June 13, 2009

Iran on Fire (Continuously updated)

The BBC says clashes between demonstrators and police in Tehran are the most violent in a decade.

Video below shows a human wave of demonstrators chasing frightened police officers.

Here is another video. These protests are huge.

Below are thousands of Iranians chanting not "Death to America" or "Death to Israel," but "Death to the Government."

Oppressive governments that face ferocious resistance in the streets often don't last very long. The Islamic Republic regime has been durable so far, and reports of its imminent demise have been premature, but there is only so much it can withstand.

Tehran Riot Post Election 1.jpg

A reader writes to Andrew Sullivan, who is doing an excellent job covering Iran this weekend.

Why did the clergy panic? Because they saw something much larger than just Mousavi being elected. They saw the beginnings of a wave that would sweep them out of power. This started with Khatami. and it won't stop today just because they declared a fraudulent winner. Mousavi would have been the crowbar with which to pry open the tangled nest of corruption that came into power soon after the 1979 revolution. There is enough pent-up anger in Iran's youth to fuel a complete wipeout of the regime. If the thugs were so utterly ham-fisted in their attempt to usurp power, they surely will commit scores of idiotic errors in the days to come. I cannot imagine Rafsanjani staying quiet for much longer; the theocracy is about to break wide open. Resistance will take many forms, and now will not stop until the mullahs are permanently out of power. Iran is headed for civil war.

Tehran almost looks like a war zone already. A heaving volcano, indeed.

Car Burning in Tehran.jpg

Hundreds of insurrection photos are uploaded right here on Twitter.

Haaretz is now reporting that Mousavi has been arrested. Yesterday's report turned out to be false, but maybe this one is accurate. Who knows? We're in the fog of "war" here.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounds like Baghdad Bob right about now: "It was a free and healthy election," he said.

"Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, the real power in Iran, sounds even more like Baghdad Bob than Ahmadinejad. He said the "election" was "an artistic expression" of "the joy and excitement of a nation." Good grief.

From the Huffington Post:
"My next door neighbor is an Iranian immigrant who came here in 1977. He just received a SAT phone call from his brother in Tehran who reports that the rooftops of nighttime Tehran are filled with people shouting 'Allah O Akbar' in protest of the government and election results. The last time he remembers this happening is in 1979 during the Revolution. Says the sound of tens of thousands on the rooftops is deafening right now." It's almost four in the morning in Iran.

Andrew Sullivan writes: "The last time a news event gave me chills like this was the Soviet coup. It ended the regime." Yes, it did.

You know what this reminds me of? The convulsion that shook Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, Iraq.

Here's an excerpt from a dispatch I filed from there a few years ago:

“Jassim was pissed off because American artillery fire was landing in his area,” Colonel Holmes said. “But he wasn’t pissed off at us. He was pissed off at Al Qaeda because he knew they always shot first and we were just shooting back.”

“He said he would prevent Al Qaeda from firing mortars from his area if we would help him,” Lieutenant Hightower said. “Al Qaeda said they would mess him up if he got in their way. He called their bluff and they seriously fucked him up. They launched a massive attack on his area. All hell broke loose. They set houses on fire. They dragged people through the streets behind pickup trucks. A kid from his area went into town and Al Qaeda kidnapped him, tortured him, and delivered his head to the outpost in a box. The dead kid was only sixteen years old. The Iraqis then sent out even nine year old kids to act as neighborhood watchmen. They painted their faces and everything.”

“Sheikh Jassim came to us after that,” Colonel Holmes told me, “and said I need your help.”

“One night,” Lieutenant Markham said, “after several young people were beheaded by Al Qaeda, the mosques in the city went crazy. The imams screamed jihad from the loudspeakers. We went to the roof of the outpost and braced for a major assault. Our interpreter joined us. Hold on, he said. They aren’t screaming jihad against us. They are screaming jihad against the insurgents."

By the way, everyone should order and read The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution by Amir Taheri immediately. I'm just about finished reading it now, and it is absolutely electrifying.

