- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

An international Iranian dissident group says the recent protests in Iran, as well as the government’s severe crackdown on demonstrators, have been much wider in scope than initially reported.

While Iranian authorities claim the uprisings were quelled quickly and rights group say about 150 people died, the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) claimed Tuesday that more than 400 were actually killed during “anti-regime protests” that occurred in “some 176 cities throughout the country.”

The group, which says it has a wide network of informants inside Iran, asserted in a report circulated by its offices in Washington Tuesday that demonstrations began with slogans condemning a government hike in fuel prices, but quickly spread into widespread demands for the total overthrow of the ruling regime in Tehran.

“It did not take long,” the NCRI report claimed, “for the slogans to morph into calls
for rejection of the regime in its entirety.”

“People chanted slogans against the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, while attacking centers of suppression, theft and particularly those affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),” the report said. “Many of the buildings were torched and sustained serious damages.”

NCRI Deputy Director Alireza Jafarzadeh told The Washington Times in an email that demonstrators were “chanting ‘death to Rouhani,’ ‘death to Khamenei,’” in a manner that “clearly shows the society’s rage and explosive state and that the Iranian people demand regime change.”

“The recent uprising showed that change is attainable, and the people are ready to pay the price to make it happen,” Mr. Jafarzadeh said. “The world must recognize the right of the Iranian people to change the regime and establish a democratic, pluralistic, and non-nuclear republic in Iran.”

The NCRI report also claimed at least 4,000 protesters were injured and at least 10,000 have been arrested by Iranian authorities.

The assertions by the group, which has long called for regime change in Tehran and is widely seen to have allies in the Trump administration backing the administration’s current “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran’s government, came a day after Amnesty International said at least 143 people have been killed in a crackdown against on the protests since Nov. 15.

The Associated Press reported that the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened the U.S. and its allies Monday as he addressed a pro-government demonstration attended by tens of thousands of people denouncing the recent violent protests, which the news agency described as being driven by a fuel price hike.

Gen. Hossein Salami, echoing other Iranian officials, accused the U.S., Britain, Israel and Saudi Arabia of stoking the unrest, according to the AP, which cited the general as saying the rise in gasoline prices was a “mere pretext” for an attack on the nation.

Some in the Iranian-American community downplayed the notion that a mass movement against the government in Tehran was sparked by the protests.

“The idea that the Iranian government is on the verge of imminent collapse has long been promoted by various hawkish forces in the U.S. and some U.S.-based opposition groups. This continues to be wishful thinking,” said Sina Toossi, a senior research analyst with the National Iranian American Council, a group that bills itself as an outfit promoting greater understanding between American and Iranian people.

“Millions of Iranians certainly have deep-seated economic and political grievances and want major change,” Mr. Toossi told The Times in an email. “However, there exists no cohesive, mass revolutionary movement. The protests we’ve seen in the past week were leaderless and expressed different demands, from rescinding the gas price hike to fundamental change in the political system.”

“The Iranian government also clearly still has a significant repression capability, able to brutally put down protests and disconnect internet connections to the outside world,” he said.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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