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IRAN: Much ado about nothing in kerfuffle over Karroubi remarks

January 26, 2010 |  7:01 am

Iran-karroubi02A brouhaha kicked up by journalists over comments by opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi may be put to rest after the cleric-politician today issued an unambiguous denunciation of the disputed June 12 elections and subsequent crackdown.

"The more we go ahead, the more I'm convinced the election was massively rigged," Karroubi said, according to his news website Sahamnews.org (in Persian). "I get new information every day, and it is regrettable to see certain officials tampered with people's votes in this way."

In the meeting with supporters, he later added: "I say it firmly that I'll never compromise on the nation's rights, notably the votes they cast in the ballot boxes. I'll stand by the nation up to the end and I'll try my best to remove the hurdles to a free and fair election."

Earlier this week a hard-line Iranian journalist quoted Karroubi as saying he had accepted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the leader of Iran's current government because Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had so ordained it.

Some news outlets (perhaps eager to get the Iran story back into the news cycle after the Haiti disaster) rushed to interpret the secondhand remarks as explosive proof that Karroubi had somehow changed his stance on Iran's current domestic political crisis.

"Karroubi had not budged at all," one Tehran analyst told the Times. "Karroubi said that the government is the government of the system. So it does not imply he has recognized it. Unfortunately, BBC Persian and Radio Farda, seeking hot news, sacrificed their critical faculties."

Still, zealous Iranian activists began denouncing him on blogs and social networking websites as a traitor, and parsing remarks attributed to him by his son for other meanings, yada, yada, yada. 

But today, the white-turbaned Karroubi delivered remarks that should clear up the ambiguity about where he stands.   

"Newspapers have been banned, websites blocked and many of our loved ones are in jail," he said. "My car was fired on and I'm threatened every day. They also insult me, [opposition leader Mir-Hossein] Mousavi and the great Iranian nation and even distort our words."

Karroubi talks a lot, often shooting from the hip, as Iranian men of a certain age and temperament tend to do. Astute observers of Iranian domestic politics take a lot of what the colorful Karroubi says with a grain of salt.

There are also behind-the-scenes shenanigans to which we're not privy. Another analyst in Tehran said any subtle indication that Karroubi was willing to compromise could be a tactical political wink to conservatives like Mohsen Rezai and Ali Larijani, who also despise Ahmadinejad.

"Even if Karroubi's remarks are interpreted as budging or backng down it is good at this juncture, especially if in return, the extremist hardliners such Ahmadinejad and [former Tehran prosecutor] Saeed Mortazvi and the like are brought down or marginalized at least," the Tehran-based analyst said. "Moderation is what we need urgently."

Some Iranian activists who hope to overturn the Islamic Republic may disagree, hoping Iran's opposition movement becomes more radical. 

But Karroubi, a former speaker of the Iranian parliament and one of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's deputies, has always been a staunch defender of the Islamic Republic. Far from calling for an abolition of the Islamic Republic, as some Iranian exiles demand, he argued in his comments today that the hardliners surrounding Ahmadinejad are the ones undermining the system he helped create. 

"Certain power holders are violating the nation's rights stipulated in the constitution," he said. "Those who made [small] contributions to the Islamic revolution and were even opposed to it are now at the helm and impose restrictions on the founders of the Islamic Republic and the people."

Though he didn't out-and-out call the current government illegitimate, he did accuse it of lying and violating people's basic rights. 

"What did the people who voluntarily protested want?" he said. "Should the authorities have responded with batons, tear gas and bullets? Violence, Kahrizak, and death in custody were the responses to people's votes. How do you expect people to believe your claims about the election result while you have been lying so clearly? You used to say shamelessly that the Kahrizak deaths were due to meningitis."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: Mehdi Karroubi. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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