Iran, surrounded by U.S. military bases
(indicated by flags)

You know there’s trouble brewing when stories about intensely contested campaigns begin with this (from the BBC):

The two main candidates in Iran’s presidential election have claimed victory, after extended voting as huge numbers of people turned out to vote.

Reformist challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi told a news conference that he had won by a substantial margin.

However, state media said hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won, and officials said he had got 69% of the five million votes so far counted.

The touting of a big Ahmedinejad lead in the preliminary official tabulations seems to have come in response to Mousavi’s public claim of victory, as Al Arabiya reports:

Meanwhile Ahmadinejad’s supporters refuted such statements as "false" and intended as psychological warfare to affect voter turnout.

"These early statements are meant to influence votes," Ali Akbar Javanfekr, advisor to Ahmadinejad, told Al Arabiya.

Of course, if that’s what the president’s supporters think, it kind of tips their hand about their proclamations, too, doesn’t it?

Amid the premature and conflicting claims, it’s hard to tell what the truth is yet.  The well-documented massive urban demonstrations for Mousavi, the main challenger to Ahmedinejad, in contrast with the Iranian regime’s authoritarian nature, have led to predictions such as this from the Times of London:

It is widely believed that the 2005 election was marred by fraud and experts estimate that up to four million votes could be rigged this year. However, with the turnout so high, even that may not be enough

The wide media coverage given to the protests, though, could be misleading.  Because opposition to Ahmedinejad is concentrated among the most urban, educated and affluent voters — the ones who are easiest for foreign journalists to come in contact with — Mousavi’s support may be overstated in the media.

At the same time, when Iranian press agencies are reporting (via the Al Arabiya story linked above) that "participation in Iranian villages reached 90 percent," it’s reasonable to be suspicious that not all of those votes are legitimate.

Attackerman and Talking Points Memo have been providing analyis of the Iranian elections throughout the day, so check there (as well as more obvious news sources like CNN) for updates as the situation evolves (or devolves).