Iran: Growing Prospects for Instability!
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Iran: Growing Prospects for Instability
owing Prospects for Instability^
Keyinstability in Iran is likely to increase significantly following
frtVnuMc*Khomeini's death is clerical and lay factions compete for power.
Khomeini, there will be no one in Iran with the nature and
charisma to capture the support of the masses or contain clerical infighting:
Nearly six years after the revolution, tbe clerics have yet lo agree on key philosophical and theological guidelines for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even the issue of clerical control has not been resolved.
The clerical regime has not developed the mechanisms to manage domestic and foreign policy disputes without resort to Khomeini.
The regime's popularity continues to decline because of growing official corruption, economic stagnation, deteriorating public services, and the financial and human costs of the war with Iraq.
Wc believe the Revolutionary Guard will be the key in determining the sta-bility of post-Khomeini Iran. If, as is most likely, the Guard fragments, this would raise the prospectiolent power struggle. If, on the other hand, most of the Guard backs one candidate or coalition, its arms and widespread local power base would provide the winning margin and allowmoother transition of power.
We do not see any likely alternatives to an Islamic-oriented regimetrong clerical influence in the aftermath of Khomeini's death. In our judgment, neither the Shah's son nor any other Iranian exile leader possesses the necessary domestic assets to gain control. The regular military' continuese purged of officers suspected of antiregimc sentiments, and most regular Army units are it the front, well away from the centers of power in Tehrin and Qom. Iranian minorities have largely parochial interests; they wish to be as far removed as possible from Tehran's control.
Weuccessor government in Iran willolicy of nonalignment. Nevertheless, there are key interest groups in Iran that would be willing to improve Tehran's relations wilh the United States or the USSR:
clerics, bazaar merchants, and some officers in the regular military ippear willing to reduce Iran's hostility toward the Uniied Slitcs. The need to show allegiance to the Islamic revolution, however, probably would limit overt ties to Washington.
A government controlledcvolutionury Guard leadereft-leaning technocrat would be suspicious of the USSR but would be more willing than the current regime to look to Moscow for both military and economic aid. It also could be less hostile to Soviet foreign policy goals in the region. The need to sell oil and to import consumer goods, raw materials, and equipment, however, probably would leadeft-leaning regime in Tehran to maintain economic tics with Western Europe. Japan, Turkey, and Pakistan.
If Iranrolonged upheaval. Ihe Soviets would enjoy expanded opportunities for exploitation, particularly among Iran'snear the lengthy border with the USSR. We believe, however, that Moscow's ability to influence events in Iran would benatural ally, the Tudeh party, has been suppressed and its leaders jailed or executed. Other left-leaning groups have also been suppressed. Moscow could provide support to the remnants of such groupseriod of protracted instability, but wc believe its willingness to act boldly would be constrained by the risks of confrontation with the West.rolonged upheavalragmented Revolutionary Guard could leadore important role for the regular military, providing limitedfor the United Stales.
Iran: Growing Prospects for Instability [
years after ihe removal of ihe Shah and ihree years after the consolidation of clerical power, an environment orunccriainiy pcrsisis in Iran.health is declining.year-otd Ayatollah is suffering from progressive senility as well as from hearl. kidney, and prostateimmering succession struggle has already begun. Iran's costly war withaltering, war-strained economy, and the regime's brutal use of repressiontifle internal dissent are causing popular discontentrow.this discontent poses no immediate threat to Ihc regime, it will provide fuel for the factional infight no. wc expectccur when Khomeini dies.
Clerical Consolidnlion Iran remained in turmoil for nearly three years following the revolution as various components of the anti-Shah coalition vied for power. Only by1 did the clerics consolidale control over theThey then quickly increased oil exports by lowering prices, seized the initiative in the war against Iraq, and began planning for economic development. The clerics' consolidation of power increased concerns among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and in the West that Iran would attemptstablish hegemony over the entire Gulf area]
These glowing prospects for the regime'sat home and expanding influence abroad have not been fulfilled:
The war and differences over strategy have blunted Iran's efforts lo export the revolution.
