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Reformists sweep Tehran municipal vote as Rouhani wins Iran

May 22, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Reformist candidates have reportedly swept municipal elections in the Iranian capital, taking all 21 seats in Tehran as moderate President Hassan Rouhani won a second term. Iranian state television reported Monday that Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, a son of the influential late former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, won more than 1.7 million votes to come in first among the candidates.

The result means reformists can replace Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who had been a presidential candidate before withdrawing to support hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi. Iranian municipal councils choose mayors and decide on budgets and development projects. Iranian media reports suggest reformists won big in other areas as well.

Rouhani, a cleric whose administration struck the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers, decisively won a second term in Friday’s election.

Iran: Rouhani leads initial count; over 70 percent turnout

May 20, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s incumbent President Hassan Rouhani had a commanding 58 percent lead over his rivals in an initial and partial count of votes in the election, according to official figures announced Saturday morning.

Deputy Interior Minister Ali Asghar Ahmadi told journalists in a televised news conference that more than 40 million Iranians voted in Friday’s election. That puts turnout above 70 percent. The strong margin for Rouhani may be enough to give him an outright victory and avoid a two-person runoff next Friday. In 2013, Rouhani won the presidential election with nearly 51 percent of the vote. Turnout for that vote was 73 percent.

Election officials repeatedly extended voting hours until midnight to accommodate long lines of voters, some of whom said they waited hours to cast their ballots. Friday’s vote was largely a referendum on Rouhani’s more moderate political policies, which paved the way for the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that won Iran relief from some sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

The 68-year-old has come to embody more liberal and reform-minded Iranians’ hopes for greater political freedom at home and better relations with the outside world. Preliminary vote tallies have him ahead with 14.6 million votes, out of 25.1 million counted so far.

His nearest challenger is hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, with 10.1 million votes. The two other candidates left in the race, Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, and Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001, respectively have 297,000 and 139,000 votes each.

Iran has no credible political polling to serve as harder metrics for the street buzz around candidates, who need more than 50 percent of the vote to seal victory and avoid a runoff. Iran’s president is the second-most powerful figure within Iran’s political system. He is subordinate to the country’s supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

It is still a powerful post. The president oversees a vast state bureaucracy employing more than 2 million people, is charged with naming Cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy.

All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. No woman has ever been approved to run for president. Ahmadi said the Interior Ministry hopes to have final results later Saturday.

Iranians turn out in large numbers for closely watched vote

May 20, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Millions of Iranians voted late into the night Friday to decide whether incumbent President Hassan Rouhani deserves another four years in office after securing a landmark nuclear deal, or if the sluggish economy demands a new hard-line leader who could return the country to a more confrontational path with the West.

The Islamic Republic’s first presidential election since the 2015 nuclear accord drew surprisingly large numbers of voters to polling stations, with some reporting waiting in line for hours to cast their votes. Election officials extended voting hours at least three times at the more than 63,000 polling places to accommodate the crowds.

Four candidates remain in the race. But for most voters only two mattered, both of them clerics with very different views for the country’s future: Rouhani and hard-line law professor and former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani is a political moderate by Iranian standards, but the 68-year-old has come to embody more liberal and reform-minded Iranians’ hopes for greater political freedom at home and better relations with the outside world.

His supporters are also hoping he can make better progress on improving the economy, a key issue on the minds of the country’s 56 million eligible voters. Many say they are yet to see the benefits of the nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program over the objection of hard-liners in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, symbolically cast the election’s first vote. He called for a large turnout, saying “the country is in the hands of all people.” In Tehran, whose liberal and affluent voters form the bedrock of support for Rouhani, lines at some precincts were much longer than those in his 2013 win. Analysts have suggested a high turnout will aid Rouhani in securing a second four-year term.

“I am happy I could vote for Rouhani,” said Zohreh Amini, a 21-year-old woman studying painting at Tehran Azad University. “He kept the shadow of war far from our country.” Voters who spoke to The Associated Press from the cities of Bandar Abbas, Hamadan, Isfahan, Rashat, Shiraz and Tabriz also described crowded polling places.

