US should sanction Iran’s incendiary kingmaker

By Tzvi Kahn
Source: The Hill


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He has called for death to America and Israel. He has described non-Muslims as “animals who roam the earth and engage in corruption.” He has dubbed U.S. troops in Iraq “bloodthirsty wolves” and expressed support for Shiite militias seeking their demise. He has hosted Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as an honored guest. He has demanded the execution of Iranian protestors, urging the judiciary in 2009 to show them no “compassion and leniency.” He has described the latest nationwide demonstrations, which began in late 2017, as a Western plot to subvert Tehran.

And he plays a major role, behind closed doors, in selecting the leadership of Iran’s clerical regime.

Meet Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, 92, who heads two powerful committees responsible for appointing Iran’s supreme leader, vetting candidates for key elected offices, and screening legislation passed by Iran’s parliament — all to ensure fidelity to the regime’s theocratic constitution and Islamist creed. In effect, Jannati constitutes the Islamic Republic’s unelected kingmaker, the power behind the throne who helps preserve the structure and character of the repressive political system.

To express solidarity with the Iranian people and send Tehran a message that its latest provocations in the Persian Gulf will carry a price, the Trump administration should sanction Jannati and his key colleagues.

As chairman of Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council since 1992, Jannati has prevented thousands of Iranians from running for office. Most recently, in the 2017 presidential election, 1,636 candidates, including 137 women, registered to compete; the council permitted only six men, including the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, to vie for the job. In the 2016 parliamentary election, the council nixed 5,894 of the 12,123 applicants.

The 88-member Assembly of Experts, which Jannati has chaired since 2016, possesses even greater power: It retains the ability to appoint, dismiss, and supervise the performance of the supreme leader, Iran’s ultimate decision-maker. In practice, however, the assembly has served as a rubber stamp for the only two men who have occupied the office: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who died in 1989, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ruled since then. And while a popular vote determines the assembly’s members, who in turn elect its chairman by majority ballot, the Guardian Council once again vets assembly contenders. In 2016, the council rebuffed 640 out of 801 hopefuls.

In this context, the Guardian Council further bolsters the theocracy by vetoing parliamentary bills that would undermine the regime’s power and ideology. In 2018, for example, the council dismissed two bills that would require Iran — pursuant to the demands of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body that sets standards for anti-money laundering and combating terror financing — to join UN conventions aimed at fighting terror finance and transnational organized crime.

If the council vetoes a bill, the parliament may then refer the issue to another committee known as the Expediency Council, which adjudicates disputes between the two bodies and serves as an advisory board to the supreme leader. As it happens, though, Khamenei appoints all of the Expediency Council’s 39 members, who include Jannati, the Guardian Council’s five other clerics, and Raisi. Both FATF-related bills remain pending before it. 

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