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Behind the bombings
Who would be the main beneficiary?


June 13, 2005

The bombings in Ahvaz and Tehran on Sunday June 12, 2005, only five days before the elections, come as a surprise. The question is who is behind these bombings? In my opinion, the most likely suspect is some element within the regime itself. Why?

There is a long history of elements within the regime itself that have exploded bombs and engaged in killings while blaming them on the Mojahedin Khalgh or other opposition groups. Those precedents include the bombings in the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad (which killed over two dozen innocent worshipers), the killing of Mehdi Dibaj (a convert to Christianity), and possibly the deaths of about 500 Iranians performing haj in Mecca in 1987.

The Usual Suspects?
One of the very few groups that has the capability and history of bombings in Iran is the Mojahedin. They almost always claim responsibility to prove their capabilities. The Mojahedin has explicitly denied these bombings; therefore, it is safe to assume that they did not commit these.

Who would be the main beneficiary of the bombings on Sunday thus having a motive to do so?

Sunday, June 12, was a major day. Several main events were occurring simultaneously. In front of Evin prison, a sit-in was on its fourth day and growing. A hunger strike had already begun by pro-democracy students in Tabriz, Yazd, and Shahre Kord, and a hunger strike was scheduled to begin by pro-democracy students and activists at the University of Tehran on Sunday. Women’s rights advocates were holding a rally protesting the discriminatory policies and constitution of the regime.

All of this indicates the regime is confronted by many simultaneous challenges, many of them growing as the June 17th election day approaches. There are three main factions among the ruling fundamentalist elites: hardliners (Khamanehi’s faction), reformists (Khatami’s faction), and what I call expedients (Rafsanjani’s faction). If the bombings were committed by regime elements, then what motivation would each faction have to bomb on June 12th?

Khatami would not order the bombings because this would not increase the likelihood to vote for Moin, the candidate Khatami supports. That would leave Rafsanjani (or his supporters) and Qalibaf (or his supporters) as the other two main suspects.

Various polls taken indicate that Rafsanjani, Qalibaf, and Moin are the top three contenders for the election (see polls conducted by Jahad Daneshgahi and IRNA). Moreover, the polls indicate none would get the required majority of the votes cast necessary to win in the first round, thus making a second round among the top two vote getters in the run-off election (to be held in two weeks, if necessary).

The polls indicate that Rafsanjani is by far the front runner, getting somewhere between 27% and 37% of the votes of the respondents. Qalibaf and Moin are running neck and neck, and Moin, (successfully gaining the support of Nehzat Azadi and Melli Mazhabis) appears to be closing the gap. On the other hand, Qalibaf has not succeeded in persuading other hardline candidates (Larijani, Ahmadi-Nejad, and Rezaee) to withdraw from the race.

A series of bombings would increase the likelihood of votes going to Qalibaf as the self-proclaimed “Hezbollahi Reza Khan,” promising to restore order by massive repression. Therefore, because Qalibaf is the main beneficiary of the bombings on Sunday, one may suspect that he or his supporters may have been behind them.

It does not seem likely that Rafsanjani, the consummate wily shark, is responsible for this series of bombings. Although Rafsanjani has been behind many, if not all, of the terrorist actions by the regime in the past 26 years, the June 12 bombings do not benefit him personally at this juncture. At this juncture Rafsanjani seems assured to be one of the two candidates in the run off.

If Qalibaf is Rafsanjani’s opponent in the second round, most Moin voters would vote for Rafsanjani in order to keep Qalibaf out, assuring a Rafsanjani victory. And if Moin is Rafsanjani’s second round opponent, then Qalibaf and other hardline voters would vote for Rafsanjani to keep Moin out. Thus, Rafsanjani would not benefit from any bombing at THIS juncture.

Although logic indicates that Qalibaf or his supporters may be behind the June 12 bombings, this is mere speculation. It appears, however, that they are the only ones that have the capability, history, and motive to do so. Nevertheless, much that occurs in Iran is not rational. Only the future will show who exactly is behind these bombings.

Even if the regime was to apprehend the actual culprits and they were not declared “rouge elements of the Ministry of Intelligence,” Iranians, by and large, would not accept regime’s explanation. The problem for the fundamentalist regime is that it lacks credibility among the population due to a long history of deception. Like the boy who cried wolf [choopan-e doroogh-goo], the people simply do not believe the word of this regime.

Masoud Kazemzadeh is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He is the author of Islamic Fundamentalism, Feminism, and Gender Inequality in Iran Under Khomeini (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002), and The Bush Doctrine and Iran: Alternative Scenarios and Consequences (forthcoming).

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