Friday, October 07, 2005

Which threat needs to be cracked down?

Farhad Mahdavi, Rooz Online:
Over the three-day weekend, residents of Tehran and its outer suburbs were witness to unannounced military exercises that involved the use of live munitions and firepower.

Observers are surprised by the three separate military maneuvers conducted by Basij militias, the army, and, the police forces in Tehran. The Basij exercise was called "Confrontation with Probable Threats" while the police operation was called a "Maneuver to Fight Civil Unrest".

Bajis militias gathered their forces, reportedly to be 5 thousand in number to stop, control and direct traffic in an area covering 11 square kilometers in west of Tehran under the pretext of bringing order to the streets and strengthening the morale of the Basij forces as a measure to prepare themselves to assist the government and police forces. ILNA labor news agency reported that the Basij operation was aimed at bringing order through the use of arms and weapons in order to maintain public order. READ MORE

Tehran’s newspapers reported on the operations in the different parts of the capital based on witness reports, calling them "anti-riot" exercises. The purpose of the maneuvers was to crackdown civil unrest in a hypothetical situation where protests had gotten out of control. Commanders explained that such operations are designed to confront potential civil unrest created by secret agitators. The commander of Tehran's special police forces was quoted saying that these Special Forces were ready to confront any kind of civil unrest in the country. “If protests are not controlled, they can lead to civil unrest,” Colonel Habibollah Jan-Nesar, the commander of the special unit of the police force said. According to him, this type of operation relies on the cooperation of the police, the various Basij volunteers, and the special trained task forces. He further elaborated on the riot-control and civil-disturbance control strategy in these terms. First warnings are issued to those disturbing civil order by the local police units. If the crowds do not heed and the unrest takes on a more violent form through the work of agitators, then special units are called in. If these forces too cannot disrupt the disturbances, then anti-riot forces are brought in and given full control of the situation. Their job is to confront the activists and agitators, and to bring back order to the streets.

Tehranis who normally go hiking in the northern hills on weekends, reported seeing Basij volunteers the night before the maneuvers began. The next day, residents of Karaj and Varamin, both suburbs of greater Tehran, were alarmed and shocked by the sound of tank and personnel carriers movements early in the morning. Telephones began to ring and people ran to the streets to find out what was going on. Then Kayhan newspaper published the first official news of the planned and organized exercises. It quoted commanders directly responsible for the operations. The conservative newspaper’s sources inside the government and security apparatus also enabled it to announce the end of the second phase of the operation the next day, while other newspapers remained in the dark. This was the first time that a military exercise was not pre-announced on national radio and television.

Residents of the suburbs reported that they heard the sound of heavy artillery, and deputy army commander General Kiyumars Heydari confirmed that the exercises were “supported by artillery and missile units of the army.” Another general Tala Ahmari officially announced the end of the second phase of the operation that included tactics to breakthrough barriers created by the hypothetical enemy forces in the streets. This part of the operations involved the use of real fire and munitions, according to him.

While the real motives and goals behind these heavy handed maneuvers that come at a time when the country faces serious international pressure and domestic divisions because of the recent political events, remains unknown, political observers have expressed dismay at the events which provide fertile ground for all kinds of speculations.