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What is Iran's Supreme Leader's game?

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Guess what was Washington's reaction; forget about dialogue, we want sanctions. That set the scene for Washington's next steps; the Fast-and-Furious plot trying to frame Tehran for the assassination attempt on the Saudi ambassador to the US; the pressure to divert the IAEA's November 2011 report on Iran by adding a spin on a "possible" military angle to the nuclear program; the oil embargo; the sponsoring of a United Nations resolution against Iran on terrorism; and the list goes on.

Show me the path of the Imam

In all matters external and internal, in Iran the bucks stops with Khamenei -- not Ahmadinejad. If the Supreme Leader seems to have his finger firmly on the nuclear dossier, at homely matters he may be unraveling. He may take comfort that outside the big cities, he remains popular -- as government loans in rural areas remain generous, at least while the new Western sanctions don't bite.

But high-ranking clerics in Qom are now openly calling for legal mechanisms to oversee -- and criticize -- him; his response -- hardly a secret in Tehran -- was to order all their offices and homes to be bugged.

Khamenei has vehemently rejected any sort of oversight by the Council of Experts -- the body that appoints the Supreme Leader, monitors his performance, and can even topple him.

According to Seyyed Abbas Nabavi, the head of the Organization for Islamic Civilization and Development, Khamenei told the experts, "I do not accept the assembly can say that the Supreme Leader is still qualified, but then question why such and such official was directed in a certain direction, or why I allowed a certain official [to do certain things]." [3]

Following the outbursts of outrage in 2009 -- when for the first time people in the streets openly called for the downfall of the leader -- revolt steadily marches on, with highly educated Iranians deriding Khamenei as stubborn, jealous and vindictive, holding a monster grudge against millions who never swallowed his endorsement of Ahmadinejad in 2009 (he always calls them "seditionists").

For instance, even the daughter of a well-known ayatollah has gone public saying that Khamenei "holds a grudge in his heart" against Rafsanjani and former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi "because of the Imam's [Khomeini's] love and support for them and also because in comparison to these three, in particular Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and Mousavi, he is clearly a second-rate individual." Khamenei is now being widely blamed for anything from Iran's falling production capacity to mounting inflation and widespread corruption.
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That raises the question; what about the IRGC's support for the Supreme Leader?

The Iranian diaspora largely considers this to be pure propaganda. Yet the fact is the IRGC is now a monster conglomerate with myriad military-industrial, economic and financial interests. Top managers -- and the array of enterprises they control -- are bound to the ethos of antagonizing the West, the same West from whose sanctions they profit, handsomely. So, for them, the status quo is nice and dandy -- even with the everyday possibility of a miscalculation, or a false flag operation, leading to war.

At the same time, the IRGC may count on the key strategic/political support of BRICS members Russia and China -- and is certain that the country will be able to dribble the embargo and keep selling oil mostly to Asian clients.

But what's really juicy, in terms of the internal dynamic, is the fact that the cream of the IRGC is now engaged in a sort of economic war against the bazaaris -- the traditionally very conservative Persian merchants.

It's crucial to remember that these bazaaris financed the so-called "Path of the Imam" Islamic revolution in 1979. They were -- and remain -- radically anti-colonialism (especially as practiced by the British and then the Americans); but this does not mean they are anti-Western (something that most in the West still don't understand).
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Once again, as top Iranian analysts have been ceaselessly pointing out, one must remember that the Islamic revolution's original motto was "Neither East nor West"; what mattered was a sort of curiously Buddhist "middle of the road" -- exactly that "Path of the Imam" that would guarantee Islamic Iran as a sovereign, non-aligned country.

And guess who was part of this original "Path of the Imam" coalition of the willing? Exactly; Khamenei (and Ahmadinejad) foes Mousavi, Khatami, Karoubi and Rafsanjani, not to mention a moderate faction of the IRGC, graphically symbolized by former IRGC commander and former presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai.

So what the "Path of the Imam" coalition is essentially saying is that Khamenei is a traitor of the principles of the revolution; they accuse him of trying to become a sort of Shi'ite caliph -- an absolute ruler. This message is increasingly getting public resonance among millions of Iranians who believe in a true "Islamic," but most of all "republic" state.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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