The turnout may have spooked Raisi’s camp, who filed a complaint to authorities over what they called “election violations” even before the polls closed, according to a report by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani urged voters to elect someone who won’t be a “hostage” to Western governments and their culture. “The next president should not be someone who makes the enemies happy when he is elected,” said Kermani, who is an adviser to Khamenei.

Rouhani has history on his side in the election. No incumbent president has failed to win re-election since 1981, when Khamenei himself became president. The 56-year-old Raisi, who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

Raisi won the support of two major clerical bodies and promised to boost welfare payments to the poor. His populist posture, anti-corruption rhetoric and get-tough reputation — bolstered by his alleged role condemning inmates to death during Iran’s 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners — hold appeal for conservative rural and working-class voters.

“Rouhani has turned our foreign policies into a mess and damaged our religion,” said Sedigheh Davoodabadi, a 59-year-old housewife in Iran’s holy city of Qom who voted for Raisi. “Rouhani gave everything to the U.S. outright” in the nuclear deal.

Both candidates urged voters to respect the outcome of the vote. Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001, and Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, also remain in the race.

Iranians overseas were also voting in over 300 locations, including 55 in the U.S., where more than 1 million Iranians live. Hard-liners remain suspicious of America, decades after the 1953 U.S.-engineered coup that toppled Iran’s prime minister and the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis in Tehran. President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on Iran has stoked concern as well, though his administration this week took a key step toward preserving the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Iran’s political system combines conservative clerical oversight and state control over large parts of the economy with tightly regulated but still hotly contested elections for key government posts. All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. No woman has ever been approved to run for president.

The president of the Islamic Republic oversees a vast state bureaucracy employing more than 2 million people, is charged with naming Cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy. But he remains subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

The race has heated emotions and pushed public discourse in Iran into areas typically untouched in the tightly controlled state media. That includes Rouhani openly criticizing hard-liners and Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force now involved in the war in Syria and the fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Iraq. Rouhani also found his vehicle besieged by angry coal miners during a visit to a northern mine struck by a deadly explosion earlier this month.

But authorities worry about tempers rising too high, especially after the 2009 disputed re-election of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that saw unrest, mass arrests and killings. Authorities barred Ahmadinejad from running in Friday’s election, and Khamenei warned this week that anyone fomenting unrest “will definitely be slapped in the face.”

That hasn’t stopped those at Rouhani rallies from shouting for the release of the house-arrested leaders of the 2009 Green Movement. Opposition websites have said Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi both have endorsed Rouhani against Raisi. Rouhani promised in his 2013 campaign to free the men, but that pledge so far remains unfulfilled.

Mohammad Khatami, another reformist who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, also has endorsed Rouhani and received a raucous welcome when he voted, according to a clip shared on social media.

Iranian authorities say they believe the vote will exceed a 70 percent turnout.

Associated Press journalists Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Ebrahim Noroozi in Qom, Iran, and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Polls open in first Iran presidential vote since atomic deal

May 19, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians began voting Friday in the country’s first presidential election since its nuclear deal with world powers, as incumbent Hassan Rouhani faced a staunch challenge from a hard-line opponent over his outreach to the West.

The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the 68-year-old cleric’s more moderate policies, which paved the way for the nuclear accord despite opposition from hard-liners. Economic issues also will be on the minds of Iran’s over 56 million eligible voters as they head to more than 63,000 polling places across the country. The average Iranian has yet to see the benefits of the deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, symbolically cast the election’s first vote and called on Iranians to turn out in huge numbers for the poll. “Elections are very important and the fate of the country is in the hands of all people,” he said.

After casting his ballot, Rouhani said whomever the voters elect as president should receive all of the nation’s support. “Any candidate who is elected should be helped to accomplish this heavy responsibility,” Rouhani said. “Anyone who is elected must be helped from tomorrow with unity, happiness and joy.”

Rouhani has history on his side in the election. No incumbent president has failed to win re-election since 1981, when Khamenei became president himself. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, however. Rouhani faces three challengers, the strongest among them hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56.

