A Hardliner's Hardliner
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
21 Jan 2010 18:33
[ profile ] In the spring of 2005, President Mohammad Khatami's second term was coming to an end. Since he could not run a third time, the reformists turned to former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi for the June 17 election. When he turned them down, reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi decided to enter the ring.
Karroubi conducted a strong campaign and was running second to former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the early stages of vote counting. Yet on June 18, he was declared to have finished in third place behind both Rafsanjani and a relatively unknown, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Since none of the candidates had managed to get more than 50 percent of the vote, the election proceeded to a runoff, from which Karroubi was disqualified.
IRGC moves into politics
Incredulous, Karroubi wrote an angry open letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denouncing his son Mojtaba Khamanei, top commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Basij militia for intervening on behalf of Ahmadinejad and accusing them of rigging the vote. He specifically pointed to the IRGC's use of money from eskeleh [meaning they controlled the machinery at Iran's major ports], smuggled goods, and the sugar business reportedly controlled by arch-hardliner Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi.
In addition to Karroubi's claims, it is also widely believed that Khamenei told the IRGC and the Basij commanders to order members of their families to vote for Ahmadinejad, and to take as many friends and relatives as they could with them to the polls.
IRGC consolidates power
As president, Ahmadinejad swiftly initiated an extensive purge of the bureaucracy and appointed his allies in the IRGC to key positions. The appointments indicated the extent of his IRGC network. Comments from Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, then the IRGC's top commander, and others were revealing. Safavi declared Ahmadinejad "a child of the Sepaah" -- the IRGC. His deputy, Brigadier General Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, said that Ahmadinejad's election "was not an accident. It was the result of two years of complex, multifaceted planning." Even Khamenei was reportedly surprised by the breadth of Ahmadinejed's network.
Ahmadinejad's election in 2005 formalized what was already widely acknowledged: that the IRGC wielded great behind-the-scenes power and was seeking to install one of its own at the helm of the government. To demonstrate their strength and influence, the IRGC had already threatened Khatami after the July 9, 1999, student uprising at the University of Tehran dormitories (see below). In May 2004, they humiliated him by closing down Tehran's new international airport after Khatami had formally opened it. It was widely rumored that Khamenei had told Rafsanjani that if he had been elected, the IRGC would have staged a coup to prevent him from taking office, and possibly assassinated him.
Halfway through Ahmadinejad's term, Khamenei made extensive changes in the top command of the IRGC. On September 1, 2007, he replaced General Rahim Safavi with a relatively unknown IRGC commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, whom he had just promoted to Major General. In turn, General Jafari replaced many of the IRGC commanders. As one of his first acts, he decentralized the IRGC's decision-making process by creating 31 local command centers. He declared that he was taking the step to better prepare the IRGC for the "internal enemy," a greater danger, he said, than the "external enemy."
Events since the rigged June 12 election further revealed the extent to which Ahmadinejad and Khamenei rely on the IRGC and the IRGC-controlled Basij militia to maintain power. When huge demonstrations broke out after the election, the IRGC tried to quell the protesters by using brute force, in part by deploying the Basij, its intelligent unit, and plainclothes agents belonging to a special brigade under the command of the IRGC's intelligence directorate. Since Mohammad Khatami's landslide victory in May 1997 revealed the extent of the hardliners' unpopularity, plainclothes agents have been increasingly used as a blunt tool to keep people in check.
The June 12 election and its aftermath also turned the spotlight on General Jafari, an IRGC commander who gave new meaning to the term "hardliner." He has taken an extremely tough line against the reformists, accusing them of links to foreign governments and concocting plots to overthrow the Islamic Republic through a "velvet revolution." He has repeatedly called for the arrest and prosecution of reformist leaders.
BackgroundMohammad Ali Jafari, whose nickname is Aziz, was born on September 1, 1957. Like Saeed Mortazavi, the notorious former Tehran Prosecutor General, Mohammad Khatami, and Israel's former President Moshe Katsaf, he is from Yazd in central Iran. He was born into a family so impoverished that he had difficulty attending elementary and high school. Against the odds, he was accepted to Tehran University School of Architecture in 1977. Khatami's father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khatami, and several other wealthy residents of Yazd pitched in to help Jafari pursue his studies there.
