Iran’s Revolutionary Guards assert new political muscle
TEHRAN: The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the zealous protectors of the Islamic republic who arrested a British naval unit this week, have asserted themselves in recent months as one of the most powerful entities within Iran’s complex power structure.
The corps is already the most powerful part of the armed forces, and analysts have pointed to several signals that the Guards have been laying claim to a major say over how the 25-year-old Islamic republic is run. The border incident, during which the Guards paraded eight British naval personnel blindfolded before holding their own negotiations with British diplomats, is seen as just the latest demonstration of their political clout.
The Guards, who have there own ground forces, navy and air force, carried out a spectacular raid in May on Tehran’s new multi-million dollar airport just as the first commercial flight was supposed to land. An Emirates flight, flanked by fighters, was forced to head back to Dubai because the Guards had taken issue with the awarding of an airport operating contract to a Turkish consortium.
This was a threat to national security, the Guards said, and Iran’s reformist government was powerless to intervene. In February, the Guards played a central role in parliamentary elections. Most reformist candidates were barred from standing, ensuring an easy win by religious hardliners.
Guards spokesman Massoud Jazahiri threatened disgruntled reformers with a “people’s tribunal”. And in a marked change from their previous absence from political office, some 40 or so former members won seats in the new legislature, crying “Death to America” in its opening session. In May Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never short of praise for the “Pasdaran” as they are called here, nominated veteran Guard Ezzatollah Zarghami to head the powerful state television and radio network, a bastion of Iran’s right-wing. Observers will be closely watching what candidates are approved to stand for president in June 2005. But even before beginning to carve out their own political niche, the Revolutionary Guards have established themselves as a major player in the economy by running anything from trading to public works enterprises. Huge construction contracts are frequently awarded to consortiums linked to the force, which was set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the ruling clergy from foreign and domestic “enemies.” That helps to top up their already bulging coffers and cement their autonomy. afp