"...it is very hard to overstate the significance of the statement made last Saturday by the Association of Teachers and Researchers of Qum, a much-respected source of religious rulings, which has in effect come right out with it and said that the recent farcical and prearranged plebiscite in the country was just that: a sham event. (In this, the clerics of Qum are a lot more clear-eyed than many American "experts" on Iranian public opinion, who were busy until recently writing about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the rough-hewn man of the people.)
"...Did the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the subsequent holding of competitive elections in which many rival Iraqi Shiite parties took part, have any germinal influence on the astonishing events in Iran? Certainly when I interviewed Sayeed Khomeini in Qum some years ago, where he spoke openly about "the liberation of Iraq," he seemed to hope and believe that the example would spread. One swallow does not make a summer. But consider this: Many Iranians go as religious pilgrims to the holy sites of Najaf and Kerbala in southern Iraq. They have seen the way in which national and local elections have been held, more or less fairly and openly, with different Iraqi Shiite parties having to bid for votes (and with those parties aligned with Iran's regime doing less and less well). They have seen an often turbulent Iraqi Parliament holding genuine debates that are reported with reasonable fairness in the Iraqi media. Meanwhile, an Iranian mullah caste that classifies its own people as children who are mere wards of the state puts on a "let's pretend" election and even then tries to fix the outcome. Iranians by no means like to take their tune from Arabs—perhaps least of all from Iraqis—but watching something like the real thing next door may well have increased the appetite for the genuine article in Iran itself."