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Viewing cable 10RPODUBAI13, IRAN'S GREEN PARTY OPPOSITION: ITS BIRTH AND EVOLUTION (1/3)

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10RPODUBAI13 2010-01-12 14:02 2010-11-28 18:06 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Iran RPO Dubai
VZCZCXRO5785
OO RUEHBC RUEHKUK
DE RUEHDIR #0013/01 0121439
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 121438Z JAN 10
FM IRAN RPO DUBAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0038
INFO IRAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI IMMEDIATE
RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 RPO DUBAI 000013 
 
SIPDIS 
NOFORN 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2035/01/12 
TAGS: PGOV IR PREL
SUBJECT: IRAN'S GREEN PARTY OPPOSITION: ITS BIRTH AND EVOLUTION (1/3) 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: Alan Eyre, Director, DOS, IRPO; REASON: 1.4(B), (D) 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY: Iran's Green Path Opposition (GPO) came into being 
as a result of the fixed June 12 Presidential election. What 
started as a movement to annul the election now gives shelter both 
to those seeking the full set of rights guaranteed them by Islamic 
Iran's Constitution and others seeking a new system altogether. 
Although the numbers of those publicly willing to march under its 
banner have decreased in the face of regime brutality, its current 
core group, mostly college-age urban youth, have shown no sign of 
giving up the fight.   But like the regime that seeks to crush it, 
the GPO is not monolithic and there is a clear gulf between the 
opposition's elite leadership and the popular movement protesting 
in the streets.  Remaining outside the umbrella of the GPO is an 
array of unsatisfied groups whose willingness to join the GPO is 
unclear.  These groups clearly oppose President Ahmadinejad but do 
not yet seek, as do many GPO elements, to overturn the entire 
system. END SUMMARY. 
 
 
 
2. (C) NOTE: This is the first in a series of three cables 
examining the Iranian Opposition since the June 12 Presidential 
election, what might happen in the short-term, and what the most 
effective levers of US policy have been so far and what combination 
may have the most impact in the coming months. 
 
 
 
I. BIRTH OF THE GPO 
 
--------------------------- 
 
 
 
3. (C) ELECTION BUILD-UP AND ORIGINS OF THE GREEN PATH OPPOSITION: 
Iran's current unrest began in June 2009, when Iran's lackluster 
Presidential campaign became energized by a (first-time) series of 
televised debates among the four Presidential candidates:  former 
Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi (reformist), former Speaker 
Mehdi Karrubi (reformist), Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen 
Rezai (moderate conservative) and President Ahmadinejad (hard-line 
conservative).  President Ahmadinejad's accusations that former 
Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami were 'plotting' against his 
government and, along with Mousavi and other reformists, sought to 
undermine the Revolution and to enrich themselves, galvanized 
ordinary Iranians.  Incivility and accusations at odds with 
obligatory Persian politesse  left many observers with the 
impression (discomforting for some, energizing for others) that the 
elections might actually be more of a true contest than past 
elections, and that Ahmadinejad might actually be vulnerable to an 
upset. 
 
 
 
4. (C) These Presidential debates sparked popular interest in the 
election, and in the last week or so before the June 12 vote 
reformist candidate Mousavi, with active and behind-the-scenes 
support from Khatami and Rafsanjani, increasingly gained momentum, 
with his supporters for the first time beginning to speak publicly 
of a 'Green Movement.' Part of his support were young, first-time 
voters; part were revitalized older 'Second of Khordad' reformists 
who had turned out in record number to support Khatami in 1997 and 
2001, but who had subsequently sourced on politics due to Khatami's 
inability to effect change.  Another large group of first-time 
voters were from the ranks of the "Khamoush" ('silent') - ie, 
Iranians who had never voted but who were inspired by prospects for 
positive change and had hope that this election would be genuine. 
Mousavi may have even drawn some support for older and more 
conservative voters who remembered his steady stewardship of Iran's 
economy during his stint as Prime Minister during the 1980's 
Iran-Iraq War. 
 
