World News

Iran Blames Large Cabal of Culprits for Protests

Posted January 4, 2018 5:26 p.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2018 5:30 p.m. EST

TEHRAN — Members of Iran’s ruling establishment took turns Thursday assigning blame for what they regard as an embarrassing outbreak of protests this week in more than 80 cities across the country.

Iran’s chief prosecutor elaborated on the government’s claims that the United States and other foreign enemies were responsible for stirring up the violent protests. The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia planned the “riots,” the prosecutor, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said on state television, in an effort to “subvert the Iranian government.”

“The U.S., the Zionist regime and the Al Sauds were the three sides of this subversive plan, and Saudi Arabia committed to provide money for it,” Montazeri said.

Montazeri asserted that Michael D’Andrea, a CIA officer who runs Iran operations, was a “main designer” of the protests and that the CIA hoped to turn the protest into an “armed” revolt by mid-February, the anniversary of the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Trump administration has denied having any involvement in the protests, and the CIA declined to comment.

Iran did not provide evidence, but the accusation was likely to resonate with — if not convince — Iranians mindful of the CIA’s role in a 1953 coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations also sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday complaining about “acts of intervention” by the administration, citing President Donald Trump’s Twitter posts in support of the protests.

The Islamic State also played a role, Montazeri said, without explaining precisely how. He also called on clerics in the holy city of Qom to support the judiciary in a permanent ban on the messaging app Telegram, now closed in Iran. “It’s a disaster,” Montazeri said of the social media tool.

Government officials also blamed internal enemies for instigating the protests, with the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps seeming to imply that a former hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was involved.

Whatever Ahmadinejad’s role, Iran’s reformist faction has accused hard-liners in the city of Mashhad of organizing the first protests to create political problems for Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. And hard-liners have, in turn, accused Rouhani of leaking secret parts of his proposed budget, including details of the country’s religious institutes, in a calculated move to turn ordinary people against religious institutions.

“They all blame each other,” said Nader Karimi Joni, a reformist journalist. “What else can they do?”

The death toll from the clashes rose to at least 21, and in the central province of Esfahan, a police officer was reported killed.

The U.S. State Department said on Thursday: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the deaths to date and the arrests of at least one thousand Iranians.” It added, “To the regime’s victims, we say: You will not be forgotten.”

Unrelated to the protests, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five Iranian entities over their involvement in developing ballistic missiles, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said additional sanctions “targeting human rights abuses are coming.”

The protests, meanwhile, seemed to be winding down, though there is no sure way to tell. Fewer videos of what seemed to be demonstrations appeared on social media Thursday. But many sites have been blocked, possibly obscuring the true extent of the protests.

Iran’s government routinely filters websites and apps it deems inappropriate or dangerous, and Twitter and Facebook have been blocked since the 2009 anti-government protests. The prosecutor said that about a million pages on social media had been banned by the authorities, but complained that the pages “mushroom under new names and colors despite more than 15,000 of them being blocked every week.”