The Persian Night by Taheri.jpg

And finally, see my own piece just published in Commentary Magazine about the Islamic Republic regime in Iran: An Enemy of the World.

Over the next couple of days I'll be posting regular updates and analysis at the Commentary Magazine blog.

Stay tuned for another long dispatch from Iraq after the weekend. And if anyone feels like hitting my tip jar today, I promise not to get mad.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 13, 2009 10:11 AM
Comments

Excellent report! While the issue in Iran seems unsettled, who really knows how this will shape up. Please continue this kind of reporting while you can.

Posted by: ColdWarWarmHeart Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 12:12 PM

We can hope. But it is difficult to judge these things by looking at video. Video is very local and selected for its, well, entertainment value. It is seldom useful in grasping the big picture.

I have an Iranian friend who visits family back in Iran. He says dissatisfaction is widespread but that there is nothing to organize around. I have the impression that no one knows who, or what, should replace the current regime. It seems that the resistance lacks a political program and philosophical basis.

Posted by: chuck Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 1:27 PM

If they arrested Mousavi, that indicates he's a good guy (and dangerous to the mullahs). I suppose they put him up for election knowing they were going to declare DinnerJacket the winner anyway. We should help this along.

Your move, Barry. You need to borrow another page from Bush and tell the Iranian people you are on their side.

Posted by: PJ Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 2:05 PM

"You need to borrow another page from Bush and tell the Iranian people you are on their side."

Have to be careful with that - look what happened when Bush 41 encouraged the Kurds, but didn't back them up. The Revolutionary Guards are a big force and will be a problem. This probably will get very ugly.

Posted by: JonathanInTelAviv Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 3:00 PM

Juan Cole thinks the elections were stolen. Juan Cole is a big Mousavi fan.

Now that Obama Messiah was elected, it turns out that you (MJT) and Juan Cole are mostly on the same side.

{For the record, I am also a big fan of the "chosen one." I love calling him the "One" and other such acronyms because of the way it drives Obama's critics crazy. ;-) }

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 3:07 PM

I love calling him the "One" and other such acronyms because of the way it drives Obama's critics crazy.

One is an acronym? I learn something from the smart people everyday.

Posted by: chuck Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 4:01 PM

Organization/direction is critical now. Set aside turf issues for later and organize around the basics, or risk the wave's energy dispersing while the dam gets rebuilt; group before they regroup, and possibly avoid a Tiananmen Square. If Mousavi or a credible surrogate is what they've got right now, give him a bullhorn, in front of every camera and microphone available.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 4:11 PM

I don't understand why they had to rig the elections at all. I thought the mullahs hand picked the candidates. If so, what difference did it make who won? Somebody please take a shot at explaining that to me. Thanks.

Posted by: Carlos Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 5:47 PM

Somebody please take a shot at explaining that to me. Thanks.

It doesn't have any practical implications as far as I can see. By his words, Mousavi is just as conservative as Ahmadinejad and has many of the same positions. His big advantage is that his name isn't Ahmadinejad. This is the sort of thing that happens when the choices are limited and the opposition doesn't really have a goal in mind.

Given that the small towns in Iran are considerably more conservative than the better neighborhoods in the cities, I think it possible that Ahmadinejad's victory is legitimate. Though I certainly wouldn't put money on it. Third world elections are not as honest as one could wish.

Posted by: chuck Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 6:11 PM

It would have domestic implications initially, and over time, that is not a minor thing -- Mousavi actually does favor women's equal rights, social and educational liberalization, etc. He toes the theocratic line on everything else, as he must.

However, coming out in defiance of the Supreme Leader on the legitimacy of the election result is a one-time shot, and he has balls just to speak up.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 6:39 PM

No wonder Sullivan is excited. If the Mullahs fall he's going to open a gay bar in Teheran.

Posted by: DanDaMan Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 6:45 PM

Anand, you do not have to do anything special to add to your list of critics. Just being you is sufficient.

Posted by: Ron Snyder Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 6:48 PM

If we had any balls, we would be supporting the protestors, at least in some fashion, until the picture gets clearer, when it would be time to throw them some guns etc.