Raisi, a law professor and former prosecutor who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor to him, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

Raisi won the support of two major clerical bodies and promised to boost welfare payments to the poor. His populist posture, anti-corruption rhetoric and get-tough reputation — bolstered by his alleged role condemning inmates to death during Iran’s 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners — are likely to energize conservative rural and working-class voters.

Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001, and Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, also remain in the race. Iran’s political system combines conservative clerical oversight and state control over large parts of the economy with tightly regulated but still hotly contested elections for key government posts. All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. No woman has been approved to run for president.

The president of the Islamic Republic oversees a vast state bureaucracy, is charged with naming cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy. But he remains subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

The race has heated emotions and pushed public discourse in Iran into areas typically untouched in the tightly controlled state media. That includes Rouhani openly criticizing hard-liners and Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force now involved in the war in Syria and the fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Iraq. Rouhani also found himself surrounded by angry coal miners who beat and threw rocks at his armored SUV during a visit to a northern mine struck by an explosion earlier this month that killed at least 42 people.

But authorities worry about tempers rising too high, especially after the 2009 disputed re-election of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that saw unrest, mass arrests and killings. Authorities barred Ahmadinejad from running in Friday’s election, and Khamenei days ago warned anyone fomenting unrest “will definitely be slapped in the face.”

That hasn’t stopped those at Rouhani rallies from shouting for the house-arrested leaders of the 2009’s Green Movement. Opposition websites have said Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi both have endorsed Rouhani against Raisi. Rouhani promised in his 2013 campaign to free the men, but that pledge so far remains unfulfilled.

Mohammad Khatami, another reformist who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, also has endorsed Rouhani. Supporters of the two leading candidates honked, blared music and held pictures of the hopefuls out of car windows on the traffic-clogged and heavily policed streets of Tehran late into the night Thursday, ignored a ban on campaigning in the final 24 hours before the vote.

Voting is scheduled to run until 6 p.m., though Iran routinely extends voting for several hours in elections. Iranian authorities say they believe the vote will exceed a 70 percent turnout.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Study: Iran plays ‘destructive role’ in Iraq, Syria and 12 other nations

March 8, 2017

A joint study by two European non-governmental organisations that have strong links to EU parliamentarians and other senior European and international figures has accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of 14 Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and playing a “destructive role” in the region.

The study by the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), led by former Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, and the International Committee in Search for Justice (ISJ), both Brussels-based NGOs, paints a dire picture of Iranian interventionism in the region, and accuses Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being directly involved.

“[Iranian] meddling in the affairs of other regional countries is institutionalized and the IRGC top brass has been directly involved,” the report said, directly implicating the Iranian military and state apparatus in destabilization operations around the Middle East.

The report, released earlier this week, criticized the IRGC for undertaking a “hidden occupation” of four countries, namely Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

“In all four, the IRGC has a direct, considerable military presence,” the report detailed, adding that the troop presence in Syria alone in the summer of 2016 was “close to 70,000 Iranian regime proxy forces”. This included not only Iranians, but also sectarian Shia jihadists recruited, trained, funded and controlled by the IRGC, hailing from Iraq, Afghanistan and further afield.

The report exposed the locations of 14 IRGC training camps within Iran where its recruits are divided up according to their nation of origin and the tasks they are allotted, whether front line combat or international terrorist activities.

The European study said: “Every month, hundreds of forces from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Lebanon – countries where the [Iranian] regime is involved in frontline combat – receive military training and are subsequently dispatched to wage terrorism and war.”

According to the researchers who compiled this report, one of the worst affected countries due to Iranian meddling and interventionism is Iraq. Even Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, who was recently appointed to the post in January 2017 used to be the head of the Iraq desk at the IRGC.

‘Designate IRGC as terrorists’

Iran has been increasingly emboldened to act since former US President Barack Obama authorized the much touted nuclear deal with the Tehran regime, the NGOs argued. The deal, brokered by the so-called P5+1, was designed to limit Iranian nuclear ambitions that likely sought to acquire atomic weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

Since sanctions have been largely lifted at the beginning of 2016, Iran has enjoyed increased financial and economic clout, which it has subsequently invested in its efforts to destabilize and influence more than a dozen countries in the Middle East.

