After 50 days of unrest, Iranian police and security forces are being spread thin by persistent anti-state protests. Eager to avoid further recrimination, officials have begun a blame game that could spiral.
Six weeks into Iran's mass, anti-state protests, there are signs of discord among Tehran's top officials about what has gone wrong.
The protests, which have persisted in spite of repression, erupted as Iranians became enraged by the death of a 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She died in police custody in Tehran after being arrested for not tightening her Islamic headscarf.
Police personnel and commanders have shown undoubted zeal in castigating protesters but are now bearing the brunt of criticisms from some politicians. The regime may view them as the easiest scapegoats, and two officers have already been sacked for "negligence."
The legislator Ahmad Alirezabeigi told the local ISNA news agency on Oct. 31 that police "mismanagement" was costing the country "very dearly."
Certain Iranian websites later removed his remarks, suggesting they contradicted the official line, which is barely discernible in any case. Aside from habitual denunciations of protesters as paid agitators and warnings of foreign meddling, the state has failed to explain why so many Iranians are demanding the end of the clerical regime.
Blame game and conspiracies
Alirezabeigi sought to blame the police for it all. In the Sistan-Baluchestan province in east Tehran, police fired teargas and gunfire at protestors. At least one 12-year-old boy was shot. Their conduct, Alirezabeigi said, has "created distrust," while the "absence of structure and suitable management in the police" was noticeable.
The police haven't been quiet meanwhile.
He added, "we've had complaints in the past month" about police damaging private property. Before him, a member of the Assembly of Clerics, the body tasked with supervising Iran's supreme leader, Abulhasan Mahdavi, had qualified police conduct toward protesters as "mistaken."
Meanwhile, the police haven't been quiet, filing complaints against four legislators for commenting on their handling of protests. Regarding reports of agents damaging property, the Tehran police department issued a statement accusing "opportunists" in riot police uniforms of engaging in vandalism to discredit the force.
The head of the Armed Forces Judicial Organization has also claimed, strangely, that footage of policemen breaking people's motorbikes was fake. The elements shown, he said, were wielding the wrong batons and a "white band on their caps," which is not on the uniform of policemen or riot police. If that were the case, should the police or parliament not investigate who could have sent provocateurs onto the streets duly dressed as policemen?
Iranian woman remove their headscarf and clash with police during protest for Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's ''morality police'', in Tehran.
Moderation or crackdown?
Meanwhile, on Oct. 31, the Canadian government unveiled a fourth set of sanctions against four Iranian officials and two agencies, including the national police and the Tehran police chief, Hussein Rahimi.
All of society seems to be in turmoil in Iran after seven weeks of unrest. With police personnel pushed to their limits, streets have become unsafe for regime hands, agents or clerics. There have been reports of persons identified as regime officials or supporters receiving a beating in quiet streets or in the dark.
Expect more discord.
A member of parliament's legal affairs committee, Mehdi Baqeri, recently said the police were short of manpower and "expertise," but vowed "we won't back down on the hijab," or the Islamic garb women have been forced to wear in public for 40 years. Officials thus insist on restricting the unrest to a matter of headscarves or the limits of private life, and refuse to contemplate anything worse.
Given this vast rift between state and public perceptions and the regime's ongoing crimes — including the killing of minors — expect more discord among officials over the protests.
Some politicians will tout a measure of moderation and flexibility, as others have already called for the harshest response. Neither strategy is likely to save the Islamic Republic, given the evolution of the nation's mood, but a harsh response will mean dismal additions to its litany of crimes over the last 40 years.
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