 
 
5. (C) ELECTION DAY: IRIG elections have never been 'free and 
fair,' but until June 2009 most electoral machinations consisted 
primarily of the conservative Guardian Council screening out 
ideologically undesirable candidates, plus vote manipulation at 
relatively low levels, including using the Basij to 'get out the 
vote.'  Conventional wisdom going into June 12 was that a high 
turnout -- representing energized young and urban voters -- would 
favor Mousavi, who would need a few million vote 'cushion' in order 
 
DUBAI 00000013  002 OF 006 
 
 
to either win outright or to get into a subsequent two-man runoff 
with Ahmadinejad.  While we don't know nor might not ever know the 
real June 12 vote count, it is clear that the turnout was at record 
high levels and that there was systematic vote count fraud (if in 
fact the votes were even counted) to ensure that Ahmadinejad 'won 
big' in the first round. 
 
 
 
6. (C) Why the fix? In retrospect, many of the reasons seem clear. 
Part of the answer could relate to SLK's desire to have unified 
control over the three branches of government to strengthen Iran's 
hand, and his hand personally, in expected upcoming negotiations 
with the West and the US over nuclear issues.  More certainly, part 
of the answer is that after the 1997-2005 Khatami Presidency, 
Supreme Leader Khamenei (SLK) was determined to prevent any 
reformist, especially his former political opponent Mousavi, from 
heading the Executive Branch.  SLK considers Rafsanjani his most 
serious rival, and is also intimidated by Khatami's popularity. 
Therefore, that both Rafsanjani and Khatami supported Mousavi may 
have led SLK to conclude that a Mousavi victory would consolidate 
power in the hands of those bitter rivals and leave him 
unacceptably vulnerable to marginalization.  And part of the answer 
relates to the increasingly powerful IRGC hardline faction that had 
supported Ahmadinejad (AN) in 2005, whose support AN strengthened 
over the subsequent four years by using government funds and 
patronage to increase this faction's power and wealth. As such, 
this hardline IRGC faction, composed mostly of high-level officers 
with a shared intelligence-security background, wanted 'four more 
years,' despite mixed support for AN from within the IRGC ranks. 
Anecdotal information indicates that this hardline faction had 
convinced SLK that the election could be fixed with minimal 
backlash. 
 
 
 
7. (C) They were wrong, as shown by the unprecedented sight of 
millions of ordinary Iranians pouring into the streets chanting 
'where is my vote.' On June 19, SLK abandoned his carefully 
cultivated pretense of non-partisanship and took the first steps 
down the long road of post-election suppression when he lauded the 
'epic' June 12 vote and told those disputing the results to stop 
protesting and fall in line or face the consequences.  In response, 
what started as the pre-election 'Green Movement' slowly began 
changing into the 'Green Path of Hope' Opposition (GPO), as 
reformist leaders Mousavi, Karrubi and Khatami signaled that they 
would not stand down. 
 
 
 
8. (C) REGIME RESPONSE:  Regime reaction to ongoing post-election 
GPO activity was swift, conducted at both the popular and elite 
level: 
 
 
 
- At the elite level the regime began a widespread intimidation 
campaign to include Stalinesque show trials, rounding up not only 
'all the usual suspects' (i.e. first-tier reformists, primarily 
those associated with Khatami's 'Second of Khordad' movement), but 
also their family members, in addition to second-tier reformists, 
political and human rights activists, and reporters.  Many if not 
most of these detained, to include those arrests that garnered the 
most publicity in the West, played no significant role in either 
promoting  Mousavi's candidacy or in engendering post-election 
protests.  However anecdotal evidence indicates there have been 
extensive arrests of younger, lesser-known activists more active in 
the GPO.   Within the regime, SLK acted quickly to bring into line 
as many key power brokers as possible, including traditional 
conservatives like Majlis Speaker Larijani, former IRGC commander 
(and defeated Presidential candidate) Mohsen Rezai, and Tehran 
Mayor Qalibaf - all of whom oppose Ahmadinejad and would have been 
happy to see him go, but whose loyalty to the System and to the 
Leader trumped concerns they may have had about the extent of the 
voting fraud. 
 
 
 
- At the popular level the regime increasingly resorted to force on 
those public holidays when GPO supporters took to the streets. The 
following were the key dates on which the GPO took to the streets: 
 
DUBAI 00000013  003 OF 006 
 
 
-- 20 June 2009:  The day after SLK's gauntlet-throwing Friday 
Prayer speech saw several hundred thousand Iranians march in Tehran 
to protest, and also witnessed the first significant use of regime 
force against protestors.  The killing of one young marcher, Neda 
Agha Soltani, captured on video, focused global attention on the 
protests and gave the GPO a tragic but iconic image of martyrdom to 
wield against the regime. 
 