The main countries assessed in the report include: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Palestine. The latter is seen by experts on the region to be a public relations campaign conducted by Tehran to increase its Islamic credentials by appearing to support the Palestinians against Israel, while helping regimes around the region crush Palestinian refugee communities.

A prominent example of Iranian support for the brutal crackdowns against Palestinians was in Iraq after the illegal 2003 US-led invasion, where Palestinian refugees were perceived by Iran and their proxy Shia jihadists as being pro-Saddam Hussein. Iranian assistance for killing Palestinians also occurred in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, during the ongoing war against dictator Bashar Al-Assad.

Among its recommendations in its conclusion, the report argued that the IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organisation in the US, Europe and Middle East, with its operations curtailed and the organisation expelled from the entire Middle East, especially Iraq and Syria.

The NGOs also recommended “sanctioning all financial sources and companies affiliated with the IRGC” as well as “initiating international efforts to disband paramilitary groups and terrorist networks affiliated with the [IRGC’s] Quds Force.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170308-study-iran-plays-destructive-role-in-iraq-syria-and-12-other-nations/.

Iranians mourn as former leader Rafsanjani interred

January 10, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hundreds of thousands mourned the late Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday, wailing in grief as his body was interred at a Tehran shrine alongside the leader of the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Rafsanjani’s final resting place near the late Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, reflected his legacy as one of the pillars of Iran’s clerical-dominated political system, as he served in later years as a go-between for hard-liners and reformists.

But even his hourslong funeral highlighted the divisions still at play. Parts of the crowd along his funeral procession at one point chanted in support of opposition leaders under house arrest. Other politicians did not attend the memorial.

Throngs filled main thoroughfares of the capital, with many chanting, beating their chests and wailing in the style of mourning common among Shiite Muslims. The funeral for Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at age 82 after a heart attack, drew both the elite and ordinary people. Shops and schools were closed in national mourning.

Top government and clerical officials first held a funeral service at Tehran University. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed by Rafsanjani’s casket, as other dignitaries knelt before the coffin on which his white cleric’s turban was placed. Mourners reached out their hands toward the coffin.

Just behind Khamenei was President Hassan Rouhani, whose moderate administration reached the recent nuclear deal with world powers. Rouhani, who is all but certain to run for re-election in May, is viewed as embodying Rafsanjani’s realist vision.

Hard-liners also took part in the ceremony Tuesday, like the head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, who stood near his moderate brother, parliament speaker Ali Larijani. Also among them was Qassem Soleimani, a general who heads the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, which focuses on foreign operations like the war in Syria.

Both Soleimani and Rafsanjani are from Iran’s southeastern province of Kerman and worked together during the war with Iraq in the 1980s. “In my opinion, Mr. Hashemi remained the same person from the beginning until the end and held his line in all stages of his life,” Soleimani told state television in a rare public interview. “Nevertheless, Mr. Hashemi sometimes used different tactics.”

Apparently banned from the funeral was former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who remains popular among the young but is deeply disliked by hard-liners. State media have banned the broadcasting of any images of Khatami.

There was also no word of hard-line former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attending the ceremony, though he offered condolences Monday. There was no love lost between the two as Ahmadinejad defeated Rafsanjani in Iran’s 2005 presidential election and later drew his dismay over the crackdown following his contested re-election in 2009.

Outside, mourners carried posters bearing Rafsanjani’s image as his casket slowly made his way through the crowds in the streets. “I rarely attend religious ceremonies, but I am here as an Iranian who cannot forget Rafsanjani’s contribution to developing the political sphere in favor of people in recent years,” said Nima Sheikhi, a computer teacher at a private school.

“I am here to say goodbye to a man who dedicated his life to making Iran better,” said Reza Babaei, a cleric from the eastern town of Birjand near the Afghan border. “He founded the university in my city and developed our region when he was in power.”

