Amidst deadly violence in Tehran, Iran’s leaders launched a concerted drive to deflect blame for the unprecedented post-election turmoil away from the state and towards its customary enemies – the West and Israel.
Iran’s president, foreign minister and influential parliamentary speaker all lashed out at key European countries and the United States, taking their cue from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in a sermon on Friday described Western governments as “hungry wolves in ambush.”
Khamenei also declared the disputed June 12 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to have been fair, rejected calls to hold fresh elections and gave an ominous warning of the “bloodshed and chaos” to come if street demonstrations by opposition supporters do not stop.
But protestors defied the government and held further protests Saturday against the election outcome. Clashes erupted, and at least 13 people were killed and an unknown number injured at the hands of police and members of the notorious Basij militia in Tehran, state television reported. Reports from the capital described an uneasy calm on Sunday.
After the bloodshed, opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who came second in the election but alleges rigging on a massive scale, sent a new message to supporters via his website, urging restraint in the face of provocations but reiterating their “right” to protest against “lies and fraud.” Ahmadinejad “won” the election by a margin of around 63–34 percent. An apparently orchestrated campaign by regime figures to erode the protestors’ unity has witnessed leaders target the West, latching onto expressions of concern and condemnation that have followed the post-election upheaval.
The strongest comments have come from leading European countries, with France speaking out against “brutal repression” and President Nicolas Sarkozy calling the regime’s conduct “inexcusable” and Germany demanding a vote recount.
The leaders of the U.S. and Britain, countries whose historical relations with Iran have been especially difficult, were initially cautious in their response to the events, but began speaking out somewhat more forcefully recently.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown also said Britain joined the rest of the European Union “in condemning the use of violence, in condemning media suppression,” describing recent actions by the state as “repression” and “brutality.”
Obama, who has been under some criticism at home for his muted approach, issued a statement Saturday calling on Tehran “to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday told a meeting of clerics that the U.S. and Britain should stop interfering.
“Definitely you won’t be placed inside Iranians circle of friendship with such hasty comments,” the ISNA News agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying, in comments directed at Obama and Brown. “I recommend you to rectify your interventionist stances.”
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki took up the theme, criticizing “irresponsible and intrusive remarks” and advising Western governments to “think twice before questioning the democratic process of the recent election.”
In comments to diplomats, Mottaki raised the specter of Israel, accusing Germany of being intimidated by the Jewish state and saying Britain was responsible for Middle East instability because of its role in creating “the Zionist regime” during the last century.
Mottaki accused Britain in particular of trying to sabotage the election, saying agents had infiltrated Iran ahead of the poll posing as tourists.
“Elements linked to the British secret service were flying in in droves,” he charged.
Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said Iran had no need for Western governments’ “opportunistic and imperialistic gestures.”
“The leaders of the U.S., Britain, France and Germany must stop meddling in Iran’s domestic affairs and taking actions that will prompt Iran to “respond in other fields,” ISNA quoted Larijani, formerly Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, as warning.
Accusing the U.S. of cruel policies towards Iran over a period of half a century – ranging from its backing for the Shah to its stance in the Iran-Iraq war – Larijani said it was “embarrassing” that is was now voicing concern about Iran’s human rights and territorial integrity.
Former president Mohammad Khatami, a supporter of Mousavi, criticized the assertions that the unrest is being fueled from outside the country, saying in comments reported by the state-run Mehr News agency that it was “provocative and insulting” to suggest that the protests were “an act of foreign influence.”
Alongside the accusations against Western governments, pro-state Iranian media outlets are also pointing fingers at “terrorist groups.” Several members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK or MKO), an exiled opposition group active in Europe and the U.S., were reported to have been arrested in connection with Saturday’s violence.
“Iran finds U.S.-backed MKO fingermarks in riots,” declared the Tehran Times.
In a statement issued through the allied National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the MEK said in response to the charges that Tehran was “making preposterous and threadbare claims to justify the suppression and killings.”
The NCRI, a controversial organization which is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., on Saturday drew tens of thousands of Iranians to a rally in Paris to condemn the violence and applaud what leader Maryam Rajavi described as the Iranian “uprising.”
“Khamenei is trying to paint the nationwide uprising of the Iranian people against the ruling theocracy in the context of a simple dispute of a candidate who is protesting against the vote count or the committing of some fraud, and that anything else is the work of ‘world arrogance’ [the U.S.] and ‘terrorists,'” she said.
“The real issue is that the regime’s factional feuding has created an opportunity amid the repression for the people of Iran to demonstrate in the streets of Iran and before the world the real struggle, which is the fire simmering under the embers.”