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IRGC's deeply-rooted animosity for reformists

04 Sep 2009 17:475 Comments
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By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

As the author pointed out in a previous article, one goal of the second-generation conservative revolutionaries is the elimination of the reformists as a political force.

As explained, after the end of Iran-Iraq war, the second-generation revolutionaries split into two camps. Though the young revolutionaries of that era had fought together in the war against Iraq and in the internal struggle against the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO), one faction, the leftists, grew to realize that the repression of the 1980s, which had led to the execution of thousands of political prisoners, the elimination of all secular political groups and the suppression of political freedom and the press were threatening the foundations of the Islamic Republic. To save the system, they strategized and came up with the reform movement. Such notable political figures as Dr. Saeed Hajjarian, Behzad Nabavi, Dr. Mohsen Aminzadeh, Dr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, Dr. Alireza Alavi Tabar, Mohsen Armin, and others belonged to this group. The first four are now locked up.

The right wing of the second-generation revolutionaries was concentrated mostly in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Some of them though, such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohsen Rezaee, a former top IRGC commander, left and entered the political scene.

The IRGC has always been vehemently opposed to any political opening, in particular for the reform movement and its leaders. In 1997-1998, the first year of Mohammad Khatami's presidency, the press started to flourish and make amazing revelations about many secret aspects of the Islamic Republic, including corruption and murder. Brigadier General Yahya Rahim Safavi (who is now a Major General and senior military advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), and then the top commander of the IRGC, said in a speech that the IRGC would "cut the necks and tongues of those" who were making the revelations. When criticized, he said more pointedly,

The Guards have identified many of the elements of these groups [journalists and dissidents]. They [the Guards] have at this time let them [the reformists] freely set up their groups and newspapers, but we will go after them when the time is ripe....The fruit must be picked when it is ripe. It is not ripe now. We will pick it when it is [meaning when the IRGC has identified all the opposition]... We have thrown a piece of rock inside the nest of snakes [the reformists]. [They] have received blows from our revolution, and [we] are giving them time to stick their heads out [so that they can be cut].

After the July 1999 uprising of university students in the dormitory of the University of Tehran, which shook the foundations of the Islamic Republic, 24 top commanders of the IRGC, including Brigadier General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, the present Major General and the top IRGC commander, wrote a letter to Khatami and threatened that if he did not put an end to the pursuit of his reformist policies, they would be forced to take strong action.

Part of the letter said,

Your Excellency, Mr. Khatami, look at the international media and radio broadcasts. Does the sound of their merriment not reach your ear [do you not hear it?]? Dear Mr. President, if you do not make a revolutionary decision today, and fail to fulfill your Islamic and national duty, tomorrow will be too late and the damage will be more irreversible than can be imagined.... With all due respect, we inform you that our patience is at an end, and we do not think it is possible to tolerate any more [of this situation] if [the issue is] not addressed.

Note that even at that time the IRGC commanders were accusing Khatami and his group of being supported by the international media and foreign powers. Although in another letter to Khatami a large number of army officers and former IRGC commanders expressed their support for him, it was the threatening letter of the IRGC top commanders that left a lasting impression.

Such was the state of relations between the IRGC and Khatami during the entire eight years of his presidency. The IRGC made every attempt to undermine Khatami and his reforms, even to the point of trying to humiliate him publicly. When in February 2004, for example, Khatami inaugurated the Imam Khomeini International Airport in a Tehran suburb, the IRGC shut it down after only one flight and threatened to shoot down any aircraft -- even civilian ones -- that tried to land there. This was all because the IRGC was unhappy with the fact that the Khatami administration had awarded a Turkish company a contract to manage the airport. The IRGC wanted the contract for itself, but it also used the dispute to humiliate Khatami.

Then in 2005, the IRGC was instrumental in getting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elected president. The Basij militia, under the IRGC command, played a pivotal role in those elections. The IRGC went out of its way to prevent Mehdi Karroubi from making it to the second round. In an open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, Karroubi strongly protested the IRGC's intervention in politics. He reminded the Ayatollah that in his political will, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had forbidden the armed forces from intervening in politics.

Still, in the second round of the presidential election of 2005, the IRGC played a key role in the defeat of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who was running against Ahmadinejad in the runoff. Afterward, Rafsanjani said that he would leave it to God to judge what had happened and what had been done to him [by the IRGC].

