Summary of the System

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Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information (PMESII) Executive Summaries “systems of systems” analytical overviews of the PMESII elements within the ONA database for a country of interest.  This baseline political overview is relevant for the 2004 – 2010 chronology leading to experiment execution. The text that follows is Unclassified, and has been derived from open sources.  (JFCOM J9 Web site - ref ONA)

(Authored by Mr. H.C. Lawrence Smith, JFCOM J9  White Cell Intel and ONA POL analyst -


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(U) Key Judgments:

*         The Iranian political system attempts to maintain a government that embodies the centrality of a monarchy, the jurisprudence of a democracy, and the personal freedoms of a republic.


*         The governmental branches: Theocratic, Judicial, Legislative, Executive, and Security share common themes that cross bureaucratic, societal and personal boundaries.

*         Constitutionality:  Although often confused by Interpretation, the Rule of Law is paramount, even to the point of shifting political alliances.

*         Revolutionary legitimacy.  Despite the age of the remaining revolutionary elite, the National Experience and martyrdom are kept alive.

*         Moral consciousness.  Islamic law is interpretative. Persian Shia consider themselves morally superior, despite contradictory governmental edicts.

*         Nationalism.  Persians are survivors, diplomats, and entrepreneurs.


Strengths of the Iranian Political System

*         Governmental legitimacy derived from constitutional law. 

*         Revolutionary legitimacy bonded by shared survival.

*         Moral legitimacy governed by the responsibilities of Shia Islam.

*         Nationalism fueled by a rich intellectual and entrepreneurial cultural history. 


Vulnerabilities of the Iranian Political System 

*         Governmental functionality is a series of culturally ingrained debates.

*         Power is confined to an aging revolutionary elite.

*         The trust of Guardianship too often results in excessive governmental control.

*         Nationalism and ethnic behaviors serve to erode revolutionary zeal.

(U) Essential Elements of the System at a Glance






Constitutionality. The Islamic Republic of Iran remains the world’s only contemporary theocracy and the oldest Muslim Democratic Constitutional Republic.


Revolutionary Legitimacy Almost all of the seemingly disparate elements and personalities in the Iranian governmental structure share a common revolutionary history and mutual   commitment to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy of an Islamic state.


Moral Conciousness.   Shi’a Islam protects the masses and solidifies the structure of the Republic, as well as serving as the glue that binds society together. Even though segments of the society are Sunni Muslims, or other recognized faiths, adherence to Islamic law protects them also.


Nationalism.  Iranians are strongly nationalistic. This sentiment, combined with Shi’a Islam and the eight-year war with Iraq, served to polarize and unify the Republic.  Iranians inherently mistrust those who would re-institute a form of colonialism from abroad, or endorse domestic polices that appear to be overly conciliatory to foreign powers or interests. 



(U) Essential Elements of the System


Constitutionality’s Role in Iran







Iran is the Islamic world’s oldest democratic constitutional republic.  The 1906 Constitutional Revolution, led by the intelligentsia and the clerics, took the power from a corrupt dynastic monarchy and invested it in the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches of government, based on the French model of a representative constitutional monarchy. 

*         The 1979 Islamic Revolution, led by the same elements of society, took the power from a corrupt monarch and also invested it in the Judicial, Executive, and Legislative branches of government, but added a Theocratic Guardianship in place of the monarch to insure that the rulers met the needs of the disenfranchised populace. 


*         This governmental structure best serves a nation of diverse ethnic groups and extends a span of control from the ministries to the provinces, cities, towns, and villages

*         The republican constitutional structure has remained intact, despite additional layers of checks and balances imposed by the Islamic Guardianship


Revolutionary Legitimacy in Iran


The leadership of the Islamic Republic consists of the victorious survivors of the 1979 Revolution.  The ruling elite are former members of revolutionary committees and Mujahadin drawn from all levels of society, and their immediate heirs who have survived almost four decades of purges and war. 

v     These individuals were amalganized by the eight year war with Iraq, which garnished the title of “ war hero” or “martyr” to the families of to those in power.

v     Underlying the revolutionary credentials are cultural ties of clerical linage, money, ethnicity, and regionalism; occasionally overlaid with ability.

v     The Iran-Iraq war which polarized the nation also convinced it to avoid a major conflict.

v     The theme of revolutionary legitimacy is downplayed in international relations, but re-inforced internally in an attempt to convey the martyr legacy; an increasingly difficult task as time progresses.











Text Box: Left to Right: The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Revolution; Ebullient revolutionaries in Tehran, Feb. 1979; Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Minister of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), and a decorated veteran of the Iran-Iraq War.







Moral Consciouness in Iran


The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran was designed to maintain a government with the centrality of a monarchy, the jurisprudence of a democracy,  the freedoms of a republic, and the faith of a theocracy. The dominant theocratic branch of government seeks to harness the dynamics of the argument and debate of Islamic interpretation, and apply it to a socially responsible Sh’ia Islamic consultative form of Islamic government. 

*         Enforcement of Islamic Law (Sharia) is intended to protect the disadvantaged and disenfranchised elements of society.

*         The Shi’a demand that the Ruler(s) profess and foster the Faith, transcends through all governmental levels.

*         This tenant of Guardianship can be positive or negative; as evidenced by the appointment and election of moderate clerics, and by the paths of control represented by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Ministrial structure, and the Supreme Leader’s Provincial Representatives.