Our history with Iran pre-1979 is actually not nearly as bad as the conventional wisdom holds. Kicking the commie thug Mossadegh out earned us a quarter century of a friendly, indeed strongly allied government at the height of the Cold War (Iran bordered the USSR, let's not forget). I fail to see any negative from helping to nudge the opposition here. Maybe I'm wrong, but at the very least, the developments in Iran are encouraging for those who don't care for the regime there. Nothing guaranteed at all, but the US should be aiding the opposition somehow.

Posted by: ed Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 6:50 PM

Am surprised at the apparent size and intensity of the protest.

I hope the Iranian people get rid of the Mullahs before external powers act upon Iran. Next few days and weeks will be telling.

Posted by: Ron Snyder Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 6:52 PM

No wonder Sullivan is excited. If the Mullahs fall he's going to open a gay bar in Teheran.

Don't be glib. A lot of those boys in the video and photographs are awfully cute.

Given that the small towns in Iran are considerably more conservative than the better neighborhoods in the cities, I think it possible that Ahmadinejad's victory is legitimate. Though I certainly wouldn't put money on it. Third world elections are not as honest as one could wish.

I think that's about right, but this isn't the first time Ahmadinejad has won a phony election.

Nothing guaranteed at all, but the US should be aiding the opposition somehow.

Yes, but how? This strikes me as very misguided with the potential to backfire tremendously. But now that Bush is gone -- the concrete manifestation of all the world's problems rolled up into one for every wannabe dictator and demagogue across the planet -- it might be considered since that focus is now sipping coffee with his feet up somewhere in North Dallas. (This is my entirely uninformed analysis!)

Posted by: Robert Kelly Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 7:01 PM

>>>"If we had any balls, we would be supporting the protestors, at least in some fashion, until the picture gets clearer, when it would be time to throw them some guns etc."

That would look just a tad fickle, don't you think? Obama just made a huge speech about how much he loves and respects the mullahs and wants to be their BEST FVCKING FRIEND cause he's no neocon and he's so over Israel. Now you want a take back?

Posted by: Carlos Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 7:05 PM

"Yes, but how? This strikes me as very misguided with the potential to backfire tremendously"

Not to be glib, but how could it backfire? Iran will hate us? Well, they do now, so a little more hate can't hurt. Sure, there would be complaints about the US intervening in the domestic matters of another country, but who cares? If the result is the end of the Iranian theocracy, let us sin.

Carlos is right, though, we can't upset our dear friends in Tehran. That would make us bad. Better let them continue to benevolently rule. Besides, they are creating a totally stable Middle East, so bully for them.

Posted by: ed Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 7:28 PM

Last I read somewhere, a while back, the Iranian resistance, scattered around the globe, was a herd of cats, some elements barely tolerating others. I suspect this will have to be mostly in-house. I'm anticipating a massive internal media clampdown; word travels fast, especially when it's handheld.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 7:35 PM

Well, nobody asked this ol' man but I'll tell you what I think anyway.

The riots your seeing so far are mostly just university students. Kids. If everyone of them had a gun and ammo they wouldn't last five minutes against the Revolutionary Guard. Who wouldn't hesitate to kill every one of those kids.

There is going to be a revolution in Iran when the average adult and his many relatives all decide to arm and train themselves (with help from almost anybody) and co-op enough of the Iranian Army to help.

Even then it would be a blood bath of epic proportions.

In my worse dreams about this part of the world all I see are mushroom clouds...as far as the eye can see.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

Posted by: Papa Ray Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 7:36 PM

Karroubi getting less than one per cent of the vote looks suspicious. This New Yorker article says he was polling about even with Mousavi a bit before the election. Then again, this might be another case of "No one I know voted for him".

Posted by: chuck Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 7:41 PM

All I can say is THANK YOU JIMMY CARTER!

Posted by: Carlos Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 7:45 PM

Not to be glib, but how could it backfire? Iran will hate us? Well, they do now, so a little more hate can't hurt. Sure, there would be complaints about the US intervening in the domestic matters of another country, but who cares? If the result is the end of the Iranian theocracy, let us sin.