It has been reported that the Supreme Leader had told Rafsanjani at that time that had he won the elections, the IRGC would have staged a coup in order to prevent him from taking office. That dispute represented the opening shots between the Rafsanjani camp and the IRGC, which continues to this date.

Immediately after the 2005 elections, a group of top IRGC commanders met with Ahmadinejad. Brigadier General Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, a hardliner, called Ahmadinejad "a child of the Sepaah [the IRGC]," and stated that through a "complex plan" the IRGC had helped Ahmadinejad get elected.

Ahmadinejad has returned the favor by awarding IRGC-controlled companies large contracts worth billions of dollars. With his help, the IRGC has accelerated its penetration of all sectors of the Iranian economy. In addition to that, it also controls several dozens seaports and airports that are outside the official control of the government, and through which billions of dollars worth of cheap products and commodities are imported. As a result, the owners of the companies -- mostly the IRGC commanders and their close associates -- have become extremely rich, but local industries that produce the same products have gone bankrupt.

General Jafari was appointed the overall commander of the IRGC in September 2007. Since then he and Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, the head of the IRGC political directorate, have been talking about the possibility of a "velvet revolution" in Iran and accusing the reformists of being the leading forces behind it.

Before the June 12 presidential election, the ideological propaganda department of the IRGC harshly criticized Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two reformist candidates. In the May 25 issue of News and Analyses, an internal daily bulletin published by the political directorate of the IRGC and distributed among its commanders, strongly criticized Karroubi and accused him of presenting a bleak picture of Iran. It threatened to take him to court over his criticism of the government in his nationally-broadcast TV speech.

In a May 25 issue of the weekly Sobh-e Saadegh (True Dawn), published by the political directorate of the IRGC and distributed among the armed forces and the Basij militia, Mousavi and his supporters were accused of "violating the Supreme Leader's orders to avoid harshly criticizing the government," and "presenting a bleak image of Iran, similar to that in the last years of the imperial rule [in the 1970s]." It then described some of the progress made under Ahmadinejad and concluded that, "These claims [of the reformists] are baseless."

In a sharply-worded article in Sobh-e Saadegh on June 10, General Javani criticized Mousavi and claimed that Khatami had major differences with him. This was only two days after the huge rally in Tehran in which Khatami threw his full support behind Mousavi. The website Basirat, which is run by the political directorate of the IRGC, called Mousavi "a man from the past that has been thrown into the present times."

The huge demonstrations that erupted after the rigged election were not what the IRGC commanders had expected. They were not prepared for the large demonstrations involving three million people in Tehran, which explains why they immediately resorted to violence. They had thought that just like in the 2005 elections the "losers," namely Mousavi and Karroubi this time, would complain for a few days and then retire to their offices and disappear into their quiet corners of the world. This time around, they tried to do the same. The IRGC high command began to repeat the same accusations against the reformist leaders, trying to tie them to foreign powers to distract attention from the election fraud and to justify the violent crackdown on the protesters.

For example, after the first session of the Stalinist show trials of the reformist leaders, General Javani called for the arrest, trial and punishment of Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami and Ayatollah Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, a leading leftist cleric and leader of the leftist Association of Combatant Clerics (ACC).

Writing in Sobh-e Sadegh, General Javani said,

Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] believed the preservation of the Islamic system to be our most important duty, and so far, a heavy price for protection of this Godly system has been paid by the Muslim and revolutionary nation of Iran. Therefore, any group or person, regardless of their track record and position in the past, who, along with the United States, the Great Satan, wants to change this system and install a non-Islamic system in its place, must be considered to be committing treason and must therefore be punished.

In the indictment read at the show trial by the prosecutor, it is explicitly stated that based on credible documents, as well as the confessions of the accused and those arrested in the riots [those protesting the rigged election] after the 10th [presidential] election, a faction with the support of the United States attempted to use the presidential election to stage a velvet coup in Iran.

The indictment states that "according to the recovered documents and confessions of the accused, the recent events and riots had been planned in advance, and had been carried out according to a timetable."

The question is, who are the main people responsible for the coup, and what is their main goal in carrying out the coup?

Based on the present documents and undeniable evidence, should we not arrest the main people [Khatami, Mousavi, Karroubi and Khoeiniha] who were responsible for the coup, put them on trial, and punish them? Ignoring [what has happened] under the guise of the interest of the political system will result in irreparable harm [to the system], and putting out the fire [that has been set by the people responsible for the coup] will require the trial of the main people responsible for it, and revealing their true identities to the Muslim and revolutionary people of Iran. It is time for the judiciary and the intelligence and security officials to be alert.

