Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emerged from hiding on Wednesday to deliver a rare public speech in which he told Iranians, "We can rest the day that we raise the flag of martyrs over the White House," according to an independent translation of Persian language media reports.
Ahmadinejad, most notorious for his Holocaust denial and militaristic rhetoric, visited war zones in southern Iran just a week after Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a similar visit to the region.
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The comments were initially reported by Iran’s Basij News Agency, an official state organ controlled by the country’s powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Ahmadinejad’s reappearance on the public stage comes as Iran continues to negotiate with Western powers over its contested nuclear weapons program. The former president’s violent rhetoric is being viewed as a sign that Iranian hardliners are making a political comeback in Tehran.
"This was Ahmadinejad’s first political comment after a long silence, more importantly it is reported by a news agency controlled by [Iran’s] powerful Basij forces, the Iranian version of SS forces," Saeed Ghasseminejad, cofounder of Iranian Liberal Students and Graduates, told the Washington Free Beacon.
"Ahmadinejad also got the chance to sit close to Khamenei, as Khamenei’s website and IRGC-run Fars News reported," Ghasseminejad said.
This may be seen as "a significant sign in Iran’s politics showing that Ahmadinejad’s relation with Khamenei is improving," he said. "It seems that Khamenei and powerful forces in his office have decided not to keep Ahmadinejad totally out of the loop."
Khamenei exerts total control over Iranian politics and its figureheads, meaning that if the Supreme Leader gives the go-ahead, Ahmadinejad could regain political power.
"If Khamenei’s office gives Ahmadinejad the permission to become more active, it is a sign that Khamenei is planning to strengthen the revolutionary hardliner’s position, who surprisingly lost the presidential election to a coalition of reformists and conservatives," Ghasseminejad said.
"Khamenei’s recent speeches and Ahmadinejad’s return show that hardliners are planning to strike back, of course after Khamenei’s permission," he said.
Ahmadinejad’s violent rhetoric and public appearance with Khamenei may also be a signal to Iran’s political elite, particularly the Larijani brothers, who have warred with Ahmadinejad in the past and attempted to discredit him.
The Khamenei-Ahmadinejad alliance "sends a signal to the Larijani brothers who deeply hate Ahmadinejad and continuously have been seeking permission to take Ahmadinejad down," explained Ghasseminejad.
"Recently Ahmadinejad’s vice president was summoned to court, a sign that the Larijani brothers who control legislative and judiciary branches are eager to go after Ahmadinejad himself," he said. "Ahmadinejad is a powerful figure among hardliners and one of the few politicians in conservative camps who really enjoys popular support."
Khamenei, in a speech last week before Ahmadinejad’s appearance in Iran’s southern region, focused on "resistance in the face of what he called ‘estekbar,’" otherwise known as "a religious translation of imperialism" that typically refers to the West and, more narrowly, the United States, Ghasseminejad explained.