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Iran: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei Supports the Military's Political Activities


By Mahshid Boroomand, Rooz Online

Basij Has Been Aggressive in Politics

Khamenei (left) with Basij chief Naghdi (center) and IRGC head Ali Jafari

As much criticism for the involvement of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and the Basij para-military forces in political affairs has been going around in Iran in recent years and critics call such interference to be contrary to the constitution and contradicting the guidance of the founder of the Islamic Republic ayatollah Khomeini, the country's current leader ayatollah Khamenei through recent remarks approved the interference of the military in politics by calling the Basij a "political" entity.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the week that commemorates the Basij force, which operates under the IRGC, ayatollah Khamenei said, "Basij is a people's movement that includes people from all sectors of society, the heart of the nation and it is created for the nation. It is present in all activities of defense, science, the arts, construction, politics, culture, assistance to the deprived, production, technology, sports, international accomplishments, and in any good work." He made these remarks to senior military commanders and Basij leaders present at a commemoration gathering.

Ayatollah Khamenei listed the qualities of the Basij in these words. "The Basij is political but not politicized or partisan; it is crusading but not without discipline or extremism; it is deeply religious and committed but not dogmatic and rigid; it is insightful but not arrogant; it supports attracting the majority but is brave and does not compromise on principles; it supports science but is not mesmerized by it; it has Islamic ethics but this is not a front; it is active in developing the world but it is not material."

This approval of Basij's involvement in politics and political issues by ayatollah Khamenei comes at a time when two military institutions in the country, namely the IRGC and the Basij both of which operate directly under his direction, have been accused of not only taking sides in political issues but also supporting specific groups operating under the rubric of Principlists in the recent presidential and parliamentary elections.

Khamenei with his top commanders

In a 2005 letter to ayatollah Khamenei, Green Movement leader Mehdi Karoubi complained about the interference of Khamenei's son, the IRGC and the Basij and warned about straying from the course of the revolution. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the current head of the powerful State Expediency Council, who was also a presidential candidate in 2009, also has aired similar criticism against the undue interference of military institutions such as the IRGC and the Basij in elections. He had also asked state officials to investigate the complaint made by Karoubi.

In the course of the controversial 2009 presidential elections, a prominent pro-reform candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi who is also another Green Movement leader along with Karoubi, both of whom have been under house arrest for 10 months now, wrote two letters to ayatollah Khamenei complaining about the interference of members of the IRGC and the Basij in the electoral process.

Other senior leaders of the Islamic revolution too have made similar complaints about the overstepping of the IRGC and the Basij and have referenced ayatollah Khomeini's guidance against the military's participation in politics. The founder of the Islamic regime had on a number of occasions, including his political will, expressly stressed that the armed forces should stay away from parties, groups, factions etc and that they should not get involved with them and what he called "political games."

The constitution of the Islamic Republic also expressly bans the armed forces from getting involved in political issues and has even outlined criminal penalties for the armed forces for such transgressions. It even specifically names the IRGC and the Basij.

It should be noted that in recent months differences among the Principlists, some of whom support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been growing and are now regular fodder for the domestic media. Today, a group of IRGC and Basij commanders appointed by ayatollah Khamenei have broken ranks with some Principlists and reject Ahmadinejad and his allies completely and label them to be outside the revolutionary circle.

The head of the armed forces command recently even said that the "deviant current - a label attributed to Ahmadinejad and his allies implying that they have deviated from the true revolutionary course - is an ally of the Americans as are the seditionists - a label the regime uses for the reform movement lead by the Green Movement - and that people must exercise vigilance towards them and the events around the country.

In a recent remark the commander of the Basij force Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, the Basij also said, "The Basij shall play a guiding role in the upcoming elections so that people can make the better choices." In another speech in September he said that the upcoming Majlis elections were a challenge for the regime and that the Basij would play a "supportive role in the ballot boxes."

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