Iran Democracy Monitor - No. 182

February 5, 2018

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has long been dogged by questions surrounding his authority and religious credentials. Khamenei, after all, was a mid-level cleric, a hojatolislam, when he was selected as Iran's Supreme Leader upon the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death in 1989. The rapid elevation was unprecedented, and led many to challenge his learning and standing. And while Khamenei has successfully consolidated power over the past three decades, doubts about his religious bona fides remain.

This speculation has now been dramatically amplified by the release of a new government video from the time of Khamenei's ascension to power. The recording, the veracity of which has not been questioned, documents the 1989 closed door emergency session of the Assembly of Experts that led to Khamenei's appointment, and in which it is apparent - both from Khamenei's own statements, and those of other clerics present at the meeting - that Khamenei's appointment to Iran's top spiritual post was always envisioned to be both temporary and limited.

The timing of the video's release, coming amid a new wave of protests against the Islamic Republic's clerical system, is also deeply significant. According to Abolhassan Banisadr, Iran's first president, now in exile in France, it reflects that "politically, the regime has lost its inner coherence" and is now divided along factional lines. "They guarded it for nearly 40 years. Why have they leaked it? If the regime wasn't divided, how could something like this be leaked?" Banisadr asks. (
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 11, 2018)


Amid the threat of renewed U.S. sanctions and the possibility that the Trump administration might abandon the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iranian government is seeking assistance anew from its strategic partner in Moscow. According to Iranian press reports, top regime banking officials are putting the finishing touches with their opposite numbers in Russia on an agreement that would more closely integrate the banking systems of the two countries. The pact - a follow on to one inked in the Fall of 2017 enabling Iran to use Russian banking conglomerate BPC to gain greater access to the global financial system - is part of a strategy that both Moscow and Tehran hope "would make them immune to the financial sanctions of the United States in the future," Iran's Mehr News Agency has explained. (
Jerusalem Post, December 27, 2017)


Iraq's various Shi'ite militias, collectively known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, have gained significantly in strength over the past year as a result of the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, and as a result are now poised to extend their influence throughout the country. "In the Hashd al-Shaabi, we have been able to train thousands of fighters on different weapons and different military units, creating an integral military and security system that becomes integrated day after day," Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Deputy Commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi, declared during a recent speech in Basra, Iraq. As a result of the fight against the Islamic State, Muhandis explained, the militias "were able to form a general command center... that is equivalent to the ones at the ministries of defense and interior [of Iraq]."

This increasing centralization has done more than simply make the Hashd al-Shaabi a key political power center in Iraq. It has dramatically increased the already-extensive influence of Iran over its western neighbor. "The support of the Islamic Republic has been essential, and the youth of Hezbollah had an essential role in training, planning, and supporting" the various factions of Iraq's Shi'ite militias, Muhandis confirmed. "The Islamic Republic opened its treasury for us when weapons and ammunition were lacking," and with backing from Tehran "we were able to defeat [the Islamic State] militarily." In turn, Iraq's militias now see the Iranian regime as a key partner in their security and political agenda on the territory of the former Ba’athist state. (
, January 30, 2018)

Related Categories: Terrorism; Radical Islam; Iran Freedom Initiative; Iraq

Downloadable Files: N/A