Letter From Tehran: Iran's New Hard-Liners

Who Is in Control of the Islamic Republic?

The headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are in a European-style palace, replete with Greek columns and a grand staircase, in the eastern suburbs of Tehran. From here, the IRGC orchestrated the crackdown that followed Iran's disputed presidential vote in June, beating protestors on the street and torturing those behind bars. More ominously, the IGRC and other extreme hard-liners have sidelined fellow conservatives in the Iranian government, carving out their own power base in a regime that is becoming increasingly insular, reactionary, and violent.

So far, much of the analysis of the emerging Iranian power struggle has focused on the clash between the country's conservatives and reformers, pitting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his patron, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, against Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, two thwarted presidential candidates, and Mohammad Khatami, a former president. (Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and seasoned kingmaker has eased toward the reformists in the election's aftermath.)

The real struggle, however, is the conflict among the hard-liners themselves, many of whom operate behind the headlines in unseen corners of the state machinery. Although Iran's opposition movement has witnessed an unprecedented surge in public support, the election and its aftermath mark a radicalization of the system not seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution.

In the reformist era of Khatami, and to some extent during Ahmadinejad's first term, the country's conservative theocrats and technocrats -- such as Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament, and Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei, the ousted intelligence minister who criticized the state's use of forced confessions -- held much of the power over the executive and legislative branches. Although they were entrenched status quo forces, these pragmatists believed in the dual nature of the Islamic Republic's statehood -- a country with religious and political legitimacy.

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