|Dunno:||09BAKU464 09BAKU474 09BAKU508|
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHKB #0575/01 2021346
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 211346Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAKU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1505
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0035
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0826
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 06 BAKU 000575
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/02/2019
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PHUM, AJ, IR
SUBJECT: IRAN VIEW FROM BAKU: TWENTY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE
REF: A) BAKU 508 B) BAKU 474 C) BAKU 464 D) 2008 BAKU
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Donald Lu, for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)
1. (C) Baku Iran watcher has conducted approximately thirty
interviews since the June 12 Iranian presidential elections
with Iranians (both Baku-based and resident in Iran) and
Azerbaijani Iran experts. Interviews dealt with reactions
to, and analyses of, the election results; subsequent
protests; protest mechanics; faction maneuvering; and/or
predicted geopolitical implications. Most sources were
ordinary Iranians (students, business people and
professionals) with involvement in and/or credible knowledge
of the matters discussed, and a story to tell. The following
attempts to summarize the information and insights garnered
from these interviews in ways that respond to some of the
most frequent questions being raised by Washington policy
makers and analysts. While the following incorporates
comments from many Iranian residents, it is ultimately a view
from Baku, with all of the advantages and limitations of
distance that this suggests. The aim of this cable is to
assist in assembling the larger post-election Iranian jigsaw
puzzle together by putting a view of many of the pieces in
one place. End Introduction.
2. (S) Begin Questions and Answers.
Question #1. How great was Mousavi's support?
Answer: (SBU) Out of a pre-election survey of about thirty
Iranians, all but three told Iran watcher that they and most
people they knew would support Mousavi. Well before the
election itself, Baku Iran watcher repeatedly heard comments
from Iranian sources (most resident in Iran) to the effect
that "Mousavi will win the election unless it is stolen" (see
refs B and C). However, other interlocutors asserted that
"Ahmadinejad will be unable to steal the election" if Mousavi
won by more than four million votes ) an outcome
increasingly predicted as Election Day approached.
Question #2: Why did the fraud occur?
Answer: (SBU) Baku interlocutors provide two possibly
Explanation A: "The fraud was a desperate defensive move, in
the face of Mousavi's surge, by Supreme leader Khameini, his
son Mojtaba, and their immediate circle."
The upshot is that both sides were engaged in a game of
political chess in which Khameini's circle ordered the fraud
because it perceived its political survival to be at stake.
In support of this explanation, an Iranian academic related
that before the election a friend with access to Khameini's
circle told him that Khameini suspected that a Mousavi
victory would be followed by the sidelining and/or removal of
Khameini by Rafsanjani and Mousavi, due to "illness." The
pre-election source added that "while Rafsanjani can possibly
remove Khameini, Khameini cannot remove (the politically
Explanation B: "The fraud was organized to protect the vested
interests of cliques tied to the Revolutionary Guard, the
Basiji leadership, and Ahmadinejad."
This, more common analysis relegates Khameini to a supporting
role, and suggests longer pre-election fraud preparation and
planning. Since the 2005 election, "second generation"
Revolutionary figures, many Iran-Iraq war Revolutionary Guard
or Basij veterans, have taken over all security agencies and
most lucrative positions within the state and key
parastatals. The core of this network allegedly planned the
fraud well before the election, as a calculated step to
permanently consolidate their dominance.
BAKU 00000575 002 OF 006
Question #3: Why was reaction so intense?
Answer: (SBU) Interlocutors cite two reasons for the intense
First, pre-election openness raised hopes for change even
among the skeptical. The perceived election fraud cynically
and brutally dashed these hopes, making people feel like
fools. Many people felt swindled, and others humiliated
because they had actively worked to produce a large voter
turnout. One of the latter related that he had led twenty
people to the ballot box. He tearfully asked "how can I face
Second, the perceived blatancy of the fraud added insult to
injury. All post-election Baku watcher interlocutors were
angered by the fraud, but many were positively boiling over
its crass "in your face" magnitude. As one furious contact
commented, "they didn't even try to pretend that the count
was real" (e.g., by making the official results closer).
One interlocutor argued that the fraud's blatancy was
deliberate, designed to send a message to Iranians that "we
are nothing, and should forget about changing anything."
Comment: This sense of personal insult maybe central to
understanding the staying power of the public protests and
continued widespread anger. End Comment.