*         The pyrmidal structure of the Islamic Councils, which evolved from the Revolutionary commitees of the 1979 Revolution, place elected (as of 1998) community representatives in groups that begin at the rural level and progress to a Supreme Council of Provinces at the Ministry of the Interior level. 

*         The Velayat-e faghih or Guardianship of the Islamic Juristconsultant, represented imam Khomeini’s vision of an authoritative, authoritarian father figure who would guide the Republic until the return of the Twelth Imam.



Nationalism in Iran


Almost three decades after the 1979 Revolution, the feeling of Persian nationalism is re-emerging and has become acceptable to the government.  Historical sites, such as the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, have joined Shi’a holy sites such as the Imam Reza shrine in Mashad, as reconstruction projects, at the turn of the century. Although this is most easily explained as a means toward promoting tourism, it also signaled an acknowledgement by the Clerical authorities that it was safe to acknowledge a Persian, non-Arabic cultural past.  At each slight upturn of the economy, some expatriots have returned from Europe and North America to join a struggling middle class clinging to the prospect of a growing private sector.  This has effected the administration of government at the national, ministerial and regional levels.  Iran has become more willing to contribute to regional security, since the elimination of a beligerant Iraq, befitting its role as a regional superpower. As a result, it has also become more protectionist.  As examples:

v     Aggressive expansion of Iran’s influence to become the dominant military, political, and economic power in the region.

v     Acceptance of its position as the dominate regional military power, with a responsibility for regional stability and the promotion of  the “ six plus one”  security arrangement in regards to the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members.

v     Attempts to be portrayed as a regional peacemaker and good neighbor, brokering  peace in Nagorno-Karabakh between Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan, and serious discussions with the Afghani government over the delicate issue of the Hirmand River flow.

v     Subversion of the U.S. brokered Middle East Peace process to prevent Israel from becoming the predominant economic power of the near and middle east.

v     An end to the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf.



Political Dynamics in Iran – Cultural Influences shape the Dynamics


The political dynamics of the Islamic Republic are those of Persia. The “three pillars of society” common to almost all Islamic states, and even to some of the European states, is the foundation for politics.  Traditionally, the clergy and the Bazaari have been linked. The clergy depends upon the merchant class for economic sustenance, and the merchants depend upon the clergy for legitimacy.  The mosques in the older Iranian cities are found in the Bazaar, and the families of both groups are inter-related.  The military were the public security forces of the ancient world, and while considered the lower of the three classes,  could not be ignored; if for no other reason than for the protection of private enterprise. 


These three elements are the forces of change in Iran. A sub-group of the “secular” intelligentsia has been added in the nineteenth century, but because they were Western-educated and oriented, they were controlled by the two primary groups (Clergy and Bazaari) since they came  from those families. The secular-intelligentsia became the civil servants of government, a professional class, and the champions of a public press, while the clerical intelligentsia continued to be the teachers, poets, and scholars. Positions of governmental power were held by those from the moneyed families of the two primary groups, because they were the most qualified in management and politics, and because the Pahlavi Shahs chose to alienate the growing middle class. The Islamic Revolution combined all of these groupings and created another political group, the foundations, or Bonyads.  (Refer to the Economic Summary). The Bonyads assumed the role of the Bazaari in the traditional structure but are a powerful political force because of their symbiotic relationship with the ruling theocracy.  The political-socio triad remains, however, slightly below the surface of a growing democratic system.






















The Council of Guardians of the Constitution


This theocratic advisory body is the most powerful element of the Theocracy.  It is composed of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists selected by the head of the Judiciary Branch. All are approved by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (the Majlis - legislature). It reviews all legislation proposed by the Majlis, for conformity to Islamic Law, advises the Supreme Leader and the President and also supervises all government elections. Conflicts in interpretation of legislation between the Guardians and the Majlis are resolved by the Council for Discernment of Expediency.


Since the Islamic government is a government of law, it is the religious expert and no one else who should occupy himself with the affairs of government.*


* Quoted from:  Islamic Government. Ayatollah Khomeini (a book)  - Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini Berkley: Mizan Press, 1981.


While the obvious interpretation was associated with the Velayat-e faghih, it also applied to the entire government and the requirement to place checks on the elected legislative body, the Majlis. There was no intent to remove the Parliament. Persian society would culturally wither and die without argument, discussion, cajoling, and bribery.

The Islamic Republic's first draft constitution in 1979 proposed twelve-member Guardians Council, made up of five clerics and seven laymen, to ensure that all legislation was compatible with Islam. Their power actually to veto legislation, however, was limited. In the ensuing debate, secular parties argued for greater decentralization and greater power for the legislature, while socialist and Marxist parties argued that the constitution would legitimize the "anti-revolutionary intentions and activities of the bourgeoisie."   This was not acceptable to Ayatollah Khomeini, who energized the clerics to protect his dream.

It is those knowledgeable in Islam who may express an opinion on the law of Islam. The constitution of the Islamic Republic means the constitution of Islam. Don't sit back while foreignized intellectuals, who have no faith in Islam, give their views and write the things they write. Pick up your pens and in the mosques, from the altars, in the streets and bazaars, speak of the things that in your view should be included in the Constitution.”