After driving Iraqi forces from Iranian territoryhe war has gone badly for Tehran as one offensive after another into Iraq was defeated and enormous casualties mounted. We eslimate thai Iran has suffered atead since the Iraqi invasion began in
Iran's clerical community shared little moreazy vision of how to return to ihe golden age of Islam.
* The economy is stalled beiwcen differing clerical philosophies over the role of ihe state in controlling and directing Ihc economy, as wellontinuing lack of skilled managers.^
The clerical regime, moreover, has not yet developed the mechanisms to manage domestic and foreign policy disputes without resorthomeini. Nor, in our judgment, do any of the other clerics in the regime approach Khomeini's appeal to lower-class Iranians. In short, the clerical regime has consolidated its conirol but has failed to institutionalize iu rule or ensure its survival after its founder-creator leaves the
Shiiie Theology and the Khomeini Regime
Shiile Islam in Iran reverts ihe firstirrti descendants of Muhammad as divinely inspired imams Headers) and. therefore rightful successors to the Prophet to rule over Islam Shias believe the last of theseescendants weni into hiding in ike ninth. but will return al ihe end af time to establish the universal rule of lustier. The dominant Shia school in Iran has traditionally questioned the legitimacy af any temporal government until the return of the "hiddennd most clerics have avoided open association with secular regimes.esult, the clergy came to be regarded as the protector of the masses agatnsi government tyranny. This association became even closer under the Pahlavl dynasty when the Impact of Westernizationand other avenues for the expression of political grievances were suppressed.
Tbe Economy ant) War Heighten Popular Discontent
Iran's economy continues lo faker anderious point of contention among the country's factions. Official Iranian statistics reveal lhat unemployment and underemployment remain high, rapid inflation persists, and there is widespread inefficiency and waste. Government industrial and agriculturalhas nearly ceased because of faciionalwithin the regime. Those progressive clerics and iheir supporters who favor land reform,and government control use Islamic teachings to argue that everything belongs ultimately lo Allah and is to be used for the common good. Conservative clerical opponents and their supporters, particularly among the bazaar merchants, quote Koranic verses demonstrating the right lo own unlimited amounts of
Khomeini was able to focus this mass sympathy. He also obtained the support of many clerics and lay politicians who believed the Shah's regime would destroy their Influence. Once In power, however, Khomeiniheocratic state that went far beyond the dominant tradition separating clerics
Such theologically based arguments leave little room for compromise. Thus, even when the Majles has passed economic legislation after extensivesuch as the act to nationalize foreignconservative Council ofas rejected the legislation asive-year economic
' The CouncilGuardian) ii cccnprixd of tit clcrict ippcimcd by Khomeini and lit lay jurists nominated by tbc Supreme Jodieial Council and approved by ibc Msjlev Tbey arc responsible for emu ring thai bill* pawed by tbe Mijlet conform with the ccentiiu-tion and Islamic UwJ
development plan, first proposedtillin the Majles.he centerpiece of Ihe regime's economicto stagnate. Public Maiemenis by regime officialslhat land reform has cometandstill. Eighty percent of Iranian land remains in Ihe hands of large landowners, and rural inhabitants continue to flock io the cities, reducing available manpower forwhile increasing Iran's dependence on imported foodstuffs, I I
Even if the regime couldoherent economic program, we believe widespread corruption would undermine its effectiveness!
