The Iranian army threatened violence against widespread and growing anti-regime protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini as the country’s president returned home after a trip to the United Nations.
“The army stands ready to defend the security and interests of the Iranian nation against the enemy’s conspiracies,” the army statement said. “The army personnel fully support their comrades in the police forces and are ready to deal with the various plots of the enemy.”
The warning came as protesters prepared Friday for an eighth straight night of street fighting with security forces.
“Both sides are preparing to step out in full force,” said Mehdi Hajati, a former Shiraz city councilor and activist who is now in exile. “Since the night before last, the regime has increased repression. People have reached such a level of anger that they are already somewhere between life and death.”
President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit to New York was marred by images of fiery street fighting between protesters and security forces across his country, as well as his refusal to attend a long-planned meeting CNN Interview because the interviewer, British-Iranian correspondent Christiane Amanpour, refused to wear the Islamic headscarf during the exchange.
On Thursday, as Mr. Raisi mingled with the press and academics in New York, US President Joseph Biden’s administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s “lead patrols,” the specialized law enforcement branch responsible for policing the public dress and behavior of Iranians responsible is.
Amini’s arrest by vice patrols on September 13 on charges of violating the Islamic dress code and her subsequent and still-unexplained death sparked a week of unprecedented street protests across Iran. The impromptu evening gatherings have drawn tens of thousands of people from all walks of life and ethnicity in the country, many of whom have been clamoring for the fall of the Islamic Republic.
But the regime appeared to be preparing to step up its efforts to crack down on the protests.
It has throttled internet bandwidth and blocked access to social media platforms. She has arrested hundreds of people, including well-known activists and journalists, who have been held in their homes. At least 211 people have been arrested for rioting in Gilan, a province on the Caspian Sea that includes the city of Rasht.
On Friday, thousands of regime supporters were deployed to chant slogans in support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and condemn protesters during weekly Muslim Sabbath prayers.
“For a long time, the enemies of you people were looking for an excuse, but they didn’t succeed…until they found this problem to compare the system,” hard-liner Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told the congregation in Tehran in his sermon. “These riots are against you people as they have burned the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a source of pride for you.”
The audience for such sermons are often members of the uniformed security forces, the Revolutionary Guard, the secret service and ideologically committed informal paramilitary groups.
Some Iranians hoped the army would stay out of the political fray. But the regular armed forces are increasingly coming under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. The army played a role in the violent crackdown on protests over prices and water shortages in the southwest in 2019, and its statement against protesters on Friday marks further erosion of the institution’s image as an independent entity.
“Today, the enemies of the Islamic regime, who have failed in various areas of enmity with the Islamic regime, use every subterfuge and tactic to deprive the people of comfort and peace,” the statement said, echoing the same talking points as Mr. Khatami and other leaders of Friday prayer. “They create uncertainty and chaos.”
Mr Hajati said such statements should be treated with caution and were likely fabricated by apparatchiks in Mr Khamenei’s elite Supreme National Security Council and vast personal bureaucracy.
“Just as what Raisi said before the UN had nothing to do with what is in the hearts of the people of Iran,” he said, “the army’s statement has nothing to do with what is in the hearts of the people.” armed forces is .”