Khomeini would appoint six clerical members. Parliament would choose six jurists from a list prepared by the Supreme Judicial Council, most of whose membership was selected by the Supreme Leader and all of which was clerical. Only the clerical members of the Guardians Council could determine a law's compatibility with Islam. (Article 91).

The Guardians Council also was given the power to approve the credentials of candidates for elected office. Article 99 of the Constitution says: "The Guardians Council has the responsibility of supervising the elections of the Assembly of Experts for Leadership, the President of the Republic, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and the direct recourse to popular opinion and referenda." The concern was that a gullible public might choose populist or demagogic candidates, and the Guardians Council specifically had to protect the public from itself. This is the most debated role of the Guardians Council.

There were arguments about this issue, termed "approbatory supervision” which is still open to debate. The drafters of the article felt that the Interior Ministry is responsible for supervising elections. Article 99 was devised to prevent instances of partiality, and in the eyes of the writers did not empower the Guardians Council to constitute a process of vetting of its own.  Interior Ministry personnel were familiar with the personalities in their localities and were best suited to determine candidates' eligibility. Disqualified candidates could appeal to the Guardians Council. What has evolved is a two-stage election process. Stage One - the Guardians Council, according to their own views, approve a group of candidates. Stage Two - the general public has no choice but to elect their representatives from those candidates who have been screened by the Guardians Council. This is clearly in contravention to the spirit and the wording of Article 99.

The normal response from Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (in council in 2003) to a candidate’s demand for an explanation of rejection was:

 “Some of the candidates have loaded files in the courts, which have not yet been investigated for one reason or another. These files will be investigated quite properly in the near future, and I am surprised at the boldness of these individuals for putting themselves up as candidates under these circumstances.

This led to a headed discussion in 1998 between Hojjat-ol Eslam Mehdi Mahdavi Karrubi, then Secretary of the Militant Clerics Association and Jannati.  Karrubi, who was speaker of the Majlis in 2003, was hardly mollified

  “The people of Iran have enough political maturity and wisdom so that when they are informed about disputes and differences of opinion, they can make a well-judged assessment. Debate raises the people's awareness of what goes on in the country. Why do you imagine that a friendly discussion and opening the way to debate would lead to tension?”


Thus the argument continues, with the Guardians clinging to their interpretation of Article 99, and the Majlis and the President chipping away at their power.


Source: The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2001.













The Council for Discernment of Expediency


This council was created in 1989 to resolve legislative issues over points of law, policy, and legislation between the Majlis, which has consulted (fought, argued, pleaded, and finally agreed) and reached a consensus upon legislation, and the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, which reviews the legislation for Islamic correctness. In 1989, it became an advisory body on national policy and constitutional issues for the Supreme Leader.  Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei further expanded council responsibilities in 1997 to include advising the supreme leader on general planning of future policy, carrying out tasks assigned by the supreme leader, collecting and regulating policies, and pointing out issues worthy of examination by the Supreme Leader. 


One of the more significant aspects of the 1997 reorganization was the designation of Hojjat ol-Eslam Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as Chairman for a five-year term, a policy that continues.  Permanent members of the Council include the heads of the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial), the six clerical members of the Council of Guardians, and other members appointed by the Supreme Leader for five-year terms.  The Council for the Discernment of Expediency serves as a check on both the Council of Guardians (its intended role) and the Supreme Council for National Security, by virtue of the Khamenei directed expansion of responsibilities.


(U) Official Islamic Republic Governmental Organization


PMESII Analyst Note:  This comprehensive summary is taken from the official Islamic Republic description of the Legislative Branch of Government. Note that the Council of Guardians is considered by the editors of the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance to be in the Legislative Branch. The previous discussion of that body (above) explained why.


Islamic Republic of Iran - The Legislative branch

The legislature comprises two powerful institutions: Parliament (Majlis) and the Guardian Council of the Constitution. Under the provisions of the constitution all legislation must first be approved by the Majlis and then be ratified by the Guardian Council. It is signed into laws by the president.


Majlis-e Shora-ye Islamic (Islamic Consultative Assembly), known as the Majlis for short, is the Iranian parliament. It has 270 members who are elected by the direct vote of the people for four years. The powers and functions of the Majlis are specified by the constitution (Article 71-90). 

The first Majlis after the Islamic revolution was convened in 1980, the second Majlis in 1984, the third in 1988, and the fourth in 1993.

PMESII Analyst Note: The editors wish to point out that the Majlis was never dissolved, as was the case under the Shah. There have been 290 members since 2001.

A principal requirement for members of parliament (MP) is his/her deep belief in Islam. However, the religious minorities recognized by the constitution, the Zoroastrians, the Jews and the Armenian and Assyrian Christians, have their own representatives. The first two minorities have one MP each and the Armenians, larger in population, have two MPs for the south and north of Iran. The Assyrians have one MP.

PMESII Analyst Note: These groups are referred to as Ahl-e-Kitab “The People of the Book,” and have always been part of Persian society. 

The Majlis has internal rules for meetings, debating and voting on the bills and motions etc., and the tasks of its committees. The Majlis has a steering board comprising a speaker, two deputy speakers who run the meetings in his absence and a number of secretaries and provisions administrators.

