Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kamenei's reshuffle
this week of Revolutionary Guard commanders, coming amid reports that the
all-volunteer Basij militia will be folded into IRGC "land forces," initially
looked to some like an attempt to soothe public anger over postelection violence
attributed to the two forces.
But the man chosen to replace Basij commander Hossein Taeb, whom critics want investigated for his possible role in recent abuses and deaths of opposition protesters, is likely to do little to placate administration critics.
Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi is a security official whose conservative credentials are thought to stem from his involvement in efforts to stymie Iran's reform movement under Mohammad Khatami's presidency in the late 90's and first half of this decade.
"The appointment [of Naqdi] shattered the hopes
and plans of those of thought they could ease the [postelection crisis] through
political mediation," says Mohsen Sazagara, an exiled cofounder of the IRGC who
has since fallen out of favor with Iran's political leadership.
Sazagara, who has actively supported Iran's Green Movement from Washington in the wake of the disputed June 12 election, says the move signals a hardening of the establishment's stance toward the opposition.
Tip Of The Spear
Reports have linked Naqdi to crackdowns against students and the torture of municipal officials arrested during Khatami's 1997-2005 administration. He also has a record of involvement in the suppression of dissent, including the interrogation and alleged torture of students jailed during 1999 student protests.
Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a journalist and former Basij member who now lives in Berlin, thinks there is reason to believe that Naqdi was involved in the most recent postelection clampdown as well.
"A number of people who were released after being arrested in the postelection crackdown, including one that was held in the Kahrizak detention center, told me that there was someone there that was being called 'Shams,' and that he was the head of the interrogation team," Ebrahimi says.
He says "Shams" has been Naqdi's code name for years.
The Basij militia -- under Taeb's leadership -- was a key weapon in the regime's arsenal to suppress mass demonstrations that took place after President Mahmud Ahmadinejad was named the winner of the June vote. Opposition leaders and activists have claimed massive electoral fraud and condemned official brutality, with a widely circulated estimate of 72 people killed as a result of the crackdown.
Human Rights Watch has named Taeb as one of the Iranian security officials who should be investigated for postelection abuses, particularly regarding attacks on student dormitories that left at least five dead. Taeb reportedly has been transferred to serve as the deputy head of the IRGC's intelligence arm.
News of the reshuffle within the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard -- and the Basij it already oversees -- follows anonymously sourced reports by Mehr news agency and on the "Fararu" website asserting that there are plans to formally merge the Basij with Revolutionary Guard's "land forces."
Such a merger would further gird a loose alliance of plainclothes enforcers who operate in a legal gray zone and strike fear among ideological opponents who've been on the receiving end of their sometimes brutal methods.
Iran observers note that the changes come at a
sensitive time, fueling widespread speculation that they are intended to help
assuage public anger over postelection violence.
Basij forces on parade in November 2008
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