By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
TEHRAN, June 9 -- Three days before Iranians go to the polls to elect a president, one of the country's most powerful clerics, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, issued an open letter on Tuesday complaining that the country's supreme leader has remained silent in the face of "insults, lies and false allegations" by incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The unusual letter reflects the intensity of the Iranian election campaign, laying bare the deep political rifts and sore feelings within the country's leadership. It is rare for senior Iranian clerics to publicly criticize the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rafsanjani's letter came a week after a bare-knuckled, televised debate between Ahmadinejad and his main challenger, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. During the debate, Ahmadinejad charged that Mousavi's campaign was backed by "corrupt" politicians such as Rafsanjani, whom he called "the main puppet master." Ahmadinejad also accused Rafsanjani, who served as Iran's president from 1989 to 1997, of turning himself and his family members into "billionaires" since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Rafsanjani complained in the letter that Khamenei had "deemed it best to remain silent" instead of censuring Ahmadinejad for the personal attacks. Rafsanjani said he wrote the letter only after demanding an apology from Ahmadinejad and requesting airtime on state television to rebut the allegations. Both requests were denied, according to the letter.
"If the system cannot or does not want to confront such ugly and sin-infected phenomena as insults, lies and false allegations made in that debate, how can we consider ourselves followers of the sacred Islamic system?" Rafsanjani wrote.
As the supreme leader, Khamenei has final say over state policy and religious affairs in Iran. But Rafsanjani is head of the Assembly of Experts, a council of senior clerics that has the power to remove Khamenei if he is deemed unable to carry out his duties or unqualified to serve. In theory, illness or erratic decision making could be grounds for the 86-member assembly to remove the supreme leader by a two-thirds vote. Rafsanjani leads the majority faction in the assembly.
Referring to Khamenei as his "old comrade," Rafsanjani urged the supreme leader to stop Ahmadinejad's attacks.
"One expects your eminence, given your position, responsibility and personality, to take effective measures as you see fit to resolve this problem and eliminate dangerous plots," Rafsanjani wrote. "Put out the fire whose smoke is already visible and prevent its flames from rising and spreading through the elections and beyond."
Since Ahmadinejad's debate with Mousavi, both camps have held a growing number of rallies. Ahmadinejad has called for a "million man" march Wednesday morning in Tehran, and Mousavi's supporters have announced smaller rallies at four locations later in the day.
Ahmadinejad's allegations appear aimed at a dwindling cohort of older clerics and politicians who played significant roles in the revolution that overthrew the monarchy 30 years ago and who largely ran the country until Ahmadinejad unexpectedly defeated Rafsanjani in a runoff election in 2005. Rafsanjani suggested in his letter Tuesday that the campaign of character assassination targeting this group might undermine Iran's system of religious government.
"Without a doubt society and especially the youths need to be informed of the truth. This truth is seriously tied to the system's credibility and the nation's beliefs. I would not have written this letter had this been about the rights of a few individuals," he wrote.
"Many of our old companions in arms who either attained the lofty station of martyrdom or hastened to the remaining life are no longer with us. You, myself and a small number of old companions and peers remain," he wrote, ending with a poetic flourish: "You can stop the bubbling of a spring with just a shovel, but when the water gathers up, you can't stop it with any amount of force."