Under the provision of Article 69 of the constitution, the deliberations of the Majlis must be open, the full report of which is broadcast by the radio and then published verbatim by the Official Gazette. The president, one of the ministers or ten MPs may call for a closed meeting of the Majlis. The constitution, however, emphasizes that the resolutions of the closed meeting will only become law if they are passed by a majority of three-quarters of the members of parliament (MPs) with Guardian Council members also attending. Ordinary meetings of the Majlis reach quorum by attendance of two-thirds of the MPs, and their resolutions normally become law by simple majority, unless otherwise required by law.

MPs do not have judicial immunity, except under Article 86 of the constitution. In May 1988, a motion effectively amounting to a parliamentary immunity for the members was passed in the first reading. It provided for investigating offences committed by the members before and during membership, by the courts concerned in Tehran. MPs should only be summoned or subpoenaed through the Majlis. Details of the bill were to be decided in the second reading.

PMESII Analyst Note: The inclusion of this point is interesting in light of the numbers of former government officials, including MP’s, who were arrested at the turn of the century.  One singularly pointed example is Hojjat-ol Eslam Abdollah (Nouri) Noori-Hosseinabadi, a cleric who had been a trusted agent to Khomeini, a religious guide to the Revolutionary Guards early in the revolution, an MP for Tehran, the Minister of the Interior, a member of the Supreme Council for National Security, a Vice President in the cabinet of President Khatami in 1999, and the editor of the reformist newspaper Khordad.  Nouri was forced from his Ministry by a coalition of hardline deputies led by Mohammad Reza Bahonar. Nouri was charged with treason, and placed on trial before a Special Clerical Court. After a spectacular trial, in which the “System” was literally placed on trial, he was found guilty on fifteen counts, fined and sentenced to five years in prison. Khordad was shut down, but resurrected under new name, publishing his statements from prison, until that new paper was also shut down. The conviction barred him from running for public office and sidelined him from the 2000 parliamentary elections. Bahonar lost his MP seat in those same elections after sixteen years in the Majlis.


Majlis has the following powers:

*         a) Debating the motions tabled by the government upon the cabinet's approval, as well as bills tabled by at least 15 MPs,

*         b) Debating and inquiring into all the national affairs,

*         c) Approving international treaties, protocols, agreements and contracts,

*         d) Effecting minor changes in the border lines by taking into consideration the national interests, and by a majority of four fifths of MPs,

*         e) Agreeing to the cabinet's request for proclamation of martial law for no more than 30 days,

*         f) Tabling a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or any of the ministers; casting vote of no confidence in the government or in any of the ministers.

PMESII Analyst Note: After fifty-some years of tight control by a monarch, what we might consider routine business functions in a Congressional sense, are “Powers.”  The office of Prime Minister was abolished in the mid-1980’s but the Majlis can table a motion of no confidence in the President and force his removal.   


Majlis has permanent committees to conduct initial discussions about the bills and motions. Moreover, select committees are formed as the need arises. Early 1989 amendments to Majlis rules allowed committees to have between nine and 15 members, with the exception of the constitutional article 90 committee, which can have 15-31 members. The permanent committees are:

1)     Education

2)     Culture and Higher Education

3)      Islamic Guidance and Arts and Mass Media

4)     Economy and Finance

5)     Plan and Budget

6)      Oil

7)     Industry and Mine

8)      Labor and Social Affairs, and Administrative and Employment Affairs

9)      Housing and Urban Development and Roads and Transport

10)  Judicial and Legal Affairs

11)  Defence and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps

12)  Foreign Policy

13)  Internal Affairs & Councils

14)  Health and Welfare, Relief, Social Security and Red Crescent

15)  Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones, and Energy

16)   Commerce and Distribution

17)  Agriculture and Rural Development

18)  Prime Ministry Affiliated Organizations

19)  Accounting Court and the House Budget and Finance

20)  Revolution Institutions

21)  Constitutional Article 90 Petitions Committee which has the task of investigating the complaints of the public against government organizations;

22) Questions Review Committee, which has the task of reviewing the questions of MPs to ministries and the latter's replies. This committee decides if the replies have been satisfactory. Should the committee find a minister's reply unsatisfactory three times, MPs will be able to table a motion of no confidence in the minister concerned.



A bill or a motion may be tabled with the Majlis in two ways:

1)     The government may table it upon the cabinet's approval;

2)      Fifteen MPs may table a motion. The Steering Board of the Chamber is responsible for arranging the debating procedure. The bills are normally debated in turn. Urgent motions are debated under a different procedure as explained later.

Debating procedure begins with the first reading of a bill, which has already been passed by the committee concerned and has been distributed to the MPs. Should the bill's generalities be passed in the first reading, it would then be forwarded to the committee(s) concerned for a review of its details. At this stage, MPs may propose their related amendments. The bill's details and the proposed amendments are discussed and either adopted or rejected. The committee concerned may also invite experts from outside the parliament to take part in its meetings.


Subsequently, the bill comes up for a second reading concerning its details. At this stage, MPs whose proposed amendments have not been adopted by the committee concerned may put their proposal to the full House and call for votes. If the bill is passed in the second reading, it would be forwarded to the Guardian Council for ratification.  Urgent, one-star bills are discussed only once by the committee concerned. Very urgent, two-star bills do not even go to the committees and are debated by two successive meetings of the Chamber. The first meeting deals with the generalities of the bill, and the second discusses its details. Top urgent, three star bills and motions are placed on the agenda immediately. The degree of urgency of the bills has to be approved by a majority of the MPs. Some of the bills cannot be tabled under urgency provisions, such as the budget.