 
 
   -- June 28, 2009 (7th of Tir): The first time the GPO used the 
cover of an officially sanctioned ceremony to rally against the 
government.  GPO supporters, led by a key Mousavi aide, caught 
security forces off guard by taking over an annual ceremony to mark 
the 1981 bombing that killed several leaders of the Revolution. 
 
 
 
   -- July 17, 2009: The first and only time since June 12 when 
former President Rafsanjani, in many ways the main target of 
hardline regime animus, was allowed to give the Tehran Friday 
Prayer sermon.  Rafsanjani's much anticipated speech, in which he 
did not acquiesce to the official election results, energized 
opposition supporters and led to street clashes. 
 
 
 
   -- September 18, 2009 (Ghods Day): The government-orchestrated 
event to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians was co-opted by 
hundreds of thousands of GPO supporters flaunting green and 
chanting anti-government slogans.  Ghods Day was the zenith of the 
GPO's ability to bring significant number to the streets, and the 
last time when security forces by and large eschewed violence; 
 
 
 
   -- November 4, 2009 (US Embassy Takeover Anniversary): The GPO 
hoped to replicate Ghods Day during the first large-scale protest 
since university campuses reopened. Increasingly ominous warnings 
from the security forces and revelations of detainee abuse resulted 
in smaller GPO turnout, and more violent clashes than previously; 
 
 
 
   -- December 27, 2009 (Ashura and 7th Mourning Day for Grand 
Ayatollah Montazeri): Ashura witnessed the most violent clashes 
since June 20, with at least nine killed.  Violent clashes also 
took place in major cities outside of Tehran. 
 
 
 
II. WHERE WE ARE NOW 
 
---------------------------------- 
 
 
 
9. (C) WHAT IS THE OPPOSITION: Up to now the GPO's most significant 
tool of resistance is popular turnout in the form of peaceful 
marching and civil disobedience on those holidays when the regime 
cannot prevent people taking to the streets. However, ongoing 
regime violence against protesters has decreased GPO turnout, from 
the millions of June 15 to a smaller committed core of (at most) 
hundreds of thousands. Much if not most of them are young, 
college-age Iranians, and understandably the vast majority of 
opposition turnout appears to have been in Tehran, although other 
major urban centers have also seen sporadic unrest. Although the 
number of GPO'ers willing to take to the streets has decreased from 
the days immediately following the June election, those remaining 
on the streets seem to have radicalized, with at least some 
opposition animus from AN to SLK: the new emblematic chant is no 
longer 'where is my vote' but 'death to the dictator (i.e. SLK).' 
At the elite level, not only are Mousavi, Karrubi and Khatami the 
focus on hardline regime pressure, but former President Rafsanjani 
is under ongoing attack by these same forces. 
 
DUBAI 00000013  004 OF 006 
 
 
10. (C) The GPO has a strong 'brand' - green, freedom, peace signs, 
silent marches, stolen election and martyrs like Neda Agha Soltani. 
But like the regime that seeks to crush it, the GPO is not 
monolithic. To characterize the GPO's active core as now primarily 
(but not exclusively) university students and university-age youth 
in a country so demographically young (for example, approximately 
one quarter of the population is in its twenties) is not to 
belittle its potential.  Outside of the active GPO core group there 
is a larger, relatively passive group, whose support now mostly 
manifests in the anonymous shouts of 'God is Great' from night-time 
North Tehran rooftops or who scrawl or stamp anti-regime slogans on 
ten thousand Toman currency notes. Presumably many of them have 
fled the field due to fear of regime reprisal but might be drawn 
back into the fray if the prospects of a GPO victory, however 
defined, became more real to them than the prospect of blows from a 
Basiji baton. 
 
 
 
11. (C) OTHER OPPOSITIONS: Stepping back, it is wrong to assume 
that the GPO is the logical equivalent of 'the Iranian opposition,' 
and indeed it is more accurate to speak of many different Iranian 
oppositions, each with different constituents and goals, to include 
the following: 
 
 
 
- BUREAUCRACY: AN has effected vast bureaucratic top-down Executive 
branch personnel changes, ignoring the technocratic cadre that was 
the recruitment pool for the Rafsanjani and Khatami presidencies. 
Given his preference for ideology over expertise ('mota'hed' versus 
'motakhasses'), he has staffed his government largely from within 
the current and former IRGC ranks.  Many of these former ministers, 
deputy ministers, office heads and other senior bureaucrats have 
not been pleased with their professional fates.  At lower 
government levels, there is anecdotal evidence of widespread 
disgruntlement with if not opposition to AN. 
 
