General tacitly admits to IRGC’s role in politics

In a recent interview with Panjareh (Window), a weekly news publication owned by hardline parliamentarian Ali-Reza Zakani, the deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Legal and Parliamentary Affairs section Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Yazdi gave some interesting comments on the controversial military organization’s role in Iranian politics.

There have been questions about the IRGC’s role in Iranian politics since the organization’s inception in 1979, but its political profile rose to new heights by the election of one of its ex-members, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as president. Some have argued that the IRGC is now a major player in Iranian politics with the power to shape elections and a wide range of national policies.

In the interview, Yazdi claimed that suspicions about the IRGC’s role in politics was in part because so many of the IRGC’s ex-members were now leaders in the Islamic Republic. He said that as a popular military force, people from many walks of life had answered the call of duty by joining the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and subsequently returned to their original professions. He quipped that asking why so many senior regime officials have served in the IRGC is akin to asking why so many senior officials have university degrees.

While it is true that many IRGC alumni, such as Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, maintain little to no ties to the organization, others appear to perpetuate its influence in nearly every sphere of Iranian public life. President Ahmadinejad has appointed an unprecedented number of ex-IRGC officers to his administration and given the military body billions of dollars of government contracts. Oil minister Rostam Ghassemi, ex-commander of the Khatam al-Anbia Headquarters (the IRGC’s construction and engineering arm), has expanded the Guards’ influence in Iran’s vital oil sector and has declared that:  “While I have become a public servant in the oil ministry, my entire existence is in the Guards and I shall remain this way.”

What is to be made of allegations of the IRGC’s direct interference in the 2005 and 2009 presidential elections, and the speech by General Moshfegh confirming this? Or more recent rumours that they, alongside the Basij Mobilization Force (BMF), were involved in distributing lists of approved candidates (Hoval Matloob list in Mashhad and Aslah list in Tehran) during the 2012 parliamentary election?

The Panjareh interviewer touched on these when he raised Khomeini’s famous declaration against military interference in politics. Yazdi responded by saying that:

“Members of the IRGC view staying out of politics as a religious duty and believe that if we enter politics we have committed a haraam [sinful] action; but certainly we view activities that increase the political awareness of IRGC personnel, Basij members, and after that the people as a religious duty.”

This appears to be a tacit admission by Yazdi that the IRGC does see a political role for itself in Iran, and that the organization feels justified in intervening in certain areas. Yazdi attempted to justify this by saying that the IRGC did not try to tell people who to vote for and who not to vote for. Rather, he emphasized that the IRGC follows the line of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Again, this is a tacit admission of the IRGC’s political interference, as Khamenei is in no way above politics (as for example a constitutional monarch might be), but rather an active political force with factional preferences.

The interviewer finally touched on recent claims by parliamentarian Ali Motahari which accused the IRGC of interfering in politics and threatened to release the names of Guardsmen who were involved in such activities. Yazdi maintained that the IRGC had resolved the issues with Motahari. When asked if reports of interference in the recent parliamentary elections were true he asserted:

“We have not had documented reports; but in the last presidential election there were individuals who we confronted and removed from the IRGC.”

It is unclear who Yazdi is referring to when he claims that individuals were removed from the IRGC, although it would not be surprising if they were supporters of presidential candidate and opposition figure Mir Hossein Mousavi. Throughout the interview Yazdi appeared to take a softer tone toward the Reformist faction of Mousavi and ex-President Mohammad Khatami than has been the case since 2009, saying that:

“Even in confronting the Reformists we believe that if they move within the structure of the regime and the supreme leadership, we will welcome their presence [in politics]”

Editor’s note: As we’ve recently reported, with the international pressure on the regime increasing (particularly through stringent economic sanctions targeting the country’s strategic oil industry), there are signs that hardliners led by Khamenei are taking an increasingly conciliatory tone toward their foes in the Pragmatist and Reformist factions. Likewise Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Council, also appears to be taking conciliatory tone toward hardliners. Are we witnessing a closing of the ranks between the regime’s disparate factions?