The Majlis is required to forward all its resolutions to the Guardian Council. The council will announce its opinion on them within no more than 10 days. It may, however, request more time if necessary.


The legislation, in regards to the compatibility of with Islamic provisions, only the opinion of a majority of the six Islamic canonists of the council is valid. However, the opinion of the majority of all members will hold in matters concerning constitutionality. The council members are required to attend Majlis debates on urgent bills.


The Guardian Council also has the duty of interpreting the constitutional provisions, and its opinions in this regard are valid after a majority of three-fourths of its members. Other duties of the council include supervision of the presidential elections, general elections and referenda.


The Islamic Council of Guardians of the Constitution has the power to veto any bill. During the first two terms of the Majlis in 1979 and in 1984, this power of veto over legislation imposed a state of imbroglio on important bills such as those dealing with farming lands distribution, foreign trade and goods distribution


PMESII Analyst Note: The editors acknowledge the tumultuous beginnings of the post-revolution Majlis, where the regional parliamentarians were often at odds with the Council of Policy Making for Reconstruction, that the Ayatollah Khomeini had created.  This was the period of the creation of the Bonyads, and of the appropriation by the Republic of much of the private sector.  The authors also limit the discussion on Power to the Council of Guardians, and mention the oversight of candidates for office only in passing.


(Sources: Iran Year Book, 1996): Iranian Government homepage, Religious and Political Discourse in Iran, Forough Jahanbakhsh ; Brown Journal of World Affairs, 2003.



CENTRAL ELEMENTS OF THE IRANIAN GOVERNMENT – graphic relationships depicted

The four branches of the government within the system of systems of the Islamic Republic of Iran are more easily addressed as elements.






The executive branch has the greatest span of control, because it contains the Ministry of the Interior, which nominates the provincial and city governors, provides for public safety, employs civil servants and manages the nomination process of the Islamic Councils of potential candidates for public office. (Refer to the paragraph addressing article 99 and "approbatory supervision” within the Council of Guardians of the Constitution discussion). 


The Ministries of Economic Affairs and Finance (Customs), Agriculture (Fisheries), Cooperatives (Cooperatives), Islamic Culture and Guidance (Islamic Culture and Guidance), Intelligence and Security (Information) and Industries and Mines (Industries) have representatives all of the twenty-eight Provincial Governor General’s staffs.


Majlis parliamentarians maintain contact with their local Islamic Councils and constituents, and the Judiciary (not depicted) reaches down to the local judges and lawyers.


The Supreme Leader appoints a representative to each province and in the case of Sistan Va Baluchestan where the population is Sunni Muslim, has a representative for Sunni affairs.  These clerics are a direct conduit to the Theocratic establishment. The majority of the representatives belong to the Militant Clerics Society (hardline), although other clerics with whom they deal may belong to the Militant Clergy Association (pragmatic).






President of the Islamic Republic


(U) The President is the Executive Agent for the Republic, accountable to the Majlis and the Supreme Leader, elected by popular vote every four years.  He is the senior government administrator, and is also the President of the Supreme Council for National Security. The incumbent in 2003 is Hojjat-o Eslam (Sayed) Ali-Mohammad

Khatami-Ardakani, the immensely popular two-term (mandatory limit) “reformer”. Elected in a landslide victory over the hardliners in 1997, Khatami was championed by the western press, but found less support within government, as many of his supporters were driven from public life, jailed or murdered by the hardliners.  Khatami was  re-elected in 2001, but as he approaches the end of his second term

those who demand social reform are subjecting him to greater criticism, and in particular, the students, who form a major base of reformist support.  There is also some question by Iranian analysts, and Iranian expatriates that Khatami is a “stalking horse” a part of the entrenched establishment acting to draw off potentially disruptive elements of society with promises of change.  He has oversight over budget line items committing funding to terrorist organizations, and there is no question that Khatami was privy to meetings discussing the operations of the Lebanese Islamic Jihad when he was Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance. President Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani is a pragmatist, a better term (the antithesis of Hardliner) to describe some of the actors in Iranian politics.  He has brought Iran into a meaningful dialogue with regional nations helping to broker and maintain peace between ethnic and religious factions in Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan, and behind the scenes diplomacy that helped bring the Karzai government to power in Afghanistan.  More recently, Iran has adjusted its negotiation stance  on  the Caspian Sea energy question, shifting from equal energy shares to percentages, and by identifying “complementary interests” with Azerjaijan.      Some Iranian political scholars, who sum up his greatest challenge, have called Khatami “A Man Beyond His Time”:
















“The real danger does not lie in the lack of understanding about Khatami's thoughts and deeds. The danger lies in the group ie those who voted for Khatami to become president. In spite of what has happened in Iran and the world, this group does not understand Khatami's position and geopolitical situation of Iran.” ”Unfortunately those who were and are Khatami's supporters have not understood this question and expected him to solve all problems of the Iranian society in three years.”


tDOB: 1943 POB: Ardakan, Yazd Province. The son of an ayatollah, and a descendant of the Prophet, Khatami studied theology on Qom, and then took degrees in philosophy at Isfahan and Tehran. He was sent to Hamburg, Germany in 1978 to establish an Islamic Center, and became part of the international network supporting the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Europe.  Khatami returned after the 1979 revolution to serve in the Majlis.  He was appointed the Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance in 1982, but was forced to resign under hardline pressure because he was overly influenced by western decadence.  President Hojjat ol-Eslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani appointed him as an advisor, and later, head of the National Library, and the editor of an intellectual reformist newspaper.