 
 
-MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE: AN and his hardline IRGC backers have 
extensively purged the Intelligence Ministry on the grounds of 
partisan loyalty, creating a significant cadre of disgruntled 
former Intelligence Ministry officials. Similarly, there is 
evidence of at least some IRGC opposition, both within the rank and 
file and also the upper ranks, at SLK's handling of the election 
and post-election events. 
 
 
 
- INDUSTRIALISTS: AN's massive economic mismanagement and the 
ongoing economic power grab of 'IRGC Incorporated' has engendered 
much ill will among Iran's affluent and influential industrial 
leaders. 
 
 
 
- RAFSANJANI/CLERGY: Rafsanjani's institutional power is minimal, 
but as part of his strategy he seeks to retain/expand his support 
within Iran's clerical class, although this class itself is 
increasingly impotent and dependent on government favor .  As one 
element of the regime's efforts to limit the pro-GPO clergy's 
influence, it has taken steps in recent weeks to challenge the 
religious titles and credentials of at least one top-level 
reformist cleric ("Grand Ayatollah").  This move will not likely 
endear the regime to many if not most Iranian traditional 
seminarians who take matters of religious credentials, learning, 
and hierarchy very seriously, especially given SLK's own lack of 
qualifications for his religious title. 
 
 
 
- 'MODERATE' PRINCIPLISTS: Within the ruling conservative 
'Principlist' ('Osulgarayan') grouping there is a significant 
faction opposing AN, though still quite loyal to SLK and the 
concept of 'Supreme Jurisconsulate.' One of this faction's leaders 
is Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, with the Majlis as a whole in an 
ongoing battle with AN's increasingly 'imperial' Executive Branch. 
Other major Principlist opponents are Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher 
Qalibaf and Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai. 
 
DUBAI 00000013  005 OF 006 
 
 
GPO LEADERSHIP- STREET 
 
--------------------------------- 
 
 
 
12.  (C) The GPO has promulgated a new mode of oppositionist 
organization for Iran.  Anecdotal evidence indicates that GPO 
leaders, especially Mousavi, have from the start favored a 
horizontal, diffuse, decentralized GPO structure as opposed to a 
more hierarchical one.   Indeed, part of the GPO's resilience stems 
from this defuse and decentralized nature, frustrating a regime 
that has come to rely on the two-step of identifying and 
decapitating leadership as its main tool for extinguishing dissent. 
In this regard communication technologies such as the Internet and 
SMS technology have been a significant 'force multiplier,' with 
virtual space in many ways playing the same 'information-center' 
role now that the networks of mosques played in the 1979 
Revolution.  GPO leaders Karrubi, Mousavi and Khatami play a role 
both symbolic and also operational, with anecdotal evidence 
indicating that they are playing at least a limited role in 
coordinating with if not leading the GPO masses.   Additionally, 
for the first time since the Revolution elements of the Iranian 
Diaspora seem to be playing a role within events in Iran, 
coordinating with GPO leadership elements inside the country. 
 
 
 
13. (C) Distance between the titular GPO leadership and the street 
may yield tactical advantages, though it also reflects a gulf 
between the leadership and the popular opposition. Mousavi, 
Karrubi, and Khatami are longstanding fixtures of the Islamic 
Republic, making them ill suited to lead a radicalizing movement 
calling for the overthrow of that system.  Certainly they retain 
support from the broader opposition, but many, and particularly the 
more radicalized elements, do not look to Mousavi et al for 
leadership.  In particular, IRPO contacts in their 20s and 30s 
discount the notion that anyone previously associated with 'the 
Nezam' ('the System') could accurately represent their interests 
and aspirations.  The regime, however, has proved particularly 
effective at neutralizing emerging leaders from the post-Revolution 
generations. 
 
 
 
14. (C) Within the GPO there is no consensus on its goals. What 
started as a movement merely to annul the election results now 
gives shelter both to those seeking the full set of rights 
guaranteed them by Islamic Iran's Constitution and others seeking a 
new system of governance altogether.   Much like the ambiguity in 
its leadership, the unspecified nature of its goals allow it to 
have a 'bigger tent.'  Mousavi's recent five point declaration 
calling for restoring press freedom, creating a fair and 
transparent election law, freeing all political prisoners, and 
recognizing the peoples' right to gather and to form political 
associations and parties, was however an attempt by the GPO 
leaderships to to begin to delimit the scope of their ambitions. 
 