General Javani then added,

The initial goal of the velvet coup was to gain political power, while the final goal was the transformation of the Islamic system into a secular one. With God's help, people's alertness, the wisdom of the Supreme Leader, and the efforts and sacrifices of the police and military, [the coup] was defeated.

Generals Jafari and Javani, and other hard-line commanders of the armed forces, such as Brigadier General Seyyed Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of the Armed Forces Joint Headquarters, and Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, the deputy to General Jafari, kept repeating the accusations for weeks following the rigged election.

But just last week, Ayatollah Khamenei declared that he did not believe that the reformist leaders had ties to foreign powers. The declaration was the result of enormous behind-the-scene pressure on the Supreme Leader by many leading clerics who were angry about the Stalinist show trials of the reformist leaders, in which those accusations were repeated.

That put the hard-liners and in particular the IRGC high command in a difficult and awkward position. Since they always claim that the Ayatollah's declarations are the final word on any matter, they could no longer accuse the reformist leaders of having ties to foreign powers.

On Wednesday, September 2, General Jafari altered his position in view of Ayatollah Khamenei's declaration, but raised the stakes. He quoted Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Khatami's vice president for parliamentary affairs, who is in jail, "confessing" that the reformist leaders had planned to weaken the Velaayat-e Faghih [guardianship of the Islamic jurist, represented by the Supreme leader], the backbone of Iran's political system. General Jafari claimed that Ayatollah Mousavi Khoeiniha had stated last winter that, "We should do our utmost to bring down the [Supreme] Leader. He must recognize that this is not a country that he can lead in any direction that he wants. Khatami and his group now have a lot of experience."

General Jafari then added that Abtahi had "confessed" that, "Khatami, [Abolfazl] Fateh [Mousavi's campaign manager], and Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani [the elder son of Rafsanjani] had said that 'winning this election is very different from those in the past. [If we do win], the principlist camp and the Supreme Leader will not be able to keep their heads up, and this would mean finishing the job.' This implies greatly weakening the Velaayat-e Faghih, or a political system without it. The protests after the elections had been well-planned."

General Jafari then continued, "Moreover, Mr. Khatami said in February 2009 that if in [the upcoming] elections Ahmadinejad is brought down, the Supreme leader will, for all practical purposes, be eliminated. If the reformists take over the executive branch [of the government], the Supreme Leader will not have much credibility and power in society. The principlists' fall will mean the end of power for the Leader and [therefore] we must control the Supreme Leader by defeating the principlists."

General Jafari then quoted Behzad Nabavi, a leading reformist who has also been locked up, supposedly saying, "We must try to make Ahmadinejad the candidate of the Supreme Leader [so] that if defeated, the Supreme Leader will also be defeated. We did this once, in May 1997, which was a heavy blow [to the Supreme Leader] and [he] had a hard time recovering from it. Now we must deliver the final blow to the Supreme Leader. In order to limit the power and make it responsive [to the people] [we] must begin from the top of the power [structure]."

General Jafari was referring to the presidential election of 1997, which Khatami won in a landslide. Khatami defeated Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, then the Speaker of the Majles [parliament], who was widely viewed to be favored by Ayatollah Khamenei.

In fact, it was reported that Khamenei had told Rafsanjani right before the June 12 election that "Ahmadinejad's defeat will be my defeat." A reliable source in Tehran who used to work in the Khatami administration told the author that Ayatollah Khamenei was even more explicit than that. He said that the Ayatollah had said that, "I want Ahmadinejad to win."

General Jafari then quoted Mohammad Atrianfar, a leading member of the reformist Executives of Reconstruction Party [a party close to Rafsanjani] and the editor of several reformist newspapers who has been imprisoned, as supposedly having "confessed" that, "Mr. [Mostafa] Tajzadeh said during the election that, if we win [the election], then given that we now have a lot of experience, we will easily be able to control the Supreme Leader. Tajzadeh was perhaps the only person who had completely theorized the 'velvet revolution' in his mind without using the name."

Tajzadeh was deputy Interior Minister for political and security affairs in the first Khatami administration, and a member of the central committees of both the Islamic Iran Participation Front, and the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization, the two leading reformist groups. He was arrested a few hours after the election and is still in jail.

