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TO LABEL ENTIRE GUARDS AS 'TERRORIST' IS WRONG
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
August 27, 2007

By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News

In what looks like a complicated chess game, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has moved to consolidate his hold on key organs of economic policymaking in Tehran.

He has replaced the Central Bank of Iran's Governor Ebrahim Sheibani after he criticised the president for policies that fuel inflation by printing money to buy political support.

Sheibani's forced resignation came only days after Ahmadinejad fired the minister of oil while another Cabinet member, minister for industries also resigned in opposition to the projected sale of state-owned companies to members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

What makes the high profile reshuffle significant is that all the departing officials have been replaced with members of the IRGC, strengthening the parallel army's hold on power.

Ahmadinejad has also appointed an IRGC general, Ali Reza Afshari, as deputy interior minister in charge of elections, a sign that next year's general election will be tightly controlled.

The latest moves confirm what many Iranians see as "a creeping coup d'etat by the IRGC against the ruling mullahs and their business partners.

It is now safe to say that the IRGC is the dominant force within the ruling establishment in Tehran. This is, perhaps, one reason the Bush administration in Washington is mulling the possibility of declaring the IRGC a "terrorist organisation".

Were this to happen, the US would be labelling as "terrorist" the principal force that ensures the survival of the Islamic Republic.

However, IRGC is not a monolith, and to label all of it as "terrorist" may make it difficult to make deals with parts of it when, and if, an opportunity arises.

The IRGC is divided into five commands, each with a direct line to the "supreme guide" Ali Khamenei.

Of the five commands in question, two could be regarded as "terrorist" according to the US State Department's definition that, needless to say, is rejected by the Islamic Republic.

One, which includes the so-called Jerusalem (Quds) Corps, is in charge of exporting the revolution. Apart from Hezbollah and Hamas it runs a number of radical groups across the globe.

The second command that could be targeted deals with internal repression. It operates through several auxiliary forces, including the notorious Karbala brigades charged with crushing popular revolts in Tehran.

Many Iranians see these as instruments of terror. The IRGC's officers' corps, including those in retirement, numbers around 55,000 and is as divided on domestic and foreign policies as the rest of the society.

Some IRGC former commanders who did not share the Islamic Republic's goals have already defected to the US. Others have gone into low-profile exile, mostly as businessmen in other countries.

An unknown number were purged because they refused to kill anti-regime demonstrators.

Many prominent IRGC commanders may be regarded as businessmen first and military leaders second. Usually, they have a brother or a cousin in Europe or Canada to look after their business interests and keep a channel open to small and big "Satans" in case the regime falls.

No guarantee

A few IRGC commanders, including some at the top, do not seek major military conflict with the US that could wreck their business empires without offering victory on the battlefield.

There is no guarantee that, in case of a major war, all parts of the IRGC would show the same degree of commitment to the Islamic Republic.

IRGC commanders may be prepared to kill unarmed Iranians or hire Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi radicals to kill others. However, it is not certain they would be prepared to die for Ahmadinejad.

A blanket labelling of the IRGC, as opposed to targeting elements of it that do mischief against the Iranian people and others in the region and beyond, could prove counterproductive.

It could unite a deeply fractious force by leaving no door through which some of its members could walk out of the dangerous situation they have helped create.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.

 

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