A Cabal in the College of Mullahs?

Supported by the Revolutionary Guards and its Basij Miliitia (the equivalent of its Gestapo/SS), the Supreme Leader's iron-fisted tactics are beginning to resemble what the revolution was supposed to have overthrown -- the worst vestiges of the dreaded Shah's secret police state built around the notorious SAVAK. In the face of the continued repression, the latest courageous Tehran street demonstrations and the civil disobedience taking root from the rooftops of homes throughout Iran is important confirmation that the sinister baton-swinging Basij militia cannot silence Iranians into submission.

Beyond the streets of Iran's troubled cities, an increasingly important power struggle may be taking place in the wake of the disputed presidential election. It pits the forces critical of the post-election violence (including elements of the all important Shiite clerical establishment) against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the shadow government of Iran led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force.

In post-election Iran, the crazy-quilt check and balance system that has undergirded the fictitious use of the word "republic" in the "Islamic Republic" has proven to be a mirage. In reality, Iran has devolved into two parallel states: where the real power lies with the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guards, and those supporting Ahmadinejad against the largely ineffectual constitutional system of checks and balances which is dispersed among an alphabet soup of organizations including the Guardian Council, the Expediency Council, the Assembly of Experts, and the Majles (Parliament).

Among a very influential number of leading grand and lesser ayatollahs, Ali Khamenei committed the mortal sin of forfeiting his divine authority by descending into the abyss of Iranian politics and consequently incurred the wrath of millions of Iranians victimized by his terror squads rather than remaining above the fray.

Indeed, Ali Khamenei's act of reckless partisanship has called into question the very foundation of a state based on absolute religious rule on one hand and vestiges of public accountability for the acts undertaken in the name of Islam, on the other. In other words, Ali Khamenei may have set in motion events that may lead to his own demise and the weakening of the very tenets of the Islamic state he voraciously defends at all costs.

Many of Iran's most influential grand and other ayatollahs who occupy the highest echelons of Iran's clerical establishment (Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri and Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi) have broken with the Supreme Leader and condemned the electoral fraud and ensuing violence, while more conservative allies of Khamenei such as Ayatollah Morteza Moghtadai (who heads the prestigious Qum Seminary) have validated the election results, and Ahmadenijad's so-called spiritual ayatollah -- Muhammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, wants to entirely rid Iran of elections once and for all asserting they are nothing but misbegotten "window dressing."

The lineup of ayatollahs on either side of the divide is of the utmost importance to the future of Iran as well as to Ali Khamenei's continued reign as Supreme Leader. Long live the Supreme Leader?

Although he is the Supreme Leader, as it is stated in the Hebrew National hot dog commercial, Ali Khamenei theoretically answers to a higher authority and that authority is the 86 member Assembly of Experts (Khobregan) -- which elects and supervises the Supreme Leader's allegiance to Sha'aria, the constitution, and the ideals of the revolution.

The Assembly of Experts not only has the power to elect and govern the Supreme Leader's activities, but also to remove him from his position.

The Assembly has never dismissed a sitting Supreme Leader, but within the Assembly exists a so called "111 Commission" which monitors the conduct of the current Supreme Leader. Members of the Assembly of Experts can file reports with the "111 Commission" and the Commission can then order an emergency meeting of the Assembly.

It just so happens that the current chairman of the Assembly of Experts is former Iranian president Ayatollah Hashem Rafsanjani, a supporter of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and a virulent critic of Ali Khamenei. Based on tabulations by Iranian experts, Rafsanjani has potential claim to 65 of the 86 so-called "experts" a majority of the members of the 86 person Assembly.

Recent news accounts suggest that Rafsanjani has called for an emergency meeting of the Assembly of Experts in the holy city of Qom possibly to investigate whether the Supreme Leader may have violated Iran's constitution by condoning the election fraud.

This is not to suggest that a coup within the Assembly of Experts against the Supreme Leader is imminent. But with Rafsanjani at its helm, and growing resentment directed against Ali Khamenei by his own peers, how ironic would it be that the first political casualty of Iran's election dispute could turn out to be the Supreme Leader and not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Stay tuned.