Splits appear to be developing within the ranks of Iran's police forces just as a series of important February anniversary dates and upcoming subsidy cuts on food offer the opportunity for new rallies and potential violence.
Former police officers in Tehran have reported to sources contacted by NewsCore that they are being replaced by people from villages desperate for money and willing to use violence without hesitation.
Although exact numbers are difficult to pin down, sources in Tehran said about 20 to 30 percent of a police force of approximately 5,000 there had been let go, with more dismissed in other parts of the country. At the same time, as many as 700 to 900 civilians have been brought in to replace them during times of protests, with the number dropping during peaceful periods.
That means the force, originally under the umbrella of the Revolutionary Guard and charged with maintaining local peace and stability, is now much less organized, the sources said.
"Many of us are being replaced by busloads of people from villages who are willing to do anything for a piece of bread instead of protecting the ideals of the 1979 Islamic Revolution," said one former officer.
According to another officer, pro-regime sentiment "does not exist among the recruited security forces. The joke is some of them call themselves or think of themselves as police. The lines have been blurred."
"All they want is to get paid, there is no loyal or noble or ideological intention. If this continues then our morals will be lost and we will be no better than Israel or America."
Another ex-Tehran officer described an encounter he had with a new recruit: "Late at night a young man knocked on my door and with hesitation welcomed himself in my home. He said he got my address from somebody at the station and went on to ask for money and a ride to the bus station to get back to his village. On our drive, he kept boasting about how much money he made for his services and joked that he hopes that something comes up again for him to return. I am disgusted by lack of religious dignity and the direction that we are headed. My father was a martyr in Iraq and this is what he died for.
"I don't agree with the protesters, I have faith in the Republic. But I also don't agree with the violence against them."
The move to replace the officers comes just as a series of significant February anniversary dates looms on the horizon:
• February 4: 40 days after the Dec. 27 holy day of Ashura, which saw extensive street protests and violence
• February 11: 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution
• February 15: commemorations of the demise of the prophet Muhammad and the martyrdom of his grandson Hasan ibn Ali.
At the same time, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced a plan to drastically cut subsidies on petrol, electricity, milk, wheat and other basics — a proposal approved last week by the Guardians Council to save $100 billion.
Both developments have the clear potential to trigger widespread unrest and possible violence.
Said another ex-Tehran officer: "I have heard that we will soon begin preparing for February because of the anniversary of the revolution. There are rumors going around that there will be terrorist attacks and maybe even more assassinations. That being said there are also many new recruits who will be brought in and they usually don't show the civilian much mercy or sympathy."
But the civilians seemed ready to take them on. Last month's Ashura street protests, which included full-scale assaults against mosques and religious members of the community, "proved something to the regime," said a Tehran engineer. "We will not stop fighting. We have nothing to lose. All we can do is to continue going out to the streets."