
Experts on Iran see Ahmedinejad as essentially a nationalist who is unlikely to give priority to relations with either Europe or United States. He has committed himself to building a strong Iran and building the country's interests within its borders. He has also committed to developing the country's nuclear programmes -- not necessarily building nuclear bombs, but using nuclear energy for the nation's needs. He argues that it is the right of his country to develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as any other country in the world.
In his first post-election press conference, Ahmadinejad reaffirmed these commitments but said he would continue negotiations with the European Union.
Of course the US is not buying that argument and there would be increased pressure on Iran in the days ahead.

Ervand Abrahamian, professor of Middle Eastern and Iranian history at Baruch College, City University of New York, observes: "(The election of Ahmadinejad is) very significant in that US has been really on a collision course with Iran ever since the axis of evil speech (by Bush in late 2002). And the collisions, in a way, have been delayed because of the quagmire in Iraq, but this election in Tehran is going to basically put the collision course -- back on course."
Ahmadinejad, who won the elections on a popular platform portraying himself as a representative of the working class, has declared as much.
He has said that he does not think his country needs to improve relations with the US and could carry out development on its own without help from Washington.

"The policy of the Islamic Republic towards the United States has been stated many times before," he said. "With its self-belief and self-reliance, our nation continues on the path of progress. And in this path does not have any significant need for relations with the United States. We will pay attention to relations with any country that bears no hostile intent towards us."

US strategy takes shape

In turn, Bush, US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice and Rumsfeld have dismissed the Iranian election as a farce.

"There were over 1,000 candidates that were disqualified that weren't even allowed to run," said Rumsfeld after the run-off. "So, the fact that they had a mock election and elected a hard-liner ought not to come as any surprise to anybody, because all the other people were told they couldn't run. It's against the law."

Indeed, Rumsfeld appeared to offer an insight into the American strategy vis-a-vis Iran under the presidency of Ahmaddinejad when he said: "Now, I don't know much about this fellow. He's young. I have read backgrounds on him, but he is no friend of democracy. He is no friend of freedom. He is a person who is very much supportive of the current ayatollahs who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives, and my guess is over time, the young people and the women will find him, as well as his masters, unacceptable."

It is the second part of what Rumsfeld said should figure as highly relevant since the US strategy is to stir up political unrest among Iranian people to a point where an uprising could take place and then the US military might intervene to a limited extent.

An Iraq-style military invasion of Iran is deemed to be ruled out if only because the mission would be too formidable, given the size of Iran and its huge population in comparison with Iraq.

One of the key elements in the American-British strategy is massive propaganda against the theocratic regime in power in Tehran. This is done through more than 15 radio and television channels beaming anti-government propaganda in Farsi to Iranians. These programmes focus on what they describe as government failures to serve the people of Iran and how the

Iranians could have a better life and more freedoms with western-style democracy. Many programmes show how Westerners live --particularly the young generation -- and suggest that the people of Iran could also live like them.

Also highlighted are programmes that show how the regime is "squandering" the country's resources and leave the people with their problems such as high unemployment, lack of infrastructure and services, and rising cost of living,

Stirring up troubles

An Israeli intelligence website reports that the recent troubles in Ahwaz, the mainly Arab region of Iran, were engineered by American and British intelligence and more of such unrest could be expected as part of the American strategy to destablise the Tehran regime.

Towards this end, according to the report, Washington is in touch with Arab Iranian leaders and groups. Said Taher Naama, deputy chief the National Liberation Movement of Ahwaz, the NLMA, which is led by Hazal Al Hashemi, was invited to the White House on April 23., says the report, (which adds that these are not the actual names of the NLMA leaders). Naama was invited to meetings with the National Security Council, including national security adviser Steve Hadley, and senior Iranian experts in the State Department.

"While Naama's presence in Washington was not thrown open to the media, the Bush administration did not seem to care if it was exposed through intelligence channels to the rulers of Tehran," says the report.

The Arab Iranian community has eight organisations and the US is said to be in contact with all of them.

American-British axis

A glimpse into how the American-British intelligence is working behind the scenes in Iran came in April when a forged a letter purportedly written by Mohammad Ali Abtahi, an adviser to Iran's President Mohammed Khatami, surfaced in Ahvaz and elsewhere in Khuzestan province. The letter was tailor-made to trigger unrest among Arab Iranians.

The letter mentioned plans to evict Arabs from the oil-rich Khuzestan province and settle ethnic Persians there. Leading the riots were Arab students, who were particularly incensed by a mention in the forged letter that Arab students would have to leave Khuzestan and go elsewhere to study.

Five people were killed in the clashes between the rioting Arabs and security forces. About 310 people were arrested in the clashes. They were released later.

According to the intelligence report, American-British agents had forged the Abtahi letter and they also incited the Arabs in the province to riot and clash with the security forces. Abtahi himself has denied having written such a letter.

In mid-June, several bombs went off in Ahwaz, killing at least eight people. Two others died in Tehran on the same day, but it is still not known whether the two incidents were linked. Tehran blamed a London-based Arab Iranian group -- the Popular Democratic Front of Ahwazi Arabs -- for the bombings and the group denied the charge.

Recent disturbances in Iranian Kurdistan when Jalal Talabani became Iraq's first Kurdish president were also part of the American intelligence operations, reports say. American spies are working with the illegal Kurdistan Democratic party of Iran, which is based in Kurdish-held Iraq. The group is said to have provoked the recent disturbances by releasing a plan for a federal constitution in Iran.

At the same time, people like Abrahamian believes that a misplaced move could turn out to be costly for Washington.

Elite decapitation

Noting that the US has already drawn up plans for military strikes at Iranian nuclear installations, Abrahamian says: "They (the US) also have plans, what they call elite decapitation, which would be surgical strikes at ministries of the top people. And that would be basically a sort of slippery slope they would start on.

"They would think that doing that would prevent Iran developing the nuclear programme, not taking into account that Iran also has its own cards it could play. If that was done, if any military action was implemented, I think that the Iranians would use the cards they have, which is in Afghanistan and Iraq, both areas, they have actually great advantages. They could unravel the already bad position the United States is in those countries, completely unravel it. All they have to do is give the green light to (Iraqi hardline Shiite leader Mortada) Sadr in southern Iraq to have a Shiite revolt....."

Similarly, Tehran could also stir up trouble for the Americans in Afghanistan with help from some of the warlords there, he notes.

"It's often forgotten here that Iran has actually done everything it can so far to help United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan," says Abrahamian. And if there's a confrontation, military confrontation, there would be no reason for them to co-operate with United States. They would do exactly what would be in their interests, which would be to destroy the US position in those two countries."

Pitfalls ahead

Indeed, the US-UK alliance cannot be expected to be unaware of the pitfalls.

Says a seasoned regional observer: "The American-British strategy is to intervene militarily only when the internal unrest reaches its high point and Washington and London could depend on Iranians to a large extent to overthrow the regime. The US and the UK will provide military assistance of a minimum level in order to help those Iranian elements which want to change the regime in Tehran, but only when the time is right."

While Ahmedinejad's victory is seen by the reformist camp as a triumph for theocracy, it remains to be seen how he will deal with economic issues, rising unemployment, civil liberties and women's rights. That could be crucial to determining the success of the American campaign to fuel internal unrest and bring things to a boil in Iran.

With inputs from websites