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Why Iran's regime is at odds with itself

Crackdown on dissent only reveals the contradiction of this theocracy.

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Three clocks are ticking for the rattled rulers of Iran.

One clock, which they see in their favor, is a countdown to the day, perhaps a year or so away, when the country's scientists gain the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.

A second counts the time until a September deadline, set by President Obama, for Tehran to respond to an offer of talks on the nuclear issue or face a stern response.

But it is the third clock, one that will influence the other two, that matters most to the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It measures the moments until their legitimacy runs out. It is counted in the number of popular demonstrations since a flawed June 12 election, the instances of power struggles among the divided rulers, and the occurrences of stinging criticisms from respected Islamic clerics.

The Islamic Republic is in trouble as it struggles to ruthlessly stamp out dissent. And that was made clear again during the crackdown Thursday during a march by thousands of Iranians to the graveside of Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman killed in a June 20 protest.

Ms. Soltan's death serves as a powerful symbol of the victimization of Iranians by a regime that meddles in their daily lives and resorts to stealing elections to stay in power. But Iranians are also irked by reports of brutality used against hundreds of detained protesters in prison.

A regime that rules in the name of God and came to power in 1979 because of the shah's brutality can't survive for long by resorting to killing prisoners and brutalizing others.

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