Question #4: Are the protests broadly-based?
Answer: (SBU) While Tehran was the epicenter, interlocutors
(including some on the scene) reported large protests over
several days in Kermanshah, Isfahan, Rasht, Karaj, Shiraz,
Ahwaz, and other cities (including smaller towns such as
Gulshahr and Najafabad). Several Tehran-area sources
stressed that Tehran protests were not limited to (middle and
upper class) North Tehran, asserting that large numbers of
people from South Tehran also protested, and that there was
considerable post-election violence in South Tehran. Baku
Iran watcher has heard no reports of significant rural
Question #5: Why weren't protests larger in Tabriz?
Answer: (C) Public protests in Tabriz were relatively less
intense and frequent than some expected, given Mousavi's
Azerbaijani nationality, and Tabriz, long history as a
center for protest activities. Four Tabriz interlocutors
explained this by claiming that many Azerbaijani cultural
nationalists and intellectuals are unenthusiastic about
Mousavi personally and diffident toward what they saw as an
intra-regime power struggle with little relevance to their
most keenly-felt regional interests (e.g., recognition of
Azeri as a language of government, authorized use of Azeri in
local schools, teaching of Azerbaijani culture, etc.
(S) Former Republic of Azerbaijan Ambassador to Iran Nasib
Nasibili, who maintains broad ties to the Iranian Azeri
cultural leadership, told Iran watcher on July 10 that many
Azeri intellectuals now realized that continuing to maintain
this distance from the issue "is probably a mistake." He
predicted that Iranian Azeri participation in election
protests will increase, should these opposition activities
continue in Tehran and elsewhere, but asserted that "the
drifting away" of Iranian Azerbaijan from the center is
likely to continue.
Question #6: What is the impact of Khameini?
Answer: (SBU) Several Baku interviewees related that they
took part in large protest demonstrations until hearing
Ayatollah Khameini's June 19 sermon, and observing the
related security build-up. All of these (ranging in age from
twenty to sixty-nine) cited fear of arrest and physical
BAKU 00000575 003 OF 006
violence, not respect for Khameini, as their reason for not
marching. In the week after the Khameini sermon several
contacts predicted that public protest would continue but
focus on off-street and passive resistance.
(SBU) Over the longer term, many Iranian interlocutors saw
the destruction of Khameini's long-cultivated image as an
independent, ethical "father figure," and fit successor to
the Ayatollah Khomeini was the most important impact of his
sermon. Comments to this effect began coming in within hours
of the sermon, and continue to this day. As one Iranian
observed, Khameini is now seen as "just another faction
leader within the regime."
Question #7: What is the impact of Rafsanjani?
Answer: (C) Baku commentators (including one who attended
the Tehran Friday prayer service) dwelled on the
"re-galvanizing" effect of Ayatollah Rafsanjani's July 17
sermon on protesters. An Iranian businessman who is closely
following the protests and returned from a (self-described)
"fact-finding" visit to Tehran on July 18 noted that the
Friday prayer venue was a green light for a massive turnout,
and that Mousavi aides had signaled his desire for a large
turnout through diverse media (see item #14 below).
(C) He added that similar alternative media was used to
prepare the prayer attendees -- don't wear green armbands
until you get there, assemble peacefully, and chant "the
opposite" of whatever regime slogans are recited. He claimed
to notice an alleged change in mood among the protesters,
from a belief that resistance is dwindling, to a renewed
confidence and willingness to engage in resistance. All
contacts praised Rafsanjani's speech for its barbed nuances
and evidence of support for protesters and continued pressure
on the regime. One commented that "(Rafsanjani) showed us
that there are still deep splits" in the regime.
Question #8: What regime cracks have appeared?
Answer: (S) Well-sourced information on this topic is hard
to come by. A senior figure in the Melli Mazhab movement
told Baku watcher on July of Rafsanjani's alleged efforts to
replace Khameini with a Council ("Shura") of religious elders
(ref A). A wealthy Iranian businessman who has just returned
from Iran claimed on July 17 that many in the lower and
medium levels of the security establishment are also opposed
to Ahmadinejad, and/or the repression of protests, and are
prepared to look the other way to facilitate opposition
activities, including (he claimed) overlooking sabotage.
Question #9: Are there splits among the Basij?
