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The Battle For Succession In Iran Takes Its Toll

The former head of Iran's Judiciary (L) in the referral ceremony of his successor Ebrahim Raeisi, on March 11, 2019.

While attacks on Expediency Discernment Council Chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani continue, he has given a strongly worded answer to one of his critics, hardliner Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi.

Yazdi had last week accused Larijani of corruption, while also questioning his credentials as a Shiite seminary scholar, saying that he has never been effective in Qom, and his threat to leave for the Najaf Seminary was baseless as he lacked necessary scholarly qualifications.

Larijani in a letter published on the Expediency Discernment Council's official website accused Yazdi of being "rude," and "insulting" him as well as "repeating lies" against him.

Larijani also denied that he was planning to leave Iran for Iraq because of accusations of financial corruption Yazdi and others have levelled on one of his aides.

In another part of the letter, he attacked Yazdi, accusing him of hypocrisy as he resided in a luxurious building while accusing Larijani of building a luxurious seminary.

Meanwhile, Larijani strongly attacked Yazdi's integrity and religious knowledge credentials as a member of the Guardian Council.

In the letter Larijani has not responded to charges made against him on the state TV. However, he said that attacks against him, particularly on the TV, were part of "a pre-planned scenario" and "a bigger project" to tarnish his image.

He also threatened that he has a catalogue of secrets about high-ranking political figures and children of Iran's political elite, while also pointing out that he was aware of corruption among officials in various offices including the IRGC intelligence organization.

Analysts generally believe that the controversy about Larijani is part of the campaign for succession in the Post-Khamenei Iran. Larijani is believed to be a contestant for the post of Supreme Leader after Khamenei dies.

The new game in the battle over political power in Iran is a test for Khamenei to show how he deals with one of his most loyal and obedient subordinates.

For ten years Larijani, appointed by Khamenei, headed the powerful Judiciary until he was replaced last December by Ebrahim Raeesi, another hardliner cleric.

An analysis by Radio Farda’s Ehsan Mehrabi published in Persian points out an "early succession campaign" among the contestants for Iran's leadership, in which the campaign against corruption is simply a weapon to be used against rivals.

Mehrabi notes in his article that Iranian analysts believe attacks on Larijani started from Khamenei's office where one of the employees, hardliner Alireza Zakani initiated it, possibly with Khamenei’s or his office's green light.

According to Mehrabi, for Khamenei's children and those in his office one assumption is that Raeesi, a relatively lonesome figure, is easier to control in the future than Larijani who has his own network. Larijani will not need them and can ignore them because he already has his own men.

Radio Farda analyst Reza Haqiqatnejad writes in another analysis that threatening to leave Iran marks Larijani's fear of his possible elimination and disgrace, adding that this is not unprecedented in the Iranian politics.

Haqiqatnejad notes that criticism of Larijani and character assassination attempts against him started two years ago when his political rivals charged that his daughter was spying for the United Kingdom.

The analyst points out that the reason Larijani overcame the dangerous accusations was that at the time he was Iran's Judiciary Chief and could have prosecuted those who attacked him.

According to Haqiqatnejad, there could be two scenarios to prevent Larijani from taking part in the succession campaign. The first scenario aims at isolating him and limiting his activities by putting his aides in jail. This is what happened to Ahmadinejad.

In the second scenario, current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi is implicitly supporting the attacks on Larijani in order to completely get him out of his way to succession. In case this succeeds, Larijani’s political influence will mostly disappear and he will withdraw to a seminary. This will not only impact him but his brothers, who all hold important positions.

Ten years ago, the same kind of rivalry and battle for political power was playing out between Larijani as the -then- new Judiciary Chief and his predecessor Shahroudi, both contestants for succession.

There is also a role for Khamenei to play in this latest round of political games in Iran. His silence, for any reason, including not being fit enough to get himself involved in yet another emotional battle, will be taken as his approval of the attacks on Larijani.

According to another Radio Farda analyst Morad Veisi, "There are three possible scenarios for the current developments: An attempt to eliminate Larijani in favor of Raeesi as the next leader; a propaganda campaign to highlight Khamenei's fight against financial corruption among the elites; and finally, the third scenario: First, eliminating the outdated Larijani, and then getting rid of Raeesi in favor of Khamenei's son, Mojtaba."

Nevertheless, according to Veisi, "It is unbelievable that attacks on Larijani are taking place without the Supreme Leader's green light."

The same kind of irony is also evident in Haqiqatnejad's final paragraph. He writes : "The new game in the battle over political power in Iran is a test for Khamenei to show how he deals with one of his most loyal and obedient subordinates. Revolutions are said to devour their own children. It would be interesting to see what the 'leader of the revolution' is going to do to the children of the revolution."