Iran: Rafsanjani v. the hardliners — the battlelines are drawn

Scott Lucas writes: While most of the world’s attention to Iran is on nuclear talks and regional maneuvers in Iraq and Syria, an important power struggle is being waged inside the Islamic Republic.

Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose political career was buried by some analysts amid regime in-fighting after the disputed 2009 Presidential election, resurged to become a leading force behind the Rouhani Government. Vocal on both domestic and foreign policy initiatives — such as “engagement” with the US and Saudi Arabia — Rafsanjani even ventured to press the Supreme Leader for the release of political prisoners, including opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

That resurgence has worried hardliners, who still consider Rafsanjani an appeaser — or even collaborator — over the “sedition” of the mass protests from 2009. So, while challenging the Rouhani Government, they have searched for a way to put the former President back in a political box.

The occasion for the showdown will be the election of the head of the Assembly of Experts, due in early 2015, to replace the recently-deceased Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani — the cleric who ended Rafsanjani’s leadership of the body in 2011.

The Assembly selects the Supreme Leader and has the nominal authority to replace him. However, its significance is more in symbolism than a role in policy: the election of its head marks out the factions and individuals who are “winning” the internal political contest. [Continue reading…]

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