During the Revolution's early stages in 1978, he was active in the demonstrations against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and was arrested and imprisoned. When he was released after the Revolution, he helped found the Muslim Student Association (MSA) in his college at Tehran University, and represented it in the Council at the university-wide level. On November 4, 1979, when the university students who called themselves Muslim Students Following Imam's Line overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Jafari represented his MSA division among those students and participated in the takeover. Alireza Afshar, who is now an IRGC Brigadier General, was the other MSA representative from Jafari's school. Neither was prominent among the
student leadership and remained unnoticed.
'The Imposed War'
On November 26, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the formation of the Basij militia. Jafari immediately joined and initially went to work in its cultural unit. Later he joined the intelligence unit of the IRGC and was dispatched to Kurdistan province in western Iran. In June 1981, he was transferred to the military wing of the IRGC and fought in the Iran-Iraq war.
Views of his wartime track record are mixed. A source in Tehran -- a retired IRGC officer and a college friend of the author -- said that some believe that General Jafari has a distinguished wartime record. Others don't. According to this source, many who hold a negative view of Jafari negatively are among the IRGC commanders who fought bravely in the Iran-Iraq war, but left the Guard in disgust as they saw the force become increasingly politicized and used as an instrument of repression.
On the evening of December 25, 1985, Iran launched Operation Karbala 4, aimed at capturing the port city of Basra in southern Iraq and linking up with the forces that had already occupied Fao Peninsula. The attack was launched in the winter to take advantage of heavy rains, which hindered the Iraqi's far superior armor and air defenses. The Karbala 4 battle did not last long, however, as the Iraqi defenses pummeled the Iranian forces.
Despite its failure, Iran continued the attacks and mobilized the IRGC's most experienced officers for the next battle. At midnight on January 9, 1986, Operation Karbala 5 was launched as what was to be the "final offensive." Iranian forces were very successful in the first three weeks of the operation, but were ultimately repelled when Saddam Hussein resorted to chemical weapons and heavy bombing. By March, Iraq had lost more than 40,000 troops, 700 tanks, and 80 aircraft -- most shot down with the missiles supplied by the U.S. and Israel in what was later known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
On the Iranian side, 60,000 troops were killed, including a quarter of the most experienced IRGC officers. Karbala 5 was the last major offensive by Iran's armed forces.
Jafari was the commander of the war headquarters for the western front, and then the commander of the Najaf Brigade. He was also commander of the Ashura Battalion, deputy commander of the Shushtar Division in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran, and commander of the Qods Garrison.
As an important IRGC commander in the southern front, Jafari is believed to have played a key role in both the Karbala 4 and Karbala 5 operations. He was reportedly badly wounded in both operations; the second injury kept him from returning to the war zone. He was then appointed the deputy chief of operations for the IRGC, and then deputy commander of its ground forces.
Jafari was reportedly an innovative tactician able to design "out of the box" operations. In 2006, the online daily Rooz quoted Major General Gholam Ali Rashid, until recently acting deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, as saying, "In the first few years of the Iran-Iraq war, it was Mr. Aziz Jafari that designed the first surprise operation of the IRGC, without paying attention to classical warfare." Rooz also quoted Major General (retired) Mohsen Rezaei, IRGC top commander between 1981 and 1997 and now Secretary-General of the Expediency Council, as saying, "General Jafari was the most precise commander during the war."
Jafari returned to Tehran University and earned an M.S. degree in architecture in 1992. Through 1993, he also studied at the War University of the IRGC and completed course work specializing in military command. After completing his degree at the War University, he taught there for a time.
The Vienna Murders
As described in a
Ghassemlou and his aides were shot and killed in the apartment. The murders were actually reported to the police by the Iranian delegation, who denied any responsibility and were released after giving their statements. The Austrian police later described them as the probable culprits, by which point they had been expelled from the country.
It has been reported that Mohammad Jafari Sahraroudi was in fact a pseudonym for Mohammad Ali Jafari. If this is true, as the head of the delegation, he had a direct role in the murder of Ghassemlou. But I find the report to be suspect -- it is doubtful that the IRGC would risk an experienced, valuable officer like Jafari for an operation that could be carried out by a low-ranking officer or agent.
By 1992, Jafari had risen to the rank of brigadier general. He was appointed commander of the ground forces of the IRGC in 1992, a post he held for 13 years. When Khatami was elected president in May 1997, he had good relations with General Jafari; Khatami even visited the IRGC's ground force military bases.
