Iranian Opposition Marshals 'Army of the People' Protest

Tuesday, 22 Dec 2009 10:40 AM

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A key leader of Iran’s green movement tells Newsmax that the opposition is gearing up for a massive protest this weekend that could see millions of people pour into a single street in Tehran, forming a green chain more than 15 miles long.

“We call it the army of the people,” says Mohsen Sazegara, a former government minister who has broken with the regime and is calling on Iranians to support the green movement in Iran.

The protests Saturday and Sunday are scheduled to coincide with Ashoura, the main Shiite Muslim religious commemoration and a national holiday in Iran. The green movement hopes to bring millions of people together on a main avenue traversing the center of Tehran, ending in Freedom Square.

“We want to show the world that this is the referendum of the people of Iran against the coup government of Ayatollah Khamenei,” Sazegara told Newsmax.

More than 100,000 mourners flocked to the Shiite holy city of Qom on Monday for the funeral of dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whose death on Dec. 19 provided the green movement an unexpected opportunity to conduct a dry run for the upcoming protest in Tehran.

By all accounts, the funeral-cum-protest was a powerful demonstration of the opposition’s strength.

“Ayatollah Montazeri had great influence among Iranians, and was a big support for the opposition,” said Menashe Amir, the director of Radio Israel’s Persian language service, whose broadcasts are widely respected and listened to inside Iran.

During two days of programming devoted to Montazeri’s death, the Israeli radio played clips of mourners chanting slogans commemorating Ayatollah Montazeri’s long-standing rejection of the Islamic regime, and of large crowds shouting “Death to the Dictator,” now the trademark slogan of the pro-freedom movement.

Of note was the surprising absence of any mention of his religious title (Grand Ayatollah, or even Ayatollah) in the initial announcement on state-run media in Iran. This was corrected, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sent a note of condolences to the family, showing his continued anxiety over the role of the traditional clergy. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, showing contempt, sent no note at all.

The green movement is evolving and growing inside Iran, as diverse groups who previously fought each other unite around a common goal of overthrowing the regime. Senior officers of the Revolutionary Guards Corps have joined the movement, as have members of the traditional clergy and former leaders of the regime itself.

Rahman Haj Ahmadi, the leader of the outlawed Free Life Party of Iranian Kurdistan, told Newsmax in an interview in Europe last week that his party has pledged its support to the green movement as well, even though the Kurds have suffered extensively at the hands of successive Iranian governments, including the one Mir Hossein Mousavi led in the 1980s.

“The green movement comes in two colors: those who continue to push some form of political Islam, such as Mousavi and Karrubi; and the mass of the people who seek a secular government,” Haj Ahmadi told Newsmax.

“To transform the green movement into a secular democratic movement, we must prevent Mousavi and Karrubi from establishing another Islamic state, another dictatorship,” he said. Mousavi and former Majles speaker Hojjat ol-Eslam Mehdi Karrubi were both candidates in the June 12 presidential elections.

The green movement is demanding the resignation of the “coup government” of Ahmadinejad and the installation of Mousavi, who they claim won the election by a large majority, as head of a provisional government whose main task will be to organize an internationally supervised referendum on the Constitution.

The Islamic Republic Constitution enshrines the doctrine of a clerical dictatorship. The green movement wants the people of Iran to be given the opportunity of a clear up or down vote on whether they want to keep it.

Key to keeping such a broad-based coalition together requires a tolerance of political differences, a virtue that has been in short supply in Iranian politics.

“In the green movement, we say that we don’t want to solve our differences, but to recognize our differences and work together to solve them later at the ballot box,” Sazegara told Newsmax.

Until now, the Obama administration has refused to recognize the green movement, and when President Obama sent a message of condolences after Ayatollah Montazeri’s death, he sent it to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who had placed Montazeri under house arrest.

“This is hard to understand,” said Radio Israel broadcaster Menashe Amir.

Sen. John McCain criticized Obama’s gesture and called on him on to support the pro-freedom movement.

"The president should stand up for the people who are demonstrating and risking their very lives on behalf of freedom on the streets of Tehran," McCain said on Sunday. "Let's make it very clear we are with these people who are struggling for freedom as we always have."

A senior U.S. government official explained in a written response to questions from Newsmax that the assessment of Iran’s domestic turmoil has been provided to the White House as a basis for forming policy.

“The protests to this point haven’t overwhelmed the Iranian government’s repressive apparatus,” the U.S. official said. “Their brutality has, at times, made things worse for the state, but they’ve managed to prevent a situation in which large demonstrations are constant. Their goal from the early days seemed to be to break the momentum of the protests, to restrain their growth and their spread. “

The protests have exposed “cleavages” within the regime, which the regime has not succeeded in resolving. Rather than address these problems, regime leaders “seem to be trying to ride it out, hoping, perhaps, that the passage of time will lessen their trouble."

The official did not respond directly to Newsmax's question about whether the U.S. intelligence community assessed that Iran has reached a “pre-revolutionary situation,” a term the CIA traditionally uses to denote imminent change.

In a now-infamous intelligence estimate issued just weeks before the shah of Iran fled the country in January 1979, the CIA reassured President Jimmy Carter that Iran was not in a “prevolutionary situation.”

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