Sources: NETIRAN; Lonely Planets Guide Book; Lonely Planet Publications, Victoria Australia, 2001. Iran’s “Moderates” Are No Reformers. Kenneth R. Timmerman; The Brown Journal of World Affairs 2003. Iran’s Foreign Policy after 11 September. Kaveh Afrasiabi and Abbas Maleki; The Brown Journal of World Affairs 2003



Cabinet Minister example - Vice President for Environmental Protection


This official provides cabinet level advocacy for environmental issues, in the city adjudged by the Iranian Green Party to be the second most polluted city in the world.  Representatives from this office attend most foreign environmental conferences and attempt to institute environmental policy into the actions of the ministries.


Despite her American accented English, stylish pinstriped coats with hoods (under her chador), and her impressive credentials as a journalist and editor, Mrs. Ebektar is a classic example of Revolutionary Legitimacy in Iran.











Niloufar Ebektar was an eighteen-year old freshman at what is now Amir Kabir Polytechnic University in 1979.  She became the spokesperson for the militants who occupied the American Embassy on November 4, 1979.  Millions knew her face and voice as they watched the crisis unfolding.  Referred to as “Sister Mary” by the media  or “Tiger Lilly” (Niloufar means “Lilly” in Persian) by the hostages, she was the West’s first exposure to the dynamics of the Islamic Revolution. Today, as Dr. Mrs. Massoumeh Ebektar (Massoumeh means “innocent woman” in Persian), she is a champion for women’s rights, the environment, and her country.  


Some foreign observers have questioned why President Khatami,  the reformer and advocate for the rule of law, chose Dr. Ebektar as the Islamic Republic’s first female Cabinet member.  Khatami came as close as any Iranian official dared toward apoligizing for the hostage crisis and could have chosen from many other highly qualified women who were outspoken advocates for change.  His selection of his former editor-in-chief and fellow revolutionary activist, who will continue the revolution using her PhD in Immunology, is easily understandable within the dynamic of Iranian society and government (Refer to the discussion of Political Dynamics above).



The Supreme Leader and Staff











Text Box: Supreme Leader casts his vote



The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran  (Velayat-e Faqih) is Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei appointed by the Assembly of Experts (majles-i khubregan) which also has the constitutional right to dismiss the Supreme Leader. The supreme authority is the guide (rahbar) of the revolution. The guide is not expected to interfere with the daily affairs of the government, although he is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and has the power to dismiss the president, and to appoint the heads of the judiciary, revolutionary guards, media, and military. This benevolent control came at a price, extracted by the Ayatollah Khomeini, from those who implemented the Revolution. (See the discussion in Ayatollah Khomeini’s Political Strategy.) His office has four permanent clerical members, two of whom are Iraqi Shia, as part of a total staff of some 600 people.   


Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei, a former president and first IRGC chief, became  an Ayatollah after a somewhat hasty (one day) election upon the death of Ayatollah al-Oazma Khomeini. Khamenei’s selection marked a change in that the leader is no longer required to be a supreme theological authority (marja taqlid) whom Shia Muslims follow. The logical marja taqlid would have been the Ayatollah Montazari, who was then under arrest. Although the Supreme Leader approves every government decision, he rarely makes public comment. Generally when he does so, his comments will be more conservative than those of the president and will serve as a brake to popular policy. His "fingers on the pulse of the nation" are his personal representatives in all twenty-nine provinces.


Khamenei’s actions and opinions have differed markedly from those who have held the office of president, starting with Ali-Akbar Rafsanjani (1989-1997), and continuing through Mohammad Khatami (1997- present (2003)). However, as was discussed in the Political Dynamics in Iran section, all these men are part of a society of clerical families and are active in either the Militant Clerics Association or the Militant Clergy Society.  Ayatollah Khamenei is a third generation cleric, a former prisoner of the Shah, a victim of terrorism, and a former Friday prayer Leader in Tehran. 

supporters was the elder Khatami

Sources: Who’s Who in Iran 1999. Persian Mirrors. Elaine Scholino; Free Press New York 2000. Iran’s “Moderates” Are No Reformers. Kenneth R. Timmerman; The Brown Journal of World Affairs 2003.



Combatant Clergy Association


Conservative (Hardline) Political Faction – Provided by the PMESII Social Analyst


The Combatant Clergy Association (Jame-e Rouhaniat-e Mobarez (JRM)), is composed of right wing conservative elements of Iran’s political culture, including the nation’s foremost politicized clerics, the Friday prayer leaders in most of Iran’s metropolitan areas, the bazaar merchants, and the Supreme Leader.  Not surprisingly, members of this faction support a continuation of the status quo, including strict limits on personal freedoms and the continued primacy of the clergy in the nation’s day-to-day governance.  Important constituents of the Militant Clergy Society include the Islamic Coalition Society and the Coalition of Followers of the Line of the Imam. 