The Grand Ayatollaks
A religious hierarchy exists withinlam that has no counterpart In orthodox Sunn practice. Ai the top of this religion' pyramid stand the "grand"few uthote scholarship andare so widely rrcgmtrd that ihey art retarded as legitimate independent interpreters of Islamic law. In Iran today ihere are fit* men beudet Khomeini who have such recognition, al! but one older than Khomeini. They are theoretically Khomeini's eouals. but his preeminence since the revolution has
esult, Ihe economy is even more dependent or oilport earnings than under ihe Shah. Iran reported iu total noeioil export earnings amounicdr.II.on2 percent ofilliofl it earned from pet ro! com earnings. Wilh oil revenues down because of ibe stepped-up war in (he Gulf and ihe slack oil market, lhc regime has clamped down on import!
The war has increasinglyiability that the regime seems unable to resolve. Tehran has been unable to defeat the Iraqis, bui Khomeini's insistence on ousting Iraqi President Saddam Husayneace settlement. High casualties have cost thepopular support, apparently even among its most ardent backers in the lower classes!^
Despite these complaints, public statements of Iranian leaders reveal that many within the regime still are worried about ending ihc war without clear victory. Such leaders as Majles Speaker Rafuntani indKhamenei appear to fear this would call into question both Tehran's claim of religious invincibility and the wisdom ofar that has produced so many deaths in vain|
The conflict has turned hundreds of thousands of Iranians into refugees. Many have nockedran's major cities, aggravating an already serious strain on public services. The Shah's inability to meet tbe needs of Iran's urban areas in the last years of his reignajor contributing factor to the revolution. Since the Shah's departure, Tehran's population hastoillion people.")
Succession and the Struggle for Power
The political infighting revolving around theto Khomeini is adding to the divisions within Iran. The Islamic Republic's constitution mandates that the succession to Khomeini's post as supreme political-religious authority be formally decidedman Assembly of Experts in religious law. The constitutionhoicea sole heireadership council of three or five senior clerics.)
We expect (he initial phase of succession to go smoothly. Shia Islamic ritual calls forays of public mourning during which the regime's leaders are likely to channel tbe highly charged emotions of the population toward support for the government We expect Ihal Ayatollab Mooiaien will beas Khomeini's successor during this period He has long been considered Khomeini's preferred choice as heir and has already taken on many of Khomeini's duties and prerogatives. Majles Speaker Rafsanjnm. now second only to Khomeini in polilical power, has endorsed Monta/eri more than once, as haison, Ahmad. Iran's government-controlled press has been referring to MootazeriGrand Ayatol-lah" lo raise his religious standing lo ibc level ippro-priaie for supreme religious lunsprudcntj
Montazeri, however, lacks Khomeini's religiousand his commanding presence Without someone of Khomeini's nature, wc believe factional disputes and rising discontent over the war and the economy are likely to produce an extended period of polilical instubilx
Moniazeri and the Succession: Two Views
Guard Minister Mohscn kahq-uuil luta auiiiiiiLu
publicly lhat ihe Command Council exercises more authority over the Guard than cither he or itsMohsen Rezai. Both obtained their Guard jobs originally because of their dose relationships with senior regime leaders rather than from their strength within the Guard itself Individual leaders of the Guard, moreover, act without governmentThe hijacking of an Air France airliner inor example, was the work of an element within the Guard, not approved in advance by theWc believe that Guard leaders emphasize their loyalty to Khomeini, in part because this allows them to acl independently in the absence of explicitfrom htm.l I
Ayaiollah Khomeini in recent weeks has repeatedly warned the Guard to stay out of politics, probably reflecting the regime's concern over GuardIn the unlikely cvcnl that the Guard stayed out of succession politics and remained basically intact.
Us useool of repression over ihe population would cive factional leaders more lime to work out their differences. Alternatively, if the Guard backed one candidate or coalition, its support probably would be decisive.ove would ensure clerical rule while further increasing the influence of the Guard.
limate of distrust and increasing competition, however, we believe it is more likely that various regime leaders will seek to strengthen and expand their contacts among the leaders of tbeespecially if its loose structure of independentremains. We also believe that factions at the far right and left within the regime's political spectrum arc most likely to resort to force to avoid being squeezed out of power. Tbe breakup of ihc Guard into warring factions ultimately could lead to anarchy and civil war. There arc unconfirmed storiesleric close to Montazcri, for example, has beenoyal Guard cadre and arms caches near Esfahan for just such an eventuality!