Officials put the number of participants in the funeral at over 2 million, though that figure could not be independently verified. Iran’s internal politics also were on display. The semi-official ILNA news agency said that on the sidelines of the funeral, prominent moderate lawmaker Ali Motahari was asked by several mourners to free opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi from the house arrest the two have been under since 2011.

“Our message is clear: The house arrest should be lifted,” some chanted. Police and security forces did not react to the chants, nor others that followed and could be heard in state television footage.

Rafsanjani’s casket later arrived at the ornate, massive shrine to Khomeini, who led the revolution that toppled the American-backed shah. Rafsanjani’s interment there marked a rare privilege inside of Iran’s system, where clerics dominate the levers of power. Only Khomeini’s son Ahmad, who died in 1995 and served as a close aide to his father, had been buried next to his tomb before Tuesday.

Rafsanjani, a close aide to both Khomeini and Khamenei, served as president from 1989 to 1997. He helped launch Iran’s nuclear program and then pushed for reconciliation with the West. Internally, however, his legacy remains mixed. He was massively wealthy and a veteran at maneuvering within Iran’s opaque political system.

He was considered a protector of the moderates, but others distrusted him because he was such an insider and because of accusations he was involved in killing dissidents during his eight-year presidency, which he always denied. Hard-liners distrusted him because of his support of moderates and sought to sideline him, with little success.

His absence in balancing the competing powers, however, will affect Iran going forward, especially as the country edges closer to picking a new supreme leader. “The unexpected death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani could be the first scene in Iran’s nascent leadership transition theater, whose subsequent acts are probably yet to be written,” said Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at The Washington Institute.

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Influential former Iranian leader Rafsanjani dead at age 82

January 08, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily political survivor and multimillionaire mogul who remained among the ruling elite despite moderate views, died Sunday, state TV reported. He was 82.

Iranian media reported he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized north of Tehran, where doctors performed CPR in vain for nearly an hour and a half before declaring him dead. A female newscaster’s voice quivered as she read the news.

She said Rafsanjani, “after a life full of restless efforts in the path of Islam and revolution, had departed for lofty heaven.” Rafsanjani’s mix of sly wit and reputation for cunning moves — both in politics and business — earned him a host of nicknames such as Akbar Shah, or Great King, during a life that touched every major event in Iranian affairs since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

His presence — whether directly or through back channels — was felt in many forms. He was a steady leader in the turbulent years following the overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah, a veteran warrior in the country’s internal political battles and a covert go-between in intrigue such as the Iran-Contra arms deals in the 1980s.

He also was handed an unexpected political resurgence in his later years. The surprise presidential election in 2013 of Rafsanjani’s political soul mate, Hassan Rouhani, gave the former president an insider role in reform-minded efforts that included Rouhani’s push for direct nuclear talks with Washington. World powers and Iran ultimately struck a deal to limit the country’s nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions.

While Rafsanjani was blocked from the 2013 ballot by Iran’s election overseers — presumably worried about boosting his already wide-ranging influence — the former leader embraced Rouhani’s success. “Now I can easily die since people are able to decide their fate by themselves,” he reportedly said last March.

However, Rouhani now faces a crucial presidential election in May which will serve as a referendum on the deal and thawing relations with the West. Rafsanjani was sharply critical of a move by Iran’s constitutional watchdog to block moderates, including Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder, from running for a top clerical body in elections last year.

Rafsanjani was a close aide of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and served as president from 1989 to 1997 during a period of significant changes in Iran. At the time, the country was struggling to rebuild its economy after a devastating 1980-88 war with Iraq, while also cautiously allowing some wider freedoms, as seen in Iran’s highly regarded film and media industry.

He also oversaw key developments in Iran’s nuclear program by negotiating deals with Russia to build an energy-producing reactor in Bushehr, which finally went into service in 2011 after long delays. Behind the scenes, he directed the secret purchase of technology and equipment from Pakistan and elsewhere.

