Iran’s opposition has lost a major supporter

2009/12/21

Published in “Handelsblatt” on December 21 2009
Source (German): http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/international/tod-montazeris-iranische-opposition-verliert-ihren-wichtigsten-mann;2502829;0

Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri was a major authority for the population. Source: ap

Iran continues to cause trouble in the Near East: Within, the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri is playing into the hands of the regime. Abroad, there is an ongoing conflict with Iraq over an oil well in the border area. On the other hand, there are also signs of a possible economic recovery.

BERLIN. The death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has deprived Iran’s embattled opposition of its major moral supporter. Montazeri (87) died in the holy city of Qom on Sunday. He was a major antagonist of revolutionary and religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneni and his favorite, president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After Ahmadinejad’s re-election in June, which was highly controversial due to allegations of massive fraud, Montazeri had backed the opposition and slammed the brutal actions of the government and the state security forces.

Montazeri’s death could strengthen the position of the regime. However, the government in Tehran triggered yet another conflict by seizing a disputed oil well in the border area with Iraq. Although Iran this weekend partially withdrew from the oil production site Al Fakka, Tehran maintains its claims towards the oil field.

The death of Montazeri, who will be laid to rest today in Qom, has been largely ignored by Iran’s state media. Nevertheless,
hundreds of followers of the Grand Ayatollah, who is revered as a Marjah Taghlid, or Source of Wisdom, gathered in front of Montazeri’s house in Qom and at the Tehran University. Montazeri, a close companion of the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, was the sharpest critic of the now most powerful man in the Islamic Republic: Khamenei. Therefore, he had been held under house arrest in Qom for years.

The seething conflict around the oil well continues
After the brutal crack down on the mass protests against the electoral fraud, Montazeri doubted the legitimacy of the ballot, denouncing the “death of innocent people” and “illegal show trials”. He said that since then, Iran has neither been Islamic, nor a Republic, Khamenei was no longer legitimate, and no longer followed the path of God, but the path of Satan.

Moreover, by calling nuclear bombs “un-islamic”, he attacked the most controversial project of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad head on. However, Iran’s leadership presents itself increasingly unimpressed, intensifying the political pressure within the country: On Saturday night, the government for the first time even publicly admitted that at least three of the detainees who were arrested during the protests against Ahmadinejad and subjected to torture in detention, had been tortured to death.

In the conflict over the oil well in the border area, Iran and Iraq agreed to keep foreigners out of it, according to Tehran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. 155,000 soldiers of the US Army are still stationed in Iraq.

According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Iran’s First Deputy Prime Minister Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said he wanted to establish a “joint protection of the borders with our neighbors”. In 1980, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with the support of the West had attacked Iran. In the eight years of the following war, hundreds of thousands died. Yesterday, Tehran and Baghdad each reiterated that the oil well in question was theirs. Both neighbors are now facing a new conflict.

As far as the economy is concerned, signs of relaxation emerge in Iran in spite of of ever new threats of sanctions against the regime: While the USA announces plans to impose new sanctions against companies supplying gasoline or diesel fuel to Iran, the Chinese oli giant Sinopec in a Memorandum of Understanding has announced an agreement with the Iranian oil authority to build oil refineries in Iran. Sinopec, which had participated in an Iranian oil field as early as 2007, is one of the most large-scale buyers of Iranian crude oil and now wants to invest 6.5 billion U.S. dollars in the construction of refineries there.

Although Iran is the second largest oil producer among the oil exporting countries (Opec), it is forced, due to a lack of sufficient processing capacities, to import large amounts of fuel. The Sinopec deal is precarious, since China is a veto power in the UN Security Council and would have to endorse the planned sanctions on petrol. Even Malaysia, which with Petronas owns one of the major oil companies in Asia, agreed on expanded cooperation with Iran yesterday.

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