Ten years after the disputed 2009 presidential election, one essential but controversial question remains unanswered: Was the election fraudulent?
Three videos of speeches given by commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in closed meetings, published in full today as an exclusive on IranWire, have brought this question back to the fore.
Vast demonstrations erupted in Tehran and other major cities on June 12, 2009, after election officials declared then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the victor and confirmed his second term in office.
The protests – which became known as the Green Movement due to the green headscarves, headbands, and wristbands worn by protesters – grew in the days and weeks after the election. Security forces cracked down, injuring and killing dozens of people.
The Islamic Republic never published official statistics of these casualties, but a committee set up by reformist candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi investigated the deaths and drew up its own list.
In September, three months after the protests, their Committee to Pursue the Affairs of the Victims in the Aftermath of the Election gave Parliament the names of 72 people allegedly killed in the violence.
Thousands of people were also arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned. Some were released after a few days. Hundreds were sentenced to long prison terms or given suspended sentences.
The IRGC played a key role in suppressing the protests. Normally, Tehran’s security is the domain of the police and Intelligence Ministry. After the election, the Supreme National Security Council transferred this responsibility to the Guards’ Sarollah base for two months.
The Sarollah base is part of the IRGC’s security apparatus and falls under the supervision of the Guards’ commander-in-chief. He ensured that the 2009 protesters paid heavily for their actions.
But activists from the Green Movement believe that even before the protests the IRGC was responsible for stealing the 2009 election.
Missing Pieces of the Puzzle
The three videos contain speeches by Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, former commander-in-chief of the Guards, Ali Saeedi Shahroudi, former representative of the Supreme Leader to the IRGC, and Hossein Taeb, then-commander of the IRGC Basij militia and current commander of the IRGC Intelligence Organization. (All videos are in Persian.)
Reformists and Green Movement supporters say these videos contain proof that security agencies, and especially the Revolutionary Guards, planned to prevent the victory of Mousavi and Karroubi in the 2009 election.
At the least, they appear to reveal that the IRGC played a significant role in manipulating the election process. The speeches – of which only a few minutes have previously been published – provide vital missing information about what happened during the vote.
The speeches by Jafari and Saeedi seem to have been delivered a few weeks after the election, at the same time and venue. Their audience was likely to have comprised leading IRGC officials, alongside “political guides” responsible for communicating guidelines, slogans, and ideological policies to other Guards members and paramilitary affiliates.
Fears of a “Counter-Revolution”
In his speech, Saeedi says that the IRGC’s mission involved “raising consciousness” and “guiding the public vote” to “choose what is better.”
Meanwhile, Jafari is recorded as saying that “revolutionary forces” were troubled by the possibility that “counter-revolutionary” forces would return to power.
The latter had previously infiltrated the government during the period known as “May 23”, when the reformist president Mohammad Khatami unexpectedly won a landmark victory in the 1997 election.
Jafari adds that the polls showed a worrying slide in support for Ahmadinejad, falling below 50 percent just 10 days before the election.
“Everybody saw that if things continued in this way, the election would lead to a second round,” he tells the audience. “It was not clear what the result of the second round would be.”
Jafari then addresses doubts about the election results and explains how the popularity of Ahmadinejad rose to 63 percent over just a few days.
“It became a little difficult to analyze the situation because it was complicated, and still many officials and some religious authorities are ambiguous about what happened,” he says.
Jafari claims that 10 million “silent voters” from opposition groups changed the outcome of the election by voting for Ahmadinejad, as he was known as an “opposition figure.”
The general fails to explain why the incumbent president would be considered part of the “opposition” when, according to Jafari himself, he was the favored candidate of the Supreme Leader.
Addressing the crackdown on protests, Jafari refers to a speech by Ayatollah Khamenei on June 19, 2009. After the speech, he says, “it was quite natural that we must not allow demonstrations, even quiet ones.”
Following the crackdown, the Islamic Republic predicted the protests would continue for a day or two. But “nothing more happened after the encounter in the afternoon of Saturday, June 20.”