Answer: (C) Two Tehran sources claimed to know Basij whom
they said were not supportive of Ahmadinejad, however, one of
these had nonetheless seen her "anti-Ahmadinejad" Basij
acquaintance repressing post-election protesters. The bottom
line, sources felt, is that whether for reasons of
discipline, brainwashing, or money most Basij members are
reluctant to defy official orders, whatever their purported
private opinions may be.
Question #10: How involved are Iranian clerics?
A: (SBU) Baku Iran watcher contacts, including those
resident in Iran, do not seem to be waiting in anticipation
for guidance from the clerical establishment. That being
said, support from this quarter is regarded as tactically
necessary, and is actively welcomed when it emerges (e.g.,
from Grand Ayatollahs Montazeri and Sanei).
(SBU) Some sources have observed that the majority of
Ayatollahs and Grand Ayatollahs have taken no public position
on the election and subsequent protests. While most saw this
BAKU 00000575 004 OF 006
as a positive signal, others cynically dismissed it as
reflecting an alleged clerical focus on self-preservation,
and holding back comment until the smoke clears.
Question #11: What is Sistani's position?
Answer: (S) Najaf-based Ayatollah Sistani, originally from
Isfahan, reportedly has the largest personal following of any
Ayatollah in Iran. A contact close to Sistani's circle
strongly doubted that either Sistani, or his Qom
representative Jamal Shahristani, are participating in the
ongoing Iranian political debate. The source, formerly chief
of staff to Ayatollah al-Khoei, explicitly dismissed press
reports that Shahristani participated in recent meetings of
senior Qom clerics that reportedly discussed post-election
(C) The source emphasized that Sistani is extremely judicious
in determining when and how he personally engages in
political matters. That being said, he speculated that
individuals trusted by Sistani, but lower profile than
Shahristani, may be actively monitoring the Iranian situation
Question #12: What will happen next?
Answer: (C) Most Iranian contacts (some more nervously than
others) admit that they don't know what will happen next
(though one predictedc an anti-Khameini coup led by the
Revolutionary Guard leaders "who will then be allowed to keep
all their money."). At the same time, most thought that
widespread resistance (on and off-street) will continue,
arguing that "there is no going back" to the pre-election
tacit acceptance of Khameini's and Ahmadinejad's rule. "All
our old caution and fear of civil war is gone" insisted one
businessman. "Both sides hope to wear down the other,"
another commentator observed.
Question #13: What off-street protests will occur?
Answer: (C) While most interlocutors said that they have
stopped participating in public demonstrations, all expressed
continued anger and resentment toward the regime, and several
added that their friends are still going to rooftops at night
to shout "Allah Akbar." Others also claim to be launching
green balloons, and flashing their car lights while driving
on main streets. Two interlocutors asserted that other
"passive resistance" and similar strategies will be deployed,
including work slowdowns and turning on all power in homes to
cause blackouts during Ahmadinejad and Khameini speeches.
(Note: According to reports, this actually happened in
several Iranian cities including Tehran during Ahmadinejad's
televised July address -- well after the preceding interview.
End Note). In an new development, two contacts just
returned from Iran told Iran watcher on July 20 and 21
separately related that a campaign is underway to boycott
Russian and Chinese consumer products.
Question #14: Is there a protest "organization"?
Answer: (C) According to four separate but complementary
sources (one inside Iran), protesters look to Mousavi (e.g.,
his facebook homepage) for specific guidance on what to do,
not a local leadership cadre or organization. Sources
explained that people communicate information on upcoming
protests and strategies by utilizing email networks, land
lines, and word of mouth. An Iranian businessman just
returned from Iran explained said that most protest guidance
is released by Mousavi aides through known intermediaries
several days before the planned event.
Question #15: How does the word get out?
Answer: (C) Interlocutors asserted that the use of diverse
information media as outlined in item #14 above works
BAKU 00000575 005 OF 006
effectively in getting the latest word out to potential
protesters. A businessman said that he uses his 120-plus
email Iranian contact list to forward information that he
receives, in the expectation that recipients in turn will
forward the information to others. "After three days, a huge
number of people are informed," he noted. A source in Shiraz
said that people without access to internet can usually get
information at bus stops, public parks, and in taxis (often
shared by several people). (Note: Use of Twitter and other
internet media by protesting Iranians has noticeably
increased since about July 10. End Note.)