I think the problem is that you'd get the opposite. Either a strengthened theocracy that's crushed the opposition its successfully portrayed as imperialist lackeys, or the logical conclusion to your thinking -- another brutal and corrupt dictator armed by the United States. Since that's what you want, as long as the government is "friendly" (to who? political dissidents?), the regime would have little problem succeeding with the former. I have no love for the theocracy but this is simply crazy. Besides, it's too early to suggest much of anything.

Posted by: Robert Kelly Author Profile Page at June 13, 2009 8:06 PM

This riots will not lead anywhere.

I completely agree with Chuck's post.

It does not look like there is political power ready to replace Mullahs. Maybe next time.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 12:03 AM

I do not believe we should interfere. One cannot fight Nature and hope to win. Iranians will have to settle it by themselves.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 12:26 AM

"I do not believe we should interfere. One cannot fight Nature and hope to win. Iranians will have to settle it by themselves."
- - - - - -

You glance across the street and see two big kids seriously beating a smaller kid. Nature, right? Avert your eyes, walk on by, agree with your friends over a light dinner that big kids have always beaten small kids, nothing to be done about it? Go home after dinner and congratulate yourself on your excellent pacifism?

It's Kristallnacht. The jewish family next door - your friends for the past several months - are all screaming as thugs break through the front door. Nature, right? Switch over to the headphones so you don't miss any of the game through the noise? Pour yourself a small glass of wine and think about tomorrow's protest against your government's inhumane jailing of murderers without giving them big-screen TV's?

Life is always easier, cleaner, and more comfortable without principles.

Posted by: Bobby_B Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 5:02 AM

Robert:

That's not the only problem with intervening. Look at Venezuela. The rest of the West was rather suspicous of Chavez -- until the US seemed to come out in support of the failed 2002 coup. Now they're pretty much cheerleaders for him.

Posted by: Ted S., Catskills, NY Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 7:15 AM

Certainly, Jonathan, don't make any statements of support without backing them up. We don't want a repeat of the Kurd massacre, of course. But silence or platitudes from Jimmy Carter got us here in the first place. Time for action.

Posted by: PJ Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 8:00 AM

Bobby_B,

And the only thing left is for you to explain what are you talking about? How your examples fit the situation?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 8:11 AM

There is not, repeat...not, going to be a popular uprising in Iran that will overthrow the Mullahs. The last "revolution" only came off with the full, bad faith and credit of a peanut brain from Georgia who happened to be screwing up our country at the time. Our current leader, a mutant from who-knows-where, is much too policy-conflicted to get behind another one today.

Posted by: DanDaMan Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 9:23 AM

The mullahs seem to have erred in allowing this opposition guy to become the central figure for all of the resistance to them. He apparently is making noises by appealing to the Supreme Leader himself although that's not going to compel anything to happen.

The question is does even that message get out and how do the mullahs control this guy? Apparently, he's fired up and doesn't want to roll over. He thinks he won and wants the prestige with the job.

Even if he can't control all policy, there's something afoot. But the Iranians know less than we do. Mobile phone was cut, BBC Persia was cut and the police/army will do as they are told.

There is sadly no theme or movement for people to rally around. Not yet anyway. Doesn't look good.

At least Obama has saluted their election. What a guy! Moron.

Posted by: Sheva Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 9:53 AM

Not to be glib, but how could it backfire? Iran will hate us? Well, they do now, so a little more hate can't hurt.

Actually, the population of Iran, as opposed to the regime, is very pro-American. Do you recall the demonstrations a few years ago that began as celebrations of the Iran soccer team ? They turned into huge pro-American demonstrations. If you read "Guests of the Ayatollah," an excellent history of the hostage crisis, you can't help but be struck by the comment from the guards at the former US embassy, now a museum. When Bowden, the author, toured the museum, as he was leaving the guards said "Go, George Bush!" and gave him thumbs up. That was not long after the Iraq invasion and I suspect the Iranians are thinking about Iraq as they demonstrate now.

As for "adults", half the Iranian population is under age 25. They are the adults. The largest number of blogs in any language is in Farsi, the language of Iran. There is a reason why the regime is shutting down the internet.

