BACK in 2007 the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced an important change of mission. From now on the main task for his 120,000 guards, as well as for the 3m or so members of the baseej paramilitary volunteer force that had just, and for the first time, been placed formally under his command, would be to deal with what he called internal threats. Just what he meant has grown increasingly clear since the disputed presidential elections in June that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an ex-guardsman, to power. The hardline faction centred on the IRGC embraces a network of former officers and like-minded men in other security branches. Despite outrage over the post-electoral crackdown, this faction has escalated its offensive against dissent even as it consolidates its hold over Iran’s politics and economy.
On August 24th state television broadcast the fourth show trial of prominent reformists in as many weeks. Between the prosecutor’s dramatic accusations and the defendants’ clearly coerced confessions, it looked as if the point was to destroy the reformist opposition for good and to broaden the purge to include powerful centrists, too. The fulsome confessions inculpated Iran’s two main reformist parties, as well as Muhammad Khatami, a reformist who served as president from 1997 to 2005, as actors in an alleged plot to discredit the June elections. Such charges chime with a chorus of calls by Mr Ahmadinejad’s allies, i… >>>