The demonstrations ceased because the protesters were frightened, Jafari adds with a smile. This is because most of those who were taking part came from [affluent] northern Tehran and “were not much into hardship, resistance and so on.”
Two “fundamental and strategic actions” were effective in ending the protests, concludes Jafari. One was the policy of arresting opposition leaders, activists, and “ideologues”, which was carried out by the security agencies, IRGC, and Basij.
The second was the severing of communications and the disruption of internet networks, cell phones, and text messaging, which “upended the plans” of the protesters.
Khamenei’s Wishes Were Their Command
In his speech, Saeedi also refers to the concerns he and others had about the prospect of the reformists winning the election. He says that he communicated these worries to the Supreme Leader and that Khamenei was aware of the Guards’ position.
“When we met [Khamenei], we would tell him that a victory by the reformists was our red line,” he is recorded as saying.
Implementing the wishes of the Supreme Leader was a “duty” the IRGC was obliged to carry out, he adds.
“We had a duty to carry out the intentions of the Supreme Leader. God did our nation a favor and awarded the completion of our duty with victory — an amazing victory that made the Supreme Leader happy.”
In his speech, Saeedi outlines what kind of candidate was not acceptable to the Guards: “A candidate who says he wants to change the Constitution and limit the powers. Limit whose powers? The powers of the Supreme Leader? Do away with the Guardian Council?”
He continues: “[Some candidates believe] that legitimacy comes from the people and divine legitimacy has nothing to do with it. In other words, they want to entrust the government to somebody who believes that powers of the [Supreme Leader] are earthly.”
Saeedi points out that Ahmadinejad was the Supreme Leader’s chosen candidate and a vote for another candidate was therefore the equivalent of a “no” to the Leader. This was something the IRGC could not accept.
“The Leader says that ‘from the very beginning there were disagreements between Ahmadinejad and [the former President] Hashemi, but my views are closer to Ahmadinejad,’” Saeedi says.
“So I ask this question: What would a ‘no’ to Ahmadinejad mean?”
For these reasons, Saeedi believes that electoral interference by the IRGC was unavoidable. “The election was happening in a ‘code orange’ situation for the revolution. If the situation was normal or ‘code yellow’, there would have been no need for the intervention of the Guards.”
The IRGC were united in this decision, he says. “The Guards had never been as unanimous as they were during the 2009 election – a unanimity that its commander could not achieve in 1997,” when the reformist Mohammad Khatami won the presidency.
An American Conspiracy
In a long speech lasting close to two hours, former Basij commander Hossein Taeb, who is now the intelligence chief for the Guards, talks about the United States’ “containment” strategy for defeating the Islamic Republic. This involved replacing Ahmadinejad through the 2009 election.
The “maximum participation” of voters in the election was encouraged by the Western media in order to deepen divisions in Iranian society, he says. This was also why “no group boycotted the election” for the first time, except the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
The reformists’ campaign headquarters was allied with foreign forces, he adds. These were reportedly telling Mir Hossein Mousavi and his campaign what to say, including the slogan “Victory unless they cheat in the election.”
Taeb goes on to explain that members of the Basij rushed to the streets to control the unrest because they felt the revolution was in danger. “Considering the large scale of the protests, it was possible that Tehran would have been occupied in a velvet coup d’état.”
It is enlightening to look at the statements by Jafari and Taeb side by side.
Taeb says the turnout of “silent voters” who opposed the regime was the result of Western propaganda, while Jafari claims these 10 million votes went to Ahmadinejad.
It remains unclear whether this “decisive victory”, as it was called, was the result of people’s votes or the “votes” of Islamic Republic officials.
For the past 10 years, the standard answer given by the Revolutionary Guards, the so-called principalists, and the Islamic Republic’s official tribunes has been that the IRGC did not interfere in the 2009 presidential election in any way.
They said that it was only the day after the election results were announced that the Guards did their duty and confronted the “sedition” of the Green Movement.
The release of these videos has cast significant doubt on these claims.
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The IRGC Security and Intelligence Agencies, April 9, 2019