As the foremost advocates of the Iranian status quo that has left millions disenfranchised, the Militant Clergy Society is exceedingly unpopular among rank-and-file Iranians.  The ultra-conservatives that comprise the Militant Clergy Association are perceived to be self-righteous and ridiculously corrupt hypocrites, and so are viewed with increasing derision by substantial portions of the Iranian electorate. 








Text Box: Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati 
- Hard line member of The  Council of Guardians


Text Box: Habbibola Asgoraladi
- Secretary general of The  Islamic Coalition Society




The Militant Clergy Society’s use of the Council of Guardians to blatantly manipulate the electoral system in its favor has turned public disapproval into popular outrage. Its alliance with the powerful charitable foundations or Bonyads (refer to Social PMESII Executive Summary) gives the hardliners the ability to buy, or enforce their will over those who desire change.   These actions have encouraged a constitutional debate regarding the powers afforded to other organs of the Iranian government, such as the Expediency Council, and in 2003 caused Canada to question its diplomatic relations with the regime, after the killing by security forces and burial in Iran, of a Canadian Iranian expatriate photo journalist, who was photographing demonstrations outside Evan prison.  




The Combatant Clerics’ Association


“Reformationist” Clerical  (Pragmatic) Political faction – Provided by the PMESII Social Analyst


The Association of Combatant Clerics (Majma-e Rouhanioun-e Mobarez (MRM)) consists of left-wing theologians who wish to put limits on governmental clerical authority, as well as place the economy under the control of a national entity.  Members of this faction of “reformationist clerics” are more liberally inclined, and may come from any of the four different clerical opposition groups.   Having actively supported Mohammed Khatami in his presidential campaigns, the Militant Clerics’ Association includes intellectuals of the “Khordad Movement” who were frequent contributors to Mr. Khatami’s newspaper. The MRM is a moderate force in contemporary Iranian politics, which believe that Shia Islam protects the rights of citizens. Its prominent members enjoy excellent revolutionary credentials (several of them participated in the seizure of the US embassy in 1979) who, after study of the Quran, and debate have come to the conclusion that religious dogma alone cannot provide for the governance of a modern state. The Association of Combatant Clerics has periodically allied itself with other reformist political groups, although it generally accuses its rivals of intellectual theft during political campaigns.











The Militant Clerics’ Association is to a great extent a victim of its own success.  The candidates that the faction endorses for office are typically so popular among Iran’s young voters that they are viewed as an immediate threat by the more conservative hardline mullahs.  Thus, the hardliners wield their influence over the ultra-conservative Council of Guardians—a monitoring body that judges a political aspirant’s ability to seek office by measuring his commitment to the principles of the

Text Box: Spokesperson Hojjat ol-Eslam Rasoul Montaibria


                Revolution — to prevent moderate candidates allied with the


                Militant  Clerics’ Association from running. 


Sources: Elaine Scholino, Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000). James A. Bill and John A. Williams, Roman Catholics and Shi’I Muslims, (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2002).  Religious and Political Discourse in Iran, Forough Jahanbakhsh;  Brown Journal of World Affairs, 2003.

Assembly of Experts

The Assembly of Experts is at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of consultative theocracy.  Comprised of 83 religious scholars elected from throughout Iran for 8 year terms, they meet at least once a year in Qom but may be called together for special sessions. The Assembly deliberates and debates the merits of potential candidates for Supreme Leader, as well as performing an oversight role. They also have the constitutional authority to depose Supreme Leader in a worst-case scenario. The speaker of the Assembly (2003) is Ayatollah Ali Akbar Meskini-Qomi.















The disposition of the assembly members represents not only the regional demographics and population densities but also the locations of the Republic’s theocratic power base.  Understandably, most of the sixteen members from Tehran Province are also members of the Council of Guardians and the Judiciary.  Khorasan Province, site of the shrine to Imam Reza, the eighth of the Shia imams, has eight representatives.  Khuzestan Province, site of Persia’s ancient capital Susa has six.  Fars Province, with the holy city of Shiraz, has five.  Isfahan Province, site of the most Persian of Iran’s cities (Isfahan), also has five. Azerbaijan-e Khavari Province, with its ancient Christian sites in Tabriz, has five; Gilan Province has four, Mazandaran Province, bordering the Caspian sea, and the last part of Iran to yield to Islam following the Arab invasion, has four; (two of whom are Sayeds).  Azerbaijan-e Gharbi, with its largely Turkish population, has three, (one of whom is a Sayed).  Kerman Province, the gateway to the desert, has three. Kordestan Province, bordering Iraq, has two. Hamadan Province, center of Iran’s oldest Jewish community, has two.  Lorestan Province has two Sayeds. Qazvin, Markazi, and Ardebil Provinces, each have two.  Ilam, Markazi , Yazd,  Boyerahmad va Kohgilueh , Golestan,  Kermanshah, Zanjan, Semnan,  Charmahal va Bakhtiyari, and the holy city of Qom have one assemblyman each. The Coastal Provinces of Bushehr, Hormozgan, and Sistan-va Baluchestan, also have one.  The disposition of assemblymen is understandably focused on the older cultural enclaves and family power bases. (Refer to the Political Dynamics in Iran discussion, and to the Supreme Leader and Staff discussions.)


Sources: NETIRAN, Lonely Planets Guide Book; Lonely Planet Publications, Victoria Australia, 2001. Persian Mirrors. Elaine Scholino; Free Press New York 2000, The Last Great Revolution. Robin Wright; Alfred Knopf, New York, 2000. Who’s Who in Iran 2000.



