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IRAN - The Tehran Political Leadership Vs US Hardliners:.

The political leadership in Tehran is, indeed, worried as the US now is all around Iran. Iran's Shi'ite theocracy still has many options to avert military confrontation with the US. But a latent power struggle between President Ahmadi-Nejad's supremacist camp and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's traditionalists has to end. This camp includes the IRGC and excessively fanatic ayatollahs - such as Qom-based Grand Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who believe Iran as a nation and under the Ja'fari Shi'ite theocracy is superior to the rest of the world. Mesbah-Yazdi is the patron of and "spiritual source of emulation" for Ahmadi-Nejad, who belongs to the IRGC. Before his June 24, 2005, election to the presidency, Ahmadi-Nejad had been the mayor of Tehran since 2003. Previously he served as governor in Azerbaijan province. He was an IRGC officer during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Reuters on April 21 focused on Republican US presidential contender John McCain who had just turned to popular music to illuminate a debate on the Middle East, singing at the suggestion that the US "bomb, bomb, bomb" Iran. "That old Beach Boys song, 'Bomb Iran'?" McCain said in response to a question about US policy on its diplomatic pariah at an electoral campaign meeting in the state of North Carolina. His questioner had struck an anti-Iran tone, asking him when the US was going to "send an air mail message to Tehran", drawing cheers from the crowd. McCain then briefly sang "Bomb, bomb, bomb" - an adapted snippet of the rock 'n' roll band's refrain "Ba-ba-ba, Ba-Barbara Ann" - winning laughter from the audience.

The performance was filmed and posted by users on the video-sharing website YouTube. One posting presented an edited version of the clip, with added photographs of children suffering from injuries caused by violence in Iraq. Senator McCain went on in a serious tone: "Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. That alone should concern us, but now they are trying for nuclear capabilities. I totally support the president (George W. Bush) when he says we will not allow Iran to destroy Israel".

McCain is the Republican candidate most supportive of the war in Iraq, though he has harshly criticised Bush's handling of it. He has long been seen as a likely favourite on the Republican side for the 2008 US presidential race, but recently has scrambled to overhaul his campaign strategy as he lags behind in fund-raising and in the polls.

McCain's campaign spokesman Kevin McLaughlin told ABC news the senator "was just trying to add a little humour to the event". But the liberal group called the comment dangerous. The group said it had launched an ad against McCain and his joke, arguing that the US "can't afford another reckless president". The group plans to spend about $100,000 to air a commercial on network and some cable TV stations in Iowa and New Hampshire, states which hold early contests in the presidential nomination process.

In the ad, an announcer says: "America has lived through six years of a reckless foreign policy. We're stuck in Iraq. More than 3,000 Americans are dead. And thousands more wounded. Now comes John McCain with his answer to what we should do about Iran. John McCain? We can't afford another reckless president".

McCain defended the joke during a campaign stop in the state of Nevada. In Las Vegas he told reporters: "Please, I was talking to some of my old veterans friends. My response is, Lighten up and get a life". Asked if his joke was insensitive, McCain said: "Insensitive to what? The Iranians?"

Eli Pariser, executive director of Political Action, on April 20 said McCain displayed "more out-of-control bravado", adding: "At a tense moment, when cooler heads in his own party and many retired military leaders are calling on the president to negotiate with Iran, Sen. McCain's outburst isn't merely inappropriate, it's dangerous".

The Iranian Supreme Court has overturned the murder convictions of six Basiji members whose prestigious state militia - the Basij - had killed five people they considered "morally corrupt". The case shed light on relationships between the supremacist and traditionalist camps within the theocracy.

The reversal on April 18, in a five-year-old case from Kerman in central Iran, has produced anger and controversy, with lawyers calling it corrupt and newspapers giving it prominent coverage. The New York Times on April 19 quoted Nemat Ahmadi, a "lawyer associated with the case", as saying: "The psychological consequences of this case in the city have been great, and a lot of people have lost their confidence in the judicial system".

Three lower-court rulings found all the men guilty of murder. Their cases had been appealed to the Supreme Court, which earlier overturned the guilty verdicts. Its latest decision, made public on April 18, reaffirmed that reversal, and said: "The objection by the relatives of the victims is dismissed, and the ruling of this court is confirmed". The ruling may still not be final, however, because a lower court in Kerman can appeal the decision to the full membership of the Supreme Court. More than 50 Supreme Court judges would then take part in the final decision.

According to the Supreme Court's earlier decision, the killers - members of the Basij, an organisation of young volunteer vigilantes sponsored by the IRGC and favoured by President Ahmadi-Nejad - considered their victims morally corrupt and, according to Ja'fari teachings and the theocracy's penal code, their blood could therefore be shed. Supreme Leader Khamenei tolerates the Basijis, but he is said to be concerned by their occasional excesses (see his profile in gmt16IranWhoApr18-05).

The last victims, for example, were a young couple engaged to be married who the killers claimed were walking together in public. Iran's Islamic penal code, a parallel system to its civic code, says murder charges can be dropped if the accused can prove the killing was done because the victim was morally corrupt. This is true even if the killer mistakenly identified the victim as corrupt. In that case, the law requires "blood money" to be paid to the family. Every year in Iran, a senior cleric determines the amount of blood money required in such cases. This year it is $40,000 if the victim is a Muslim man, and half that for a Muslim woman or a non-Muslim.

In a long interview with the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), which often reflects official thinking, Supreme Court Judge Muhammad Sadegh Al-e-Eshagh on April 18 sought to discourage vigilante killings, saying those carried out without a court order should be punished. He did not take part in this case. At the same time, he laid out examples of moral corruption which do allow bloodshed, including armed banditry, adultery by a wife and insults to the Prophet Muhammad.

Muhammad Seifzadeh, a lawyer and a member of the Association for Defenders of Human Rights in Tehran, said: "The roots of the problems are in our laws. Such cases happen as long as we have laws allowing the killer to decide whether the victim is corrupt or not. Ironically, such laws show the establishment is not capable of bringing justice, and so it leaves it to ordinary people to do it".

The ruling stems from a 2002 case which began after the accused watched a tape by a theocrat who ruled that Muslims could kill a morally corrupt person if the law failed to confront that person. Some 17 people were killed in gruesome ways after the tape was viewed, but only five deaths were linked to this group. The six accused, all in their early 20s, told the court they had taken their victims outside the city after they identified them. Then they stoned them to death or drowned them in a pond by sitting on their chests.

The lawyer Ahmadi said three of the families had given their consent under pressure by the killers' families to accept financial compensation. Hossein Nejad Malayeri, brother of Gholamreza Nejad Malayeri, who was killed by the group in Kerman, said: "Such laws are not acceptable in our society today. That means if somebody has money, he can kill, and claim the victim was corrupt".
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Publication:APS Review Gas Market Trends
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Apr 23, 2007
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