The volleys between Rouhani’s administration and the influential Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) continue. Soon after the chairman of the joint command of Iran’s armed forces publicly censured the state-run media for the Guards’ undermining of the administration, the government spokesman responded by announcing that it would welcome the Guards’ activities in economic projects.
The public relations office of the IRGC announded that Mohammad Bagher Nowbakht, the executive and planning deputy of president Rouhani participated in the IRGC’s 20th cross-country seminar of the Guards’ political messengers and in his speech said, “The Guards have provided many services in the last 35 years to the country and people, particularly during the holy defense (the 8-year war between Iran and Iraq) and the reconstruction period (following the war) when this was very prominent.” He continued, “Today, the Guards posses a lot of potential to construct and develop the country.”
These remarks by Nowbakht, who is also the spokesperson for Rouhani’s cabinet, came just 48 hours after general Hassan Firuzabadi presented his warm support for the administration. “Our president is holy (Rouhani means holy) and his education is religious, with a PhD at the international level who during the revolutionary struggle (to overthrow the Shah) and 35 years after the victory of the (1979) revolution has held sensitive security-defense and policymaking portfolios in the country,” he said.
He continued, “We have to be proud of this president and be thankful. We must put all our efforts to support the government so that under the current sensitive conditions, it can move the country forward.”
Then without naming any media outlet, he addressed the media that is close to the Guards and made a veiled threat by saying they would be confronted if they continued to attack Rouhani’s administration. “Even the media that are in a way affiliated to the armed forces which make a mistake and do not move according to the direction and directives of the supreme leader, must correct their ways otherwise we will confront them,” he said.
Observers have said that the media the general had in mind are Fars news agency, Tasnim and Javan newspaper, all known to be affiliated to the Guards.
Big Projects Belong to the Guards
Rouhani’s administration seems to welcome such support and intends to reciprocate. In his speech, Nowbakht also said, “Large projects which are beyond the ability of the private sector should be implemented by the Guards. We will award such projects to the armed forces and particularly to the Khatam-ol-Anbia construction enterprise.”
Just a month earlier, IRGC’s top commander had complained about the government’s cooperation with the Guards in the economic sphere. “Unfortunately, the government has not welcomed the recommendations and actions of the Basij for resistance economy. We hope the government will utilize the successful capabilities of the Basij (ideological militia), the Guards and the public,” he had said.
Two weeks prior to that the political deputy of the Guards also spoke of the determination of the force to remain active in economic activities and reminded Rouhani’s government that the force had to be active in this sphere as a way of helping the “regime and the government.”
In March, Rasool Sanairad told Basirat news outlet, “We are in an economic battle and the Guards and Basij have dual capabilities to provide economic resistance and help the regime and the executive branch, just as it has done in the past played a key role in reducing the effects of the sanctions.”
During the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his administration completely handed over the oil wells of Iran to the Guards by appointing general Rostam Ghasemi, the former commander of the Khatam-ol-Anbia enterprise, as the oil minister. Sanai made a reference to this when he said, “Had the Guards not intervened in such industries as oil, foreign sanctions could have caused irreparable damage to the oil industry and our economic activities.”
The handing over of the ministry of oil to the Guards and international sanctions against Iran’s oil sector both happened in 2011. What the Guards achieved was that the exports of 2.3 million barrels of oil a day were reduced to about 700 barrels and with the fall of the value of the national currency, the Rial, the whole Iranian economy was on the brink of collapse.
Rouhani’s support for the Guards’ Entry into the Economy
Speaking at a seminar of IRGC officials on September 16 of 2013, Rouhani recommended that rather than engaging in political activities, the Guards should focus on economic projects. Rouhani seems to be following the same path as Ahmadinejad in this regard who also opened the whole Iranian economy to the Guards. Independent economists and political groups have strongly objected to such a development. “I reject the rumors that are circulating about the Guards. They want to make the Guards a competitor for the public, while the force is not such a competitor for people or the private sector. It is not a regular contractor and has never been one. The IRGC must undertake important projects that the private sector cannot implement,” he said.
These remarks were immediately welcomed by general Sharif, the HR official of the Guards who said, “In addition to stressing the continuation of the role of the Guards, the president asked that the Guards to assist the government with its initiatives and employment activities. Dr Rouhani demonstrated that he has special trust in the Guards.”
General Ramezan Sharif also said that the Guards were involved in between 5 to 7 percent of all the development/construction projects in the country. “Between 70 to 80 percent of the development projects in the country are in the hands of national-religious groups. Foreign and domestic enemies do not pay attention to this while at the same time they present negative images of the Guards because of their performance,” he said. He did not elaborate on who these “national-religious” groups are. In Iran’s political circles, groups that are labeled as such are those that have been actually opposing the Islamic republic in the last two decades and whose leaders such as Ezatollah Sahabi, had been repeatedly imprisoned and tortured by the intelligence units of the Guards.
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