Ayatollah Khomeini’s Political Strategy (Excerpts)


*         The Mujahidin-e Khaliq (MEK)

*         The Tudah Party

*         The Islamic Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) creation.


Most threatening in Khomeini’s eyes were the far right and the counter-revolutionary right which consisted of many members of the former Shah’s security, police, and military establishments. These were individuals who had just lost a revolution and who now had to fight for their survival. Khomeini believed that such groups had readily available foreign support. The left consisted of groups even more extreme than the Mujahedin, such as the Fidayan-I Khalq and the Paykar groups. These political forces had come out of the revolution with great credibility due to their critical role in defeating the shah’s Royal Guards in mid-February. Furthermore, they had a fifteen-year history of revolutionary resistance and an armed and intact organization. 


Khomeini and his advisers adopted a strategy to slice off these two extremes of the political spectrum. The Fidayan, itself weakened by an internal feud that divided the movement into three parts in 1980, was an easy target since its ideology was largely anti-Islamic in nature. The counterrevolutionary right was also deeply vulnerable because of its past associations with the Pahlavi regime. In 1979 and 1980, these two extremes were largely destroyed. The Mujahedin-e Khaliq, however, was a different story. It, too, claimed commitment to Islam and declared its loyalty to Khomeini. It was also the largest, most dedicated and best organized of all the groups vying for power in post revolutionary Iran. The June 28, 1981, attack on IRP headquarters provided Khomeini and the extremist leaders with the excuse they needed to declare war on the Mujahedin. When the Mujahedin fought back, they only gave the Islamic Republic more martyrs and increased the extremism of a regime that was reminded by the death of every mullah that it was fighting for its very survival. By mid-1982, the Mujahedin were finally broken within Iran; their leader, Massoud Rajavi, had fled to Paris, and their second in command, Musa Khiabani, had been killed in a shoot-out in Tehran. When Rajavi and his leading Mujahedin followers moved under pressure from Paris to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in June 1986, they lost most of their remaining credibility. In the process of mopping up the Mujahedin, the new ruling clerical elite also effectively and relatively easily destroyed the liberal intelligentsia, who suffocated in an atmosphere of extremism and who maintained a visceral aversion to violence.


 Finally, in 1983, Khomeini moved against the Tudeh party. Since the revolution, the Tudeh party had pursued a policy of political pragmatism by allying itself with Khomeini and the clerics. Traditionally aligned with the Soviet Union, this National Iranian Communist party had long suffered from its Soviet associations. Still, it had a forty-year history in Iran, despite the purges carried out against it by the Shah’s regime. During the first three years of the revolution, it supported Khomeini and the IRP, while placing its members in important positions in the bureaucracy. Its members exposed themselves as Communists, and were well known to the revolutionary regime. When Vladimir Kuzichkin, a Soviet dip1omat and KGB Major stationed in Iran, defected to Great Britain in mid-1982, he provided the British with a list of several hundred Soviet agents.  In September, the official voice of the Islamic Republic, Jumhuri-yi-Islami, sharply attacked the Tudeh party and accused it of “throwing a mouse in the soup of the revolution”.’ The British shared Kuzichkin’s information with Iranian authorities, who arrested over one thousand Tudeh members, many of whom had already been under surveillance. Those arrested included Nureddin Kianouri, the influential secretary general of the Tudeh party, who publicly admitted that the party was guilty of treason and espionage in the service of the Soviet Union. On April 30, 1983, Kianouri reported on Iranian television that he had maintained contact with Soviet agents since 1945 and that Iranian members of the Tudeh party had been delivering top-secret military and political documents to the Soviet embassy in Tehran. On May 4, 1983 the Iranian Foreign Ministry announced the expulsion of eight Soviet diplomats for interfering in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic. This dramatic destruction of the Tudeh party in 1983 completed the dismantling of the Iranian left.


            Khomeini and his associates now needed a loyal, effective, military establishment. After purging the Pahalavi-created military officer corps, the revolutionaries created their own parallel force, the Pasdaran-i Inqilab or Revolutionary Guards, which Khomeini decreed into existence on May 5, 1979. This organization fought the guerrilla groups in the streets and alleys of the country. The cleric-rulers had successfully blended the Pasdaran and the regular army into a relatively unified fighting force by the spring of 1982.  Subsequently, after years of fighting both internal opponents and external invaders, the military forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran have become battle hardened, and experienced. Khomeini had managed to create a loyal, determined, and experienced fighting force, one that had been baptized in blood and owed its very existence to him. 


From: James A. Bill, “The Political Strategy of Ayatollah Khomeini – The Islamic Republic and America  “The Eagle and the Lion, The Tragedy of American-Iranian Affairs; Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1988 pp 270 –273.



This representational ONA Systems of Systems (SoSA) analytic product is the result of intense ongoing collaboration between credible knowledge partners in intelligence, academic, and diplomatic circles.  It is entirely open source derived largely from print material and interviews. 


Feedback is welcomed, and should be directed to the Experiment Support Department (ESD) of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) Experimentation Directorate (J9) - attention: Mr. James Hutton, Head of the ESD -(757) 836  2870, -huttonj@je.jfcom.mil , or to the author, Mr, H.C. Lawrence Smith (757)  836 3958 smithh@je.jfcom.mil


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