WikiLeaks: „Iran Can’t Go On Like This“ — The Mistaken Predictions for the 22 Bahman Protests

The events of 22 Bahman (11 February 2010) were a significant disappointment for the Iranian opposition. In the weeks before the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, there was an excitement that protests against the Government and regime — which had continued despite repression and made a notable impact in the Ashura demonstrations of 27 December — would build, possibly to a critical point.

On the day, the opposition was unable to mount a co-ordinated public protest while the regime was able to mobilise support for its official ceremonies.

In that light, the cable below from the Iran Watchers“ post at the US Embassy in Baku in Azerbaijan is telling: the Embassy’s sources were all predicting a significant opposition turnout on 22 Bahman to challenge a fracturing regime: „Iran Can’t Go On Like This“.

The WikiLeaks cables indicate that the Baku post was hosting Iranian sources with far more dramatic predictions than those given by sources to the larger US team of „Iran Watchers“ in Dubai. It will be interesting to see if WikiLeaks offers a comparable snapshot of the Dubai assessment on the eve of 22 Bahman.


C O N F I D E N T I A L BAKU 000097


E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/11/2020

REF: A. A) BAKU 91
¶B. B) BAKU 30
¶C. C) 2009 BAKU 972

Classified By: Rob Garverick, Political/Economic Counselor, Reasons 1.4
(b) and (d)

¶1. (C) Over the last ten days Baku Iran watcher has met with
over a dozen Iranian contacts to obtain their insights and
expectations on the upcoming 22 Bahman/February 11 opposition
demonstrations in Iran. Contacts polled included Iranian
bankers, wealthy businessmen, NGO figures, journalists,
management consultants, and students. The polled group
includes several professedly „apolitical“ interlocutors and
two opposition skeptics, as well as several opposition
supporters and activists.

Massive Tehran Protest Demonstrations Expected
——————————————— –

¶2. (C) Most Baku Iran watcher contacts (including several
Iran-based interviewees) predict massive demonstrations in
Tehran, and significant protests in Tabriz, Mashad, Isfahan,
and some smaller cities. Many asserted that
pre-demonstration planning, propaganda, and organizational
activities by opposition supporters (especially students) is
far more noticeable and fractionalized compared to previous
demonstrations. Several commentators claimed that while
pro-Moussavi and pro-Karroubi websites are still important
sources of information and encouragement, they are no longer
the only or even main reference points for determined
oppositionists. „Neither Moussavi nor Karroubi can stop this
(opposition protests) now,“ one social activist contended.

Opposition Turnout Efforts

¶3. (C) A businessman pointed out that for the first time the
reformist fraction in the Majlis, the reformist-affiliated
Islamic Iran Participation Front, and similar groups have
issued calls for large turnouts clearly aimed at protesters.
Two student sources and a journalist related that small group
of university students and others have traveled from Tehran
to their hometowns to help promote broader protest turnouts
and coordination. While a businessman from Isfahan claimed
that opposition organizations are increasingly perceptible in
his city, other interlocutors expressed skepticism that such
activities will have a measurable impact in the short run. A
Tehran University lecturer stressed that opposition
organization and planning in urban areas is spreading. He
conceded a lack of commensurate rural protest, but dismissed
this as unimportant, since „radical change comes from cities,
not villages.“ Rural populations were also not a factor in
the overthrow of the Shah, he stated.

Teams Put Up Posters, Graffiti

¶4. (C) A Tehran student who has participated in all the
post-presidential election protests claimed that a former
drop-off in his friends willingness to participate in
demonstrations was reversed in the Ashura protests, and is
picking up steam. „Almost all of them will turnout on 22
Bahman,“ he said. He said that he is part of a four-man
group that regularly travels on two motorcycles looking for
places to paint anti-regime graffiti or put up posters: „two
of us act as lookouts, while the others draw the graffiti.“
He described this as a common model for young people putting
up slogans. The student called himself a „pacifist,“
favoring non-violent protest, but claimed that many people
are talking about bringing clubs and knives with them „to
defend against the Basij.“ A Mashad resident also expressed
fear of 22 Bahman violence, but noted that popular
anti-regime clerics there are promoting non-violence.

Father Knows Best?

¶5. (C) The same student related that a few days before
Ashura he and a friend were caught by police sending protest
emails over the internet from a closed office. He said that
he police said that they didn’t want to arrest them, but
„needed to eat.“ After receiving a bribe delivered by his
sister, the police let them go, without any questions about
my identity or where I live.“ The student added that after
this incident his father complained that „I can’t afford your

Khameini „Not As Powerful As You Think“

¶6. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx who is friendly
with Supreme Leader Khameini’s family, xxxxxxxxxxxx told Iran watcher
bluntly that Khameini is „not as powerful as you guys think.“
According to this source, Khameini is subject to severe
bouts of depression, and takes morphine (not opium)
regularly. He claimed that Khameini is „unable to function
half the time,“ and relies totally on his advisors.
Khameini’s son Mojtaba he dismissed as „a complete idiot“ who
is easily manipulated and has no future after Khameini leaves
the scene (see septel).

¶7. (C) Though stressing that he is not an opponent of the
Islamic system, he warned that the Revolutionary Guard-based
faction which „stole the election,“ and is now seeking total
control is „extremely dangerous to both us and you.“ He
repeatedly characterized this group as „a criminal cult,“
motivated by its fanaticism, ignorance, and the monetary
self-interest of its members. He added that the group is
intent on exporting revolution. According to source, both
Ahmedinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi are affiliates rather
than „leaders“ of this group, and neither will likely end up
with significant power if the group successfully consolidates
control over the state and its economy (see reftel).

„Iran Can’t Go On Like This“

¶8. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx placed the 22 Bahman protests within
this context as part of an inner-regime coalition’s effort to
split Khameini from Ahmedinejad, and retake power from the
„anti-democratic cult.“ (Note: other Iranian sources
expressed doubt that protesters will accept maintenance of
Khameini in office. „(Khameini) must go whatever Karroubi
says, and whether or not he breaks with Ahmedinejad,“ a
student asserted. End Note).

¶9. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that extra-judicial murders
undertaken by cult-related elements are being stepped up, and
placed the recent bombing death of an Iranian physicist and
the alleged killing of non-cult generals directly in this
context. He claimed that Iran’s economy is approaching a
crisis, and predicted that Iran is likely on the road to
greater violence and unrest. While not certain of the
ultimate outcome, he opined that 22 Bahman may well move Iran
closer to a political endgame. He explicitly rejected
suggestions that Iran can continue indefinitely going through
periods of mass protest followed by crackdowns. He stressed
that events are moving forward – instability, fractionalism,
and factionalism within the country are increasing, and „Iran
simply cannot go on like this.“


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