Rafsanjani managed to remain within the ruling theocracy after leaving office, but any dreams of taking on a higher-profile role collapsed with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009 and the intense crackdown that followed. Rafsanjani’s harsh criticism of Ahmadinejad branded him as a dissenter in the eyes of many conservatives.

In a sign of his waning powers, Rafsanjani’s stance cost him his position as one of the Friday prayer leaders at Tehran University, a highly influential position that often is the forum for significant policy statements.

But some analysts believe that Rafsanjani was kept within the ruling fold as a potential mediator with America and its allies in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. His past stature as a trusted Khomeini ally also offered him political protection. Rafsanjani was a top commander in the war with Iraq and played a key role in convincing Khomeini to accept a cease-fire after years of crippling stalemate.

Nearly 25 years later, Rafsanjani tried to revive his credentials among a new generation of reformers by recounting proposals he made to Khomeini in the late 1980s to consider outreach to the United States, still seen by hard-liners as the “Great Satan.”

His image, however, also had darker undertones. He was named by prosecutors in Argentina among Iranian officials suspected of links to a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Some Iranian reformers accused him of involvement in the slaying of liberals and dissidents during his presidency — charges that were never pursued by Iranian authorities.

“The title of Islamic Republic is not just a formality,” he said in 2009 in the chaos after Ahmadinejad’s re-election. “Rest assured, if one of those two aspects is damaged we will lose our revolution. If it loses its Islamic aspect, we will go astray. If it loses its republican aspect, (the Islamic Republic) will not be realized. Based on the reasons that I have offered, without people and their vote there would be no Islamic system.”

Rafsanjani — a portly man with only sparse and wispy chin hairs in contrast to the full beards worn by most Islamic clerics in Iran — first met Khomeini in the Shiite seminaries of Qom in the 1950s and later became a key figure in the Islamic uprising that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

His smooth-skinned visage gave him another nickname that also fit his ruthless image: The Shark. He was elected as head of Iran’s parliament in 1980 and served until 1989, when he was elected for the first of two four-year terms as president.

Here, Rafsanjani began to build his multilayered — and sometimes contradictory — political nature: A supporter of free enterprise, a relative pragmatist toward foreign affairs and an unforgiving leader who showed no mercy to any challenges to his authority.

Rafsanjani took a dim view of state control of the economy — even in the turbulent years after the Islamic Revolution — and encouraged private businesses, development of Tehran’s stock market and ways to boost Iranian exports. His priority was to rebuild the country after eight years of bloody war with Iraq that killed an estimated 1 million people.

He built roads and connected villages to electrical, telephone and water networks for the first time, earning the title of Commander of Reconstruction by his supporters. There were certain self-interests at play, as well.

Rafsanjani was assumed to be the head of a family-run pistachio business, which grew to become one of Iran’s largest exporters and provided the financial foundation for a business empire that would eventually include construction companies, an auto assembly plant, vast real estate holdings and a private airline. In 2003, he was listed among Iran’s “millionaire mullahs” by Forbes magazine.

His economic policies won him praise from Iran’s elite and merchant classes, but brought bitterness from struggling workers seeking greater state handouts. Rafsanjani also faced warnings from the ruling theocracy about pushing too far. None of his reforms dared to undercut the vast power of the Revolutionary Guard — which Rafsanjani briefly commanded, and which controls every key defense and strategic program.

Rafsanjani’s complex legacy also was shaped by the times. He took over the presidency in a critical time of transition just after the death of Khomeini. He tried to make overtures for better ties with the U.S. after the American-led invasion of Kuwait in 1991 to drive out Iraqi forces, arguing that Iran paid too high a price for its diplomatic freeze with Washington.

But he could not overcome opposition from Iranian hard-liners and failed to win the backing of Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for bold foreign policy moves. He also angered the West by strengthening Iran’s ties to armed groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

“One of the wrong things we did, in the revolutionary atmosphere, was constantly to make enemies,” he said in a 1987 interview. “We pushed those who could have been neutral into hostility.” Rafsanjani was born in 1934 in the village of Bahraman in southeastern Iran’s pistachio-growing region of Rafsanjan. His father, too, was a pistachio farmer with a growing business that would later be expanded into a colossal enterprise.

