The power struggle inside Iran is intensifying, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ultra-radical camp continues to clash with the traditional hardline camp that has dominated most of the previous Iranian presidencies. Ahmadinejad, backed by cronies from the increasingly influential Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has sought to marginalize members of the older generation with links to Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 revolution.

One of the latest disputes involves Ahmadinejad’s effort to seize control of one of the largest Iranian academic institutions as part of the regime’s cultural purge of the university system. Azad University, which was founded by former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, a bitter critic of Ahmadinejad, has a wealthy endowment and campuses in cities throughout Iran.

There is also growing tension between Ahmadinejad’s regime and the country’s bazaar merchants, an important base of support for Khomeini’s revolution that has increasingly chafed under the growing burdens imposed by state domination of the economy. Angered by a rumor that the government was going to increase income taxes, leaders of Tehran’s traditional bazaar district called a strike last week, which prompted police raids that led to the death of at least one merchant in a politically charged clash. The growing restiveness of the urban merchants, a former stronghold of support for the regime, reveals the widening cracks in the Ahmadinejad regime’s shrinking base of support.

Meanwhile a rebellious Sunni extremist terrorist group bombed a mosque in southeastern Iran on July 15, killing at least 27 people. The attack was claimed by Jundallah (Soldiers of God) which purports to be fighting for the rights of Iran’s Baluch minority. The bombing came on the birthday of the Imam Hussein, the martyred grandson of Mohammed, a day that is commemorated in Iran to honor the Revolutionary Guard. The elite force is hated by rebellious Baluchis, Kurds, and other minorities repressed by the regime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately denounced the attack and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable: “I condemn in the strongest possible terms today’s terrorist attacks claimed by Jundallah that targeted Iranians at a mosque in the Sistan-Baluchestan province of Iran.” But this did not stop the regime from blaming Jundallah’s attack on the United States and Britain.

The Obama Administration should stop trying to curry favor with an implacably hostile regime in Tehran and start giving greater support to the Iranian opposition. Although the regime’s thugs in the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia have driven protesters off the streets, the regime faces a deteriorating economic situation, greater international isolation, and growing sanctions that will make it increasingly unpopular in the future. The United States needs to do more to publicize and defend the legitimate demands of the Iranian people for greater political, economic, and social freedoms and to document the human rights abuses, corruption, lavish support for terrorist groups, and brutal repression of the Ahmadinejad regime. In the meantime, the United States needs to prudently build up missile defenses, cooperate closely with allies threatened by Iran, and consider further sanctions and possible military options to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon before the next Iranian revolution.

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