Bazaar merchantsupporting role inKhomeini io power by providing money and other resources.,
doubt that the regular miliiary willignificant role io shaping the power struggleKhomeini's deaih.l
have never been (he leading poliiical force in Iran, always preferring to provide support from the sidelines. We doubt (hai (hey willriving force in post-Khomeini Iran. Commerce remains (heir prime focus. We believe the slrong business compcti-(ion tha( exists in (he bazaar and (he bazaaris' close personal lies within various political factions impede the developmentnified organization. Although the bazaaris have some shared politicala secure business environment and minimal governmentthey have not warned to rule Irani
We have watched the various Iranian exile groups since (he fall of the Shah and believe that none of them have appreciable support inside Iran. Moreover, none have displayed organizational or operational skills. They lack realistic programs of political action and have not found common cause among themselves
or with forces in Iran. They are likely to remain on the sidelines as observers of events, more determined to score points against one another than toredible alternative to the Khomeini regime or its
None of the exiles appear to be attractive allies for forces inside the country. Of all the exiles, the Shah's son probably has the most residual support, the beneficiary of nostalgia among Iran's upper andclasses. Nevertheless, even those whoonarchy are unlikely toestoration of (he discredited Pahlavi dynasty. Any future kings and kingmakers are more likelymerge from (hose who have remained in Iran. | |
Thr Shah'i nut Rent
any post-Khomeini regime is likely to espouse nonalignment, we believe (here are groups who would be willing to lessen Iran's hostility toward one or the other superpower .T
for the United States
Whatever successor regime eventuallyshort of an unlikely Communistbelieve that certain general imperatives will guide Iranian policy:
Islam is likely toey component of any successor regime. Even secularists would be forced to recognize its political force.
No regime will want to be seen as dominated by either superpower. "Neither East nor West" is, in ourenuinely popular slogan in Iran. The image of Ihe US "satan" will be an important symbol of continuity. Moscow's miliiary support for Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, and Iranian suspicions of Moscow's intentions, as well asto Communist ideology, will limit SovietAny Iranian regime is likely to hew closelyolicy of nonalignment.
The need to sell oil, import consumer goods, and generate some economic development is likely to foster relatively good economic relations between Iran and industrial nations, as well as neighboring Turkey and Pakistan.
Iran's roleajor power in ihc Persian Gulf and its rivalries with Iraq and Saudi Arabia will persist.
A regime dominated by Revolutionary Guardother associated left-leaning groups wouldof tbe USSR, but their deepof the United States would probablyto be more willing than ihe current regimeincreased economic and miliury aidegime would provide Moscow withopportunity in Iran, It could also be less hostileforeign policy goals in ihe
Those groups who favor less hostile relations with the United States currently are either less active and less organized than the others or are not accustomed to political leadership roles. These groups include bazaar merchants, the conservative clergy including the grand ayatollahs. elements in tbe regular military, and the middle and upper classes. With the exception of the military, which is predominantly located at the front, these groups are not well armed and are likely to remain intimidated by the Revolutionary Guard. For these groups to gain dominance, the strength of the Guard would have to be exhausted in an extended period of violence between warring factions. The ability of the bazaaris to provide financial support to various factions could thenrucial variable.
rolonged period of upheaval wouldchance* thai groups less hostile to the United States might gain power, it also would provide the Soviets with expanded opportunities in Iran,among Iran's ethnic minorities along their common border. Twice in this century Ihe USSR has sponsored short-lived socialist republics inside Irani-
Soviet willingness to intervene militarily would be constrained, in our judgment, by the possibility of superpowerc continue to believe thai the Soviets take seriously declarations by tbe United States that it would respond to overt Soviet moves against IraniOriginal document.