 
 
15. (C) Heretofore the GPO has yet to adopt any sort of an economic 
agenda or set of grievances as part of a core opposition message, 
and perhaps the absence of one partially underscores the relative 
'bourgeois' leanings of the GPO.   Anecdotal information indicates 
that unemployment and a potential spike in inflation (expected with 
the recent decision to end subsidies) increasingly concern a large 
number of Iranians.  IRPO contacts and Iranian press reporting also 
indicate another spike in labor unrest, due to the parlous state of 
Iran's factories and their inability to pay their workers on time. 
One would think that a message that capitalizes on these economic 
concerns juxtaposed against President Ahmadinejad's (and by 
extension the Revolution's) economic mismanagement and continued 
corruption would attract a wide spectrum of socio-economic groups 
to a more broad-based GPO.  However, for whatever reason, in 
contemporary Iran it has been political and not economic themes 
that have been more effective in mobilizing the Iranian people, and 
economic concerns on their own have rarely drawn large protests in 
Iran's thirty-year post-revolutionary history. 
 
DUBAI 00000013  006 OF 006 
 
 
16. (U) COMMENT:  The June 12 election and its subsequent 
protests/crackdown was a tectonic shift in Iranian domestic 
politics.  At the elite level it destroyed Khamenei's non-partisan 
veneer, placing him securely in the center of a no holds-barred 
political fray.  It also redefined the sets of insider ('khodi') 
and outsider ('qeyr-e khodi') so that not only were Second of 
Khordad Reformists on the outs, but so was former President Hashemi 
Rafsanjani and those aligned with him.  In this regard, at the 
elite level the central dynamic in many ways can be seen as Supreme 
Leader Khamenei, AN and the hard-line intelligence-security IRGC 
faction on one side and former President  Rafsanjani on the other, 
with all of Iran's political elite being pressured to openly take 
sides (NOTE: there is a substantial economic element to this 
dynamic, as in many ways Ahmadinejad's ascension to power coincides 
with attempts by a new cohort elite, largely composed of hardline 
IRGC 'intelligence-security' elements, to secure positions of 
wealth and influence formerly occupied by Rafsanjani loyalists). 
Certainly many hardline regime elements see Rafsanjani and his 
eldest son Mehdi as the 'head' to the GPO 'body,' and assume that 
if Rafsanjani were neutralized then the GPO's threat potential 
would be far less. 
 
 
 
17.  (C) COMMENT (CONT): According to IRPO contacts close to the 
Rafsanjani circle, Rafsanjani is still unsuccessfully seeking to 
persuade Supreme Leader Khamenei that AN and his crowd are a far 
greater threat to the Islamic Republic than any threat that 
Khamenei might feel from Rafsanjani, and that SLK should withdraw 
his support for them.  For their part, the regime continues to 
pressure Rafsanjani through (inter alia) judicial and other 
pressure on his family, such that his eldest son Mehdi has fled 
abroad and cannot return.  A weakened Rafsanjani has minimal 
institutional power, given that the Expediency Council is 
subordinate to Khamenei and that the clerics in the Experts Council 
are too cowed or beholden to the government to oppose them.  As 
such, Rafsanjani keeps a low public profile while at the same time 
trying to rally elite support, to include moderate conservatives 
and influential IRGC commanders.  The regime is unlikely to more 
directly target Rafsanjani unless and until Rafsanjani were to 
become more confrontational. 
 
 
 
18. (C) COMMENT (CONT): At the popular level, June 12 has revived a 
popular reformist movement largely quiescent after the eight 
Khatami years while also bringing large parts of  Iran's youngest 
generation into the fray.   This opposition, however, is not 
unified. The GPO now is a bifurcated movement, coupling a largely 
student-dominated mass following with a titular, elite leadership, 
and the two parts are not a cohesive whole.  This rather diffuse 
organization may be a key to its staying power and simultaneously 
an impediment to building an opposition movement that could 
challenge the viability of the current government.   Beyond the GPO 
is an array of unsatisfied groups whose willingness to join the GPO 
is unclear.  These groups clearly oppose President Ahmadinejad but 
do not yet seek, as do many GPO elements, to overturn the entire 
system.  END COMMENT. 
EYRE