Rafsanjani was jailed for several years under the shah. He then helped organize the network of mullahs that became Khomeini’s revolutionary underground. In 1965, he is reputed to have provided the handgun for the assassination of Iran’s prime minister, Hassan Ali Mansoor.

Only months after the revolution, Rafsanjani was shot once in the stomach by gunmen from one of the groups vying for power amid the political turmoil. He was not seriously wounded — and neither was his wife, who jumped in front to shield him from the attack.

“Great men of history do not die,” Khomeini said in announcing that Rafsanjani had survived. In 1980, Rafsanjani was appointed head of the new parliament, or majlis, and was often regarded as the second most powerful man in the country. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the republic’s first president, who was forced into exile in 1981 during a power struggle, described Rafsanjani in Machiavellian terms.

“He’s a man with a marked taste for power,” he said in a 1989 interview with The Associated Press from his exile in France. “He’s a political animal.” Bani-Sadr said Rafsanjani also used to play the role of court jester to amuse Khomeini.

“He’s a man who makes people laugh,” Bani-Sadr said. “It’s a great art. He makes Khomeini laugh. He uses this to gain his objectives … He’s not brilliant as an organizer and he doesn’t have too many original ideas, but he’s a manipulator and he’s intelligent.”

During the 1980s, he used his links with Lebanese Shiite extremists to help secure the release of Western hostages in Lebanon and was a key middleman — identified as “Raf” in Pentagon documents — in the secret Iran-Contra dealings to funnel U.S. arms to Iran in exchange for money used to fund Nicaraguan rebels.

Although Rafsanjani was seen by Washington as a potential ice breaker in relations, his views were far from solidly pro-Western and displayed conflicted positions. Shortly after becoming president in 1989, he urged Palestinians to kill Westerners to retaliate for Israel’s attacks in the occupied territories.

“It is not hard to kill Americans or Frenchmen,” he said. In February 1994, Rafsanjani survived a second assassination attempt. A lone gunman fired at him as he was speaking to mark the 15th anniversary of the revolution. Unhurt and unshaken, Rafsanjani calmed a crowd of thousands and continued his speech.

The Iran-Contra fallout is an often-told tale about the dangers of crossing Rafsanjani. After word was leaked to a Beirut magazine about Rafsanjani’s involvement, he ordered the arrest of the source, a senior adviser to the ruling clerics named Mehdi Hashemi, for treason and other charges. Hashemi and others were executed in September 1987.

After leaving the presidency, Rafsanjani’s main forum was his spot as one of the Friday prayer leaders. His sermons could run for more than two hours and were delivered without notes. In 1999 — amid the first major pro-reform unrest at Tehran University — he praised the use of force to put down the protests.

A decade later, however, he was dismayed at the brutal crackdown against opposition groups and others claiming Ahmadinejad won re-election in June 2009 through vote rigging sanctioned by the ruling theocracy.

Khamenei decided to throw his backing behind Ahmadinejad, effectively snubbing Rafsanjani and his complaints. Later, Rafsanjani fell short on efforts to mobilize enough moderate clerics in the Assembly of Experts — the only group with the power to dismiss the supreme leader — to force possible concessions from Khamenei on the postelection clampdowns.

Rafsanjani was forced out of the post in 2011, but remained as head of the Expediency Council, an advisory body that mediates disputes between the parliament and the Guardian Council, a watchdog group controlled by hard-line clerics.

In January 2012, a court sentenced Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, to six months in prison on charges of criticizing the ruling system. In 2013, Iran’s election watchdog rejected his nomination for the presidential campaign, hinting at his age.

In 2015, a court sentenced his younger son, Mahdi, to a 10-year prison term over embezzlement and security charges. Rafsanjani is survived by his wife, Effat Marashi, and five children.

Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report. Biographical material in this story was written by former AP staffer Brian Murphy.

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