War pow­ers:

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERIN CUN­NING­HAM erin.cun­ning­[email protected]­post.com Ka­reem Fahim con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Se­nate has votes to limit Trump’s author­ity.

IS­TAN­BUL — For a brief mo­ment this month, Iran’s rulers ap­peared buoyed by the wave of na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment that swept the coun­try af­ter the U.S. killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Now that sup­port has been clouded by anger, as pub­lic out­rage grows over Tehran’s ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ing down of a civil­ian air­liner last week.

Af­ter days of de­nial, Iran’s armed forces said Satur­day that the plane — Ukraine In­ter­na­tional Air­lines Flight 752 — was shot down when they mis­took it for a hos­tile air­craft. Since then, spo­radic protests crit­i­ciz­ing the govern­ment have flared in Tehran and other cities.

On Tues­day, stu­dent pro­test­ers at the Univer­sity of Tehran chanted anti-govern­ment slo­gans as of­fi­cials scram­bled to find a way to quell the grow­ing un­rest. Iran’s ju­di­ciary spokesman an­nounced the ar­rest of “some in­di­vid­u­als” in con­nec­tion with the plane’s down­ing but of­fered no de­tail on who had been de­tained.

Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, a rel­a­tive mod­er­ate, ap­peared to urge Iran’s mil­i­tary brass to “ex­plain to the pub­lic” why it took days to re­veal that the plane had been shot down. “It is very im­por­tant for our peo­ple that who­ever, at any level, was to blame should be in­tro­duced and who­ever is to be pun­ished, should be pun­ished,” Rouhani said.

Iran’s state me­dia said that the coun­try’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, would take the ex­cep­tional step of lead­ing Fri­day prayers in Tehran this week for the first time in eight years.

The ef­forts by se­nior of­fi­cials to calm the pub­lic are in stark con­trast to the de­fi­ant tones struck by Tehran amid an out­pour­ing of grief this month for Soleimani at his funeral pro­ces­sion, which was at­tended by hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ira­ni­ans. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of th­ese pub­lic dis­plays of pas­sion, less than a week apart, high­light the ten­sions and fis­sures in the body politic of Iran, a na­tion of some 80 mil­lion peo­ple whose at­ti­tudes at times clash and other times con­verge.

Iran is of­ten pre­sented “as a mono­lith . . . a coun­try where all of its ci­ti­zens move as one,” said Reza Ak­bari, a re­searcher of Ira­nian pol­i­tics at the In­sti­tute for War and Peace Re­port­ing in Wash­ing­ton. “But Ira­ni­ans are ca­pa­ble of con­demn­ing U.S. at­tacks against their sovereignt­y while protest­ing the gross neg­li­gence of their govern­ment,” he said.

For many Ira­ni­ans, Soleimani’s killing in a U.S. drone strike in Bagh­dad was a na­tional af­front and came amid wide­spread re­sent­ment over harsh eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed on Iran by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter it with­drew the United States in 2018 from the land­mark nu­clear deal. The mourn­ing and anger were real, even as some Ira­ni­ans re­ported that the govern­ment had worked to bol­ster the crowds.

At the same time, the protests over the downed air­liner, Ak­bari said, align with longer-term demands from the Ira­nian pop­u­la­tion for trans­parency, jus­tice and ac­count­abil­ity. Th­ese demon­stra­tions, along with wide­spread un­rest that gripped Iran in Novem­ber, re­flect frus­tra­tion with the govern­ment over a wide range of sub­jects, in­clud­ing cor­rup­tion, eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment and po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion.

“Iran is a di­verse and dy­namic so­ci­ety . . . [and] the large turnout across Iran for Soleimani’s funeral pro­ces­sions, as well as the an­gry protests against the regime for shoot­ing down the Ukraine flight, are ev­i­dence of that di­ver­sity,” said Af­shon Os­to­var, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of na­tional se­cu­rity af­fairs at the Naval Post­grad­u­ate School and the au­thor of “Van­guard of the Imam: Re­li­gion, Pol­i­tics, and Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards.”