Posted by: Mike K Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 9:54 AM

"If they arrested Mousavi, that indicates he's a good guy (and dangerous to the mullahs)...

...

Posted by: PJ"

No. It only means that by now the Mullahs can no longer control their paranoia and turned on one of their own.

Posted by: NB Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 10:30 AM

Another book that gives powerful insights into the culture and politics of Iran is: Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem Through the Islamic Republic by Sattareh Farman Farmaian. She worked for 20 years to improve women's rights and was forced to flee Iran in 1979.

Posted by: PosterDesigner Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 11:24 AM

Actually, the population of Iran, as opposed to the regime, is very pro-American.

I think "somewhat pro-American" might be more accurate. And the number seems to be dropping.

No. It only means that by now the Mullahs can no longer control their paranoia and turned on one of their own.

Mousavi was rousing his supporters, so they took him out of circulation. It's SOP for controlling these sort of things. Now we'll see if he goes quietly or whether he can continue to connect with his followers. If I were a betting man, I would bet that the resistance is pretty much over.

Ahmadinejad has been solidifying his control of the IRG and other centers of power over the last couple of years. The man may be nuts, but he is a shrewd politician. I don't think Iran will be rid of him anytime soon.

As to "the Mullahs", perhaps the "Khamenei family" and its allies would be a better description. Given his background, Obama should understand that sort of governance; whether he cares one way or the other is something else.

Posted by: chuck Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 11:43 AM

Chuck;
about the acronym: it's "Obama Never Errs", dincha know?

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 5:22 PM

"No. It only means that by now the Mullahs can no longer control their paranoia and turned on one of their own."

Could be...we can only wait and hope for the best.

Should the Republicans come out and make a strong statement, to force Obama to do it, or is Obama doing something in the BG to help the pro-democracy forces?

Obama could try to extract promises of non nukes from Mousavi in return for help...

Posted by: PJ Author Profile Page at June 14, 2009 8:44 PM

I'm always hopeful at these regime change events.

One must bear in mind that they rarely turn out well. And hardly ever right from the start.

Posted by: M. Simon Author Profile Page at June 15, 2009 12:48 AM

I am an Iranian.
This is very unusual scene since Iranian revolution in 1979. Although, the images that you may see in media do not reflect what is exactly happening in Iran right now.
Media are banned from report and Iranian gov asked media reporters to leave the country.
People are under terrible pressure.
Usually, people in rural area are more religious and may support the right wing candidates (which are hardliners). But this time even residents of rural areas supported the moderate candidate (Mousavi).
People are tired of what ahmadi nejad did.
I am not sure how you can support Iranian at this time. But at least you can spread the word. I hope this time president Obama, supports Iranian in this unstable situation and hope to prevent another coup like the 1953 Iranian coup d'état (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat).
If you have Iranian friend you may see they changed their profile pic in facebook to green, meaning they are against ahmadi nejad and they support peace. If you would like to support Iranian people you can do the same (http://sirous.org/green/). It would help our voice to be heard around the world that Iranians are not terrorist and they do not want to wipe out any country from the map. And we might receive supports from other countries by not recognizing ahmadi nejad as the legal president of Iran.

Posted by: Keyvan Author Profile Page at June 15, 2009 4:40 PM

Glad Iran is finally waking up to the reality of their condition. Unfortunately, Iranian government agents, like Trita Parsi, are now giving commentary on the situation. Please read about their handlers, Iran's Vevak organization.
Google Vevak and Parsi, as they are employer and employee.
In the west Vevak uses lies and deceptions by using commentators like Trita Parsi. They tell
the truth 80% of the time and lie the rest, so they appear to be truthful commentators. Beware, as Iran continues to clamp down on dissent, Parsi will be misleading us all.

Posted by: JoePlumber Author Profile Page at June 15, 2009 6:02 PM

This was to be assumed, but it's now advised that the Sepah are tracking twitter and social networks to find dissenters....be aware...

Big Sepah watching twitter

Posted by: arifJAA Author Profile Page at June 20, 2009 5:11 PM
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