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Who's next? Laying bets on the next regime to fall
By John Nowacki
With the war in Iraq largely over and Saddam Hussein's régime out of power, there has been a lot of speculation about who's next. Will it be Syria, accused of harboring members of the former Iraqi régime? Axis of Evil member North Korea, with its nuclear weapons program? Or Iran, the other remaining member of the Axis, with its state sponsorship of terrorism and attempts to thwart the establishment of a truly representative government in neighboring Iraq?
As things stand now, the answer could be Iran, though not in the way most people expect.
Nearly four years ago, thousands of Iranian students took to the streets in protest against the mullahs who are the real power in Iran. Since then, resentment of the repressive rule has not abated. As the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen has reported, thousands of people marched chanting "Death to the Taliban in Kabul and Tehran" just a year ago, and not long afterward, a minor deputy in the Iranian parliament read a fatwa from Ayatollah Montazeri - who has been under house arrest for years -- on live television, saying that those who use suicide terrorism to kill women and children are damned to eternity in Hell. Student groups that have previously supported the "reformist" President Khatami have condemned him as a failure, and according to Ledeen, a secret poll carried out by the Interior Ministry found that 94 percent of 16,000 people surveyed in Tehran were unhappy with the régime. Almost half said it is incapable of reform and must be totally changed. As Ledeen points out, those numbers are surely understated, given that many people would have been reluctant to risk denouncing the régime.
Last October, the state polling institution actually disclosed that ruling mullah Ayatollah Khamenei was the most unpopular man in the nation and that three quarters of the Iranian people want good relations with the United States (not surprising, given that 70 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30), leading to the arrest of both the institution's head and the newspaper editor who printed the story. And in the municipal elections held last month, official turnout - undoubtedly exaggerated - was just ten percent, despite efforts by régime leaders to encourage an impressive turnout.
In short, Iranians are tired of the régime and seemingly tired of what it stands for.
July 9th will be the fourth anniversary of that massive demonstration against the mullahs, and student groups are reportedly organizing a general strike that they hope will have a domino effect spelling an end to the rule of the ayatollahs. With the rule of the Taliban ended on one side of the country and the rule of Saddam Hussein over on the other, many believe there is a real chance to transform Iran into a genuine democracy, though some say it will take moral support from the U.S. to make the difference.
"If we did this right, we could have a régime change in Iran. It would just take for the U.S. to make very clear that we want to change the régime - no platitudes, no pussyfooting around," Georgetown University professor Rob Sobhani was quoted as saying in the New York Sun last week. It's a point Ledeen has been making for years. I hope they're right.
I have fond memories of life in Tehran before the revolution, and of the generosity and kindness of the Iranians whom I knew while living there. It's often saddened me to think of how few of them are probably still around after the madness of the ensuing years. However, the possibility that the Iranians themselves may finally end the rule of the mullahs and their membership in the Axis of Evil is truly wonderful, and I hope it's not too good to be true.
It was really amazing to watch that statue fall in Baghdad, and while the pictures that may come from Tehran would not be the same, there's no doubt that the sentiments of free Iranians would be. If moral support is what they need, let's do what it takes.
John Nowacki is Director of Legal Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.
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