- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ISTANBUL | The Iranian regime, desperate to restore order after massive protests, arrested more than 1,000 people Monday in an increasingly doubtful bid to suppress an opposition movement that appears to be growing stronger by the day.

Among those arrested were a septuagenarian former foreign minister and top aides to defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and to former President Mohammed Khatami.

“They are arresting everybody,” said Mehdi Noorbakhsh, an associate professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg University. “They’re trying to ban political parties, gatherings, everything.”

Journalists, human rights and women’s activists, and relatives of some of those who died in Sunday’s clashes were also among those detained.

One high-profile detainee was Ebrahim Yazdi, 78, the Islamic republic’s first foreign minister and currently the head of the liberal Freedom Movement.

“They arrested Mr. Yazdi at 3 a.m. alongside his 25-year-old niece who is a politically active student,” said Mr. Noorbakhsh, who is Mr. Yazdi’s son-in-law. “They arrested him because they believe that this way they’ll stop the younger generation from taking to the streets.”

Iran analysts said that the chances of that happening were slim and that the arrests reflected the regime’s desperation.

“We shouldn’t think that this government is behaving in a rational way,” said Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Mr. Khalaji said the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had needlessly antagonized new constituencies within Iran by, for example, forbidding proper mourning ceremonies for a prominent dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, who died Dec. 20.

That behavior, he said, for the first time galvanized religious Iranians and clerics in the theological center of Qom, which remained relatively quiet after the June presidential election, which delivered a fraud-tainted victory to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Khalaji noted, however, that Ayatollah Khamenei has not authorized the arrest of Mr. Mousavi; another presidential candidate, Mehdi Karroubi; or former Presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

According to official media, at least eight people died in protests across the nation Sunday, the bloodiest day since June 20, when at least 11 people were killed.

President Obama issued unusually harsh criticism of the Iranian government Monday, saying that the U.S. “joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens.”

Tehran on Monday was largely “silent in a very strange way,” said an Iranian in the capital who asked not to be named to protect himself from arrest. “There was no traffic in most crowded places. We all felt [like] the day after the election. People were shocked. I haven’t heard nor seen any protests or militia anywhere today. Anti-riot [police] stayed in a few famous squares and there were clashes in Hafteh Tir Square.”

The Revolutionary Guard-owned Fars news agency reported a pro-regime demonstration in Qom and condemnations by a stream of conservative religious figures over what they described as the “disrespect to Ashura.”

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