After Khatami's election, Major General Mohsen Rezaei left the IRGC after serving as its top commander for 16 years. Many IRGC commanders were not happy about his departure, which they saw as resulting from political pressure. Thirty-three of them, including Jafari, issued a statement praising Rezaei for his military services to the nation. Aside from that, Jafari had a reputation for being a professional soldier and uninterested in politics.
The July 1999 uprising at the dormitories of the University of Tehran shook the foundations of the Islamic Republic. The uprising began when popular leftist daily Salaam was banned after it had published a series of reports on attempts by conservatives to restrict the press. The students who protested the ban were attacked by the Basij militia and plainclothes agents. The attacks ignited several days of fierce demonstrations.
After Tehran was finally calm again, 29 top IRGC commanders, including Jafari, wrote a letter to Khatami threatening him if he did not end his reformist policies. It read, in part,
Your Excellency, Mr. Khatami, look at the international media and radio broadcasts. Does the sound of their merriment not reach your ear? Dear Mr. President, if you do not make a revolutionary decision today, and fail to fulfill your Islamic and national duties, 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.
This is General Jafari's first known political intervention.
Another kind of architectIn addition to being the top commander of the IRGC ground forces between 1992 and 2005, Jafari also directly commanded the Sarallah Garrison in Tehran, which was responsible for the capital's security. Forces from the garrison quashed the July 1999 uprising and arrested many of the reformist leaders after the rigged presidential election of 2005.
That year, Jafari was appointed chief of the Center for Strategic Studies of the IRGC. He
directed the Center to carry out research into the so-called colored revolutions that had taken place in the former Soviet sphere: Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution of 1989, Georgia's Rose Revolution of 2003; Ukraine's Orange Revolution of 2004, and Krygyzstan's Tulip Revolution of 2005. A similar uprising had taken place in Serbia in
2000. The Islamic Republic was worried that the West might trigger a similar revolution in Iran, a threat brought home by regional events in early 2005: Lebanon's Cedar Revolution that lasted from February through April and the Blue Revolution in Kuwait during March, which saw large demonstrations in support of women's suffrage.
Jafari accused the United States of pursuing a policy of soft regime-change toward Iran after failing to overthrow the Islamic Republic through more traditional, aggressive means -- a theme now being repeated by the hardliners. He argued that the most important danger to the Islamic Republic was posed by the "internal enemy," referring to the reform movement. The studies led the IRGC to establish the Al-Zahra and Ashura Brigades, which serve as anti-riot units within the organizational structure of the Basij force.
It was also Jafari who led the successful effort to have the IRGC adopt asymmetrical warfare as its core strategy. In a classical symmetrical warfare scenario, Iran's armed
forces would be easily defeated by the United States. Therefore, Iran had to look for tactics and strategies that could inflict the maximum damage on the enemy without having to fight a direct war, including fighting beyond Iran's borders. Three days after he was appointed the top IRGC commander on September 1, 2007, Jafari said,
Given the enemy's numerical or technological superiority, the IRGC would use asymmetrical warfare capabilities, such as those used by Hezbollah in its 2006 war with Israel in Lebanon. Iranian strategy would also reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Former top IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who was succeeded by Jafari, said in a September 2007 interview,
At a time when we feel the threats of extra-regional powers, such as that of the United States against the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have revised the structure of Iran's armed forces.... We have designed arms and equipments suitable for extra-regional warfare. We have named this strategy of comprehensive defense the Alavi battle
and asymmetrical warfare.
The IRGC has assumed responsibility for defending the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz employing such tactics.
On January 11, 2007, U.S. forces raided the Iranian consulate in Erbil in Iraq's Kurdistan and arrested five of its staff. Among several officials who escaped the raid was Mohammad Jafari, deputy to Ali Larijani, who was then Secretary-General of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator. It is widely believed that the U.S. forces mistakenly thought that it was General Jafari who was at the consulate and staged the raid in order to capture him.
Ayatollah Khamenei appointed General Jafari to be the top commander of the IRGC on September 1, 2007. Though General Rahim Safavi had implied that he wanted to resign, most analysts believe that he was removed from the post because he was not tough enough. Jafari himself said that after 10 years in the top command position, Rahim Safavi no longer possessed the necessary energy.