Question #16: How is the regime responding?
Answer: (SBU) When pressed, most Baku contacts assert that
the army and most of the Revolutionary Guard will never fire
on election protesters, but no one seems completely sure of
this. One interlocutor commented that unlike the past,
people are not focusing on regime response -- "we are fed
up," he said.
(S) Some contacts suggest that the regime may be stripping
smaller towns of Basij and police forces in order to
confront the protests in Iran and other large cities. A
source from Gulshahr (near Tehran) described July 11 marches
there as proceeding in a peaceful holiday-like atmosphere,
with only a handful of police or Basij to be seen. Another
source provided a similar picture of July 17 protests in
Najafabad, near Isfahan.
Question #17: Are there plans for a General Strike?
Answer: (S) There are widespread assertions that a General
Strike is planned as a "final bullet" against the regime, to
be deployed immediately and without further guidance should
Mousavi be arrested. This was initially heard by Iran
watcher from Baku-based contacts, but is now also appearing
on Twitter. A businessman with contacts in the Mousavi camp
told Iran watcher shortly after the election claimed that
this strategy originated with Mousavi, whom he said wanted to
hold off on a general strike as a last resort, which may be
called even if Mousavi is not arrested.
Question #18: Are there signs of a work slowdown?
Answer: (S) There are many assertions that work slowdowns
are likely, planned, or already occurring, but little
evidence. An energy sector businessman, described slowdown
as an interim step that would increase pressure on the regime
short of a general strike. This source also predicted that
sabotage and work stoppages at oil and other energy
facilities will also occur if the regime continues in power.
(C) Reports from Baku and inside-Iran contacts of
intermittent bazaar closures and short hours in several
cities (including Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, and Kermanshah)
have recurred since the beginning of the post election
period. Others have complained that customs clearance and
normal truck delivery distribution has been disrupted,
negatively affecting their businesses. It is still unclear
whether some or all of these problems reflect temporary
responses to an unsettled situation, bureaucratic disarray,
or political protests.
Question #19: Is the nuclear program affected?
Answer: (S) Former Azerbaijani Presidential Advisor Vafa
Guluzadeh and former GOAJ Ambassador to Iran Nasib Nasibili
separately told Iran watcher that as a result of
post-election developments in Iran, the
Khameini/Ahmadinejad-led Government of Iran will seek to test
a nuclear device as soon as possible, i.e., even before
weaponization or delivery systems are ready, has
significantly increased. Guluzadeh and Nasibili explained
that, whatever the original (probably mixed) objectives
motivating the Iranian government's pursuit a bomb, it is
BAKU 00000575 006 OF 006
driven by domestic political objectives, as "the only card
(Khameini and Ahmadinejad) have left to play" to win support
from the Iranian people, and regain some legitimacy.
(S) Nasibili pointed out that Ayatollah Khomeini famously
used the Iran-Iraq war to eliminate enemies and consolidate
power, and speculated that any ensuing international uproar
and pressure would be used in a similar way by Ahmadinejad
and Khameini. Guluzadeh speculated that the two may believe
that even a worst-case scenario would make them into heroic
(C) Baku Iranians are not knowledgeable about the nuclear
program, but several speculated that the current regime will
try to do something "dramatic" to regain the initiative:
testing a bomb, provoking a war, or faking domestic terrorist
attacks are among the possibilities mentioned.
Question #20: Should the West still seek dialogue?
Answer: (C) Former Presidential Advisor Guluzadeh, formerly
a strong supporter of U.S.- Iranian dialogue "without
preconditions" (ref D), told Iran watcher that recent events
have completely changed his thinking on this issue. "They
have no interest in dialogue with you, or any concessions,
you may offer" he said flatly; "their only interest is their
survival." He added that "their only reason for talking to
you would be to claim a 'victory'" in front of the Iranian
people, "and to stall you while continuing to do what they
(S) Guluzadeh nonetheless said that the U.S. and the West
must continue to be seen as extending every opportunity to
the regime for compromise "in order to show the rest of the
world that you have done so," prior to eventual punitive
action. Guluzadeh said, the West should begin planning now
for dealing with a defiant, uncompromising, nuclear Iranian
regime -- with a view towards permanently removing this