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Iran elections – Revolution Guards flex political muscle

BBC Monitoring

By Saeed Barzin of BBC Monitoring on 5 February

Iran's military Revolution Guards are showing increasing interest in the coming parliamentary Majlis elections and getting involved in the campaign process, press reports indicate.

Military commanders, political commissars, as well as the rank-and-file officers of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) are making thinly veiled statements against the reformist rivals of the government, and calling for a vote in favour of the right-wing "Principle-ist" groups.

However, reports indicate that while some senior commanders are making hard-hitting comments, other individuals, including commissars affiliated to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i, seem to be taking a softer approach.

The statements are of significant because they could indicate greater interference of the military in Iran's political affairs.

They also signify that the military, under the command of the supreme leader, feels it needs to become involved in t! he process for the 14 March elections.

Military brass on political obligation

The strongest anti-reformist statements have been made by the most senior military commanders affiliated to the IRGC.

The Chief of the Supreme Commander's Staff, Maj-Gen Seyyed Hasan Firuzabadi who comes from the IRGC has been most open about the affair. (ISNA, 2 Feb)

He has condemned the reformists for seeking a rapprochement with the West, and said the "US was counting on them". (Fars, 2 Feb) This is tantamount to an accusation of treason in Iranian politics.

Firuzabadi also said people should not vote for "individuals who don't have a revolutionary background and who are moving towards the West".

"God forbid that those who are the hope of the Americans should sit in the Majlis," he said.

The following day, the IRGC Commander-in-Chief, Maj-Gen Mohammad Ali Ja'fari, stressed that his forces had a duty to deal with "internal threats" meaning domestic political challenges. (Mehr, 3 Feb)

Th! e IRGC, he said, has a "mission to prevent political and cultural threats... They have a cultural, political and military duty. The Guards should extend [their influence] at home and abroad."

The acting commander of the Basij Force which acts as the paramilitary arm of the Guards also stressed that the force had a role to play. (Sepehrnews, 2 Feb)

In a reference to the elections, Hoseyn Ta'eb said the Basij should have a "maximum presence" in the elections, and "promote political understanding" so that "best choices" are made.

A pro-reform site reported Ta'eb's statement as the "official declaration of interference of the Basij in the elections". (Norooznews.ir)

The only exception to the rule, as reported by the monitored news agencies were comments by Brig-Gen Mas'ud Jazayeri who is in charge of the armed forces cultural affairs that the military will not interfere in political affairs. (Mehr 28 Jan)

"The armed forces seek to gain poli! tical knowledge, but it does not mean that they intend to interfere in political affairs," he was reported as saying.

"Interference of the armed forces in elections is legally banned and military personnel like other citizens, express their political views in the ballot papers", he said.

Official publication: Bitter criticism

In contrast, the harshest and the most open comments came from the IRGC's official publication, Sobh-e Sadeq. In a series of lengthy articles, editorials and interviews over several issues, the weekly lashed out against the reformists.

"It is obvious that the rabble-rousers of the previous Majlis [i.e. the reformists] who are watering the mill of the imperialists and the [region's] reactionaries, should not be allowed to run for the elections," the publication said in a typical editorial. (28 Jan)

The publication argued that the reformists were being politically supported by the United States, as evident in the statements made by President George W. Bush.

Before leaving for a trip to the Middle East, President Bush had said the US "will support democrats and reformers from Beirut and Baghdad to Damascus and Tehran. We will stand with all those working to build a future of liberty and justice and peace." (Whit! ehouse.gov, 5 Jan)

Sobh-e Sadeq asked: "Why is Bush supporting the Iranian reformists... while attacking the Islamic system and some of its institutions such as the IRGC." (21 Jan)

Background The attacks on the reformists follow a cue given by Ayatollah Khamene'i who has criticized Iranian politicians whom he said were being supported by President Bush.

Speaking after Bush's statement, Khamene'i said it was a disgrace for anyone to be supported by the US. "People should be careful," he said. "Do not allow the elections to become a tool in the hands of foreigners." (Radio, 9 Jan)

The subsequent statements by military commanders were not the first time they have been involved in political issues.

There have been increasing signs of the involvement of the IRGC in politics since President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad came to power in 2005. A noticeable number of military commanders have left their posts for civilian jobs at top state institutions.

At the Ministry of the Interior alone which administrates the elections the deputy ministers for security and political affairs come from the IRGC.

In the 2004 elections, there were complaints by some politicians that the Basij was used to collect votes for right-wing candidates.

Leader's representatives Meanwhile, the representatives of the supreme leader who maintain an extensive network in the military establishment and supervise its activities have also been speaking about the coming elections but more moderately, in tone and content.

According to the Iranian constitution, the leader appoints the top military officers and supervises their activity, and in turn, they report to him.

The leader's representatives in the military have stressed three points vis-a-vis the elections. They said it was necessary to:

- brief the public,

- formulate the criteria for choosing candidates,

- and have a high turnout on the election day. (IRNA, 2 Feb)

In a speech, Khamene'i's representative in the IRGC, Ali Sa'idi, stressed the "correct use of democracy", the correctness of the Principle-ist vision and the duties of the Basij. (IRNA, 2 Feb)

He spoke about the term "Principle-ist" which is used by the pro-government conservative and right-wing forces rather than the term "fundamentalist".

Principle-ism, he said, is a "vision based on religious principles" and goes over and above a simple political tendency.

The leader's representative in the Basij, Hojjatoleslam Moh! ammadi stressed the role of the force in the elections. (IRNA, 3 Feb)

Speaking before 2,000 paramilitaries in the city of Mashhad, he said that the Basij has an important role in preparing the ground for the maximum participation of the people".

Another representative, working in the Gilan Province, Zeynolabedin Qorbani, in an address to the local officers, said the next Majlis should be in-line with the leader.

He said the "Majlis should be free from political vexatiousness which was the case with the previous [reformist-controlled] Majlis." (IRNA, 2 Feb)

Khamene'i's representative in the IRGC at Kerman Province, Abolqasem Alizadeh, also spoke on similar lines but he also stressed the importance of religious-democracy. (IRNA, 3 Feb)

Rank and file Lower ranking officers have been reported by the conservative-controlled news agencies to have been making similar comments.

In Natanz, the local IRGC commander told the local Basij that caring and efficient individuals should go the Majlis. (IRNA, 4 Feb)

In Sanandaj, the local Basij commander said the leader's statements should be used as the guideline for the elections. (IRNA, 1 Feb)

In Borujerd, the local Basij commander said people should learn about the candidates. (IRNA, 4 Feb)

Reactions Statements by the various military-related personnel were reported by the national news agencies - which are now in the full control of government supporters.

However, little reaction has been seen on news outlets operated by pro-reform activists, who are the target of the IRGC political campaign.

Norooznews, one of the only remaining pro-reform outlets, reported some of the comments, and followed it with a reader's discussion forum.

One reader said: "Praise God!!!! We are now certain of a healthy election. God save our caring and learned Basij!!!!!"

Another reader added: "Imam Khomeyni had repeatedly ordered the Guards and the Basij to keep away from politics."

Another one said: "Apparently some people are deaf. Dear brothers did you not hear the gun in the attempted assassination of Sa'id Hajjarian" the pro