General Jafari's appointment as the top IRGC commander generated concern in the West. He was compared to General David Petraeus of the U.S. Army, then in charge of forces in Iraq and now the head of the Central Command, overseeing U.S. forces in the Middle East. A Pentagon adviser described Jafari as "the Iranian Petraeus. He has studied counter-insurgency warfare." CIA and Pentagon analysts were reportedly fearful that Jafari's views were reflected among other senior appointments made by Ahmadinejad.
As soon as he assumed the top IRGC post, General Jafari focused on the "internal enemy" by reorganizing the IRGC. He took two major initiatives: Merging the Basij into the IRGC, making it one of the IRGC's five branches, along with its ground, air, and naval forces, plus the Qods Force, whose mission is beyond national borders.
The second initiative was decentralizing the command structure of the IRGC by creating 31 local command centers, 29 in provincial capitals and two in Tehran. This is now known as the Mosaic Doctrine. The idea is to give flexibility to IRGC commanders to better handle riots and demonstrations, but also to enable the IRGC to better survive a surgical attack by the United States or Israel aimed at decapitating its command structure.
The net effect of the initiatives has been to increase the IRGC's power of the IRGC for intervening in the political process. In many smaller cities and towns, the local IRGC commander is the most powerful man, while the commander of the provincial command centers are more powerful than the governor-general.
Since the reorganization of the IRGC, the "internal threat" has been the dominant theme of the speeches that Jafari has been giving. After he merged the Basij with the IRGC, he declared that both organizations shared the same goal: "guarding achievements of the Revolution." Making clear what that entailed, he said, "For now the main responsibility of the IRGC is to counter internal threats."
In a press conference three days after he was appointed the IRGC top commander, he said that, "The IRGC's responsibilities necessitate a special and flexible force able to counter different types of threats."
Since the rigged election of June 12, Jafari has harshly criticized the reformists and leaders of the Green Movement. On September 2, he quoted Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Khatami's vice president for parliamentary affairs, then in jail, as "confessing" that the reformist leaders had planned to weaken the Velaayat-e Faghih, the backbone of Iran's political system. Jafari claimed that Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, the leftist cleric had stated the previous winter, "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."
Jafari added that Abtahi had "confessed" that Khatami, Mousavi's campaign manager, Abolfazl Fateh, and Rafsanjani's son, Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani had said that "winning this election is very different from those in the past. The Principlist camp and the Supreme Leader would not be able to keep their heads up, and this would mean finishing the job." In Jafari's analysis of the "confession", it "implies greatly weakening the Velaayat-e Faghih, or a political system without it. The protests after the elections had been well-planned."
Jafari then continued, "Moreover, Mr. Khatami said in February 2009 that if in elections Ahmadinejad is brought down, the Supreme Leader will, for all practical purposes, be eliminated. If the reformists take over the executive branch, the Supreme Leader will not have much credibility and power in the 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."
Referring to the presidential election in May 1997 that was won by Khatami by a landslide, General Jafari quoted Behzad Nabavi, a leading reformist who is still in jail, as supposedly saying, "We must try to make Ahmadinejad the candidate of the Supreme Leader that, if defeated, the Supreme Leader would also be defeated. We did this once in May 1997 that 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 [of the Supreme Leader and the hardliners] and make it responsive [to the people] [we] must begin from the top of the power [structure, namely, from the Supreme Leader]."
In another press conference on January 11, 2010, Jafari said, "the root cause of what happened in the election and over the past eight months" lies in the differences between "two fundamentally different views, one Islamic, and the other one materialistic." He is, of course right about the existence of two polarized views, except that one supports dictatorship in the name of Islam, while the other advocates establishment of a democratic system and supremacy of the rule of law. He also declared that, "forgiving the rioters, particularly the Ashura day rioters, is not practical, and even if some officials want to forgive them, people will not allow them." Of course, it was the forces under his own command that killed many people, injured many more, and arrested several thousands.
Such positions have made Jafari the toughest hardliner among the hardliners. Men like Jafari who fought for years in the Iran-Iraq war and saw tens of thousands of troops killed and hundreds of thousands injured -- many for life -- have no hesitation in using force against the Green Movement. This is why the Movement must refrain from violence. If the fate of the Green Movement is to be decided by the amount of blood that can be spilled, men like General Jafari will win the confrontation.
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