If the Iranian mullahs expected the opposition movement to die out, in some cases literally, they got a big shock today from within their ruling class.  Mohammed Khatami, a former president of Iran, has apparently switched sides and joined Mirhossein Mousavi in demanding new elections for Iran.  Khatami went even further, accusing the Supreme Leader and Guardian Council of conducting a “coup”:

Iran’s former president has joined ranks with the country’s embattled reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, and accused the Iranian government of failing its people in the recent election and condemning the subsequent crackdown on protesters.

In a bold, lengthy statement Wednesday on his Web site, Mousavi said he considered Iran’s cleric-led government illegitimate and demanded political prisoners be released, while saying Iran’s government needs to institute electoral reforms and ensure press freedoms.

Former President Mohammad Khatami, meanwhile, lashed out at what he termed “a poisonous security situation” in the wake of violent street protests.

Khatami accused Iran’s leadership of a “velvet coup against the people and democracy,” and Mousavi said the government’s crackdown on demonstrators was “tantamount to a coup.”

If the regime planned on drawing lines in the sand, they didn’t calculate on having some of their allies standing on the other side of it.  Khatami had previously played the same role as Mousavi — the regime-approved reformer who could serve as a safe outlet for dissent and dissatisfaction within Iran.  People outside of Iran fawned over Khatami in years past as they have over Mousavi in the past three weeks out of desire for significant political reform, but both Khatami and Mousavi belonged to the same power clique as Ali Khamenei and the Guardian Council.

Not any more.  They may still have the taint of Khamenei’s previous approval, but now Khatami has apparently decided to follow Mousavi into a complete break with the ruling mullahs.  That will energize the opposition and divide the mullahs even further.  His previous status as Iranian president and Khamenei favorite gives him even more standing to call out Khamenei as a tyrant.

The opposition in Iran had already planned to move into a new phase, one that focused on efforts that would make it difficult for the Basij to quash, such as strikes.  They risked losing political momentum by using quieter methods of protest.  Khatami’s defection will give them renewed energy, and may have the mullahs in the ruling class drawing lines among themselves.