Over the past week, some Ira­ni­ans who are tra­di­tion­ally sup­port­ive of the govern­ment have crit­i­cized its han­dling of the air­liner episode, while some pro-re­form ci­ti­zens marched at the pro­ces­sions for Soleimani, who was widely cred­ited in Iran with help­ing de­feat the Is­lamic State.

“Some peo­ple who went to [Soleimani’s] funeral also protested the govern­ment over the down­ing of the air­plane,” said Zahra, 33, a res­i­dent of Tehran. She spoke on the con­di­tion that her full name not be used so she could freely dis­cuss po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics in Iran.

Zahra said the killing of Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force, elicited a range of strong emo­tions. “Some peo­ple viewed Soleimani as a ter­ror­ist and oth­ers as a sav­ior for the coun­try,” she said. “And some are just scared about the pos­si­bil­ity of war.”

In a state­ment this week, stu­dents at Amirk­abir Univer­sity in Tehran, a site of re­cent protests, con­veyed dis­may at be­ing trapped be­tween bel­liger­ence from abroad and hard­ship at home.

“While the govern­ment’s eco­nomic poli­cies and po­lit­i­cal sup­pres­sion have brought the peo­ple to the end of their tether, the shadow of war has also ap­peared above our heads,” the state­ment said. “In the midst of con­stant threats by mil­i­tary pow­ers, to­day what is lack­ing in Iran’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate is the peo­ple’s voice. ... The peo­ple de­mand free­dom and equal­ity.”

In re­cent years, Iran’s econ­omy has suf­fered be­cause of es­ca­lat­ing U.S. sanc­tions, and it is ex­pected to con­tract by 8.7 per­cent this year, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank.

In Novem­ber, demon­stra­tors staged na­tion­wide protests over cuts to fuel sub­si­dies. They were met with a swift and bru­tal crack­down by se­cu­rity forces, which hu­man rights groups say killed at least 200 pro­test­ers. That un­rest erupted mainly in work­ing-class ar­eas of Ira­nian cities, ob­servers said.

The protests this week have cen­tered on uni­ver­si­ties and ap­pear to in­clude mem­bers of the mid­dle class.

“The griev­ances that have been driv­ing th­ese protests are still there,” said Ali Fathol­lah-ne­jad, a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Brook­ings Doha Cen­ter.

The re­sump­tion of antigov­ern­ment protests, Os­to­var said, demon­strates that peo­ple re­main “fed up with the regime’s non­sense.”

“They un­der­stand that they shouldn’t be at war with the United States in the first place, and that the regime’s self-serv­ing poli­cies have brought the na­tion to this point,” he said. “The regime wanted a mo­ment of na­tional pride and in­stead got na­tional shame.”

On Tues­day, the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, the armed branch that shot down the Ukrainian plane, said it had ar­rested the per­son who took a video of the sur­face-to-air mis­sile strik­ing the Boeing 737-800 over Tehran, shortly af­ter the plane took off from Imam Khome­ini In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Jan. 8.

But even as some in the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard sought to limit scru­tiny of its cat­a­strophic fail­ure, other tra­di­tional al­lies were more crit­i­cal. The ed­i­tor in chief of the Tas­nim News Agency, which is linked to the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard, called the de­ci­sion to hide the cause of the plane crash from the pub­lic an “un­for­giv­able mis­take.”

Iran is of­ten pre­sented “as a mono­lith. . . . But Ira­ni­ans are ca­pa­ble of con­demn­ing U.S. at­tacks against their sovereignt­y while protest­ing the gross neg­li­gence of their govern­ment.” Reza Ak­bari, a re­searcher of Ira­nian pol­i­tics at the In­sti­tute for War and Peace Re­port­ing in Wash­ing­ton

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