Thus, General Jafari accused the reformists, and particularly their top leaders, of planning to greatly weaken the Supreme Leader and eventually bring him down. He no longer repeated his accusations that the reformist leaders have ties to foreign powers, but repeated the rest of the IRGC accusations against them.

In reaction to General Jafari's statement, the ACC issued a harshly-worded statement, accusing General Jafari of telling a "big lie" and leveling baseless accusations against Khatami and Ayatollah Mousavi Khoeiniha. Khatami is the head of ACC's general council, and Mousavi Khoeiniha its secretary-general. The ACC demanded that the judiciary take action against General Jafari.

Mohammad Reza Tabesh, a nephew of Khatami and a reformist Majles deputy, also criticized General Jafari and warned that, "If you continue such lies, we will also begin revealing facts that should not be said, [because stating them] will not be in the interest of the political establishment."

Like Tabesh, Karroubi said, "They [the IRGC] should not get involved in politics. If they do, other issues will be brought up."

Since the rigged election, Khatami has repeatedly said that the reformists will continue their struggle, and are prepared to pay a heavy price for it.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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5 Comments

Mr Sahimi, please tell us what might happen to Iran after all turmoil in one of your articles??


Ahmadinejad's new cabinet is getting approved if not already, IRGC commanders, espcially the criminal ones, are gaining a lot of power and money, all Ahmadinejad's friends and family are takeing over the goverment and other sectors of Iranian society per one of your articles and other articles I have read from sources, IRGC/Ahamadinejad/Mesbah Yazdi and the rest of the hardliners want to do away with reformists or reform movement. I talked to several people that recently traveled to Iran and they said that the mood of the country is very low and many wish to leave the country and many Tehranis, for example, were very depressed and hopeless. Also, in addition, there is a high inflation, lack of jobs espcially for young people and many other issues.


I feel very sad at times for Iran and I am sure I am not the only Iranian who feels that way.


I

Minoo / September 4, 2009 2:26 PM

This is a clear suppression of political freedom and the press. The IRGC is like the cohortes praetoriae which formed the imperial army during the early Roman republic. Like the praetorians they enjoy privileges. In more advanced countries they are called the "armed bureaucrats". But whatever appellation they are known, one thing is certain--they are the shadowy Revolutionary Guards who intervenes in the political sphere in the government. They have one objective in common,: seizure of state power, or military control over civilian affairs. In Iran, the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad are the masters, the imperial bodyguards becomes the rulers. This is a direct challenge hurled against democracy. It is an unforgivable desecration of the very democratic principle the Iranians have long been longing for.


Excerpt from Time: "The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), or Sepah for short in Farsi, is widely believed to have played a large role in orchestrating the crackdown on political dissidents and protesters following the disputed presidential election. Its political influence within the regime has always far exceeded the actual army's, and it has increased exponentially since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to office in 2005. But the speculation among Iranian opposition sources is that, these days, the IRGC's powerful patron -- whose second term officially began last week -- has now become its puppet, falling under the influence of a gang of security chiefs (the so-called New Right) that harbor schemes to further radicalize the regime or topple it in a military takeover."


We have to learn some hard lessons from history, those who failed to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

shetty / September 5, 2009 10:11 AM

If I may add, the Revolutionary Guards can even make or break a leader because of their vast power. They installed themselves by force of arms as masters of the people and rulers of the state. Since tyranny is present in Iran, it has released the military genie out of the bottle.

shetty / September 5, 2009 10:30 AM

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Gooya / September 5, 2009 9:01 PM

I don't how this is different from the US and Israel where everyone knows that real power lies with the military industrial complex and many politicians are actually from a military background. The difference seems to be that the IRGC commanders lack sophistication and are crude in their behaviour. In general Ahmedinedjad's administration seems pretty blunt with its words. This is not to excuse their bad behaviour except to point out that the nature of the system is not dissimilar to the US. Remember the McCarthy era in the democratic US, where the law enforcers and the Senate hounded up political dissidents and branding them as 'communists' and carried out a sever witch hunt.


Iranian reformists face a similar challenge accept perhaps the Iranian population is probably more discerning than the US electorate was at the time. Unfortunately tyranny comes in all forms and even democracies can become tyrannical under the wrong leadership. Hitler after all was elected.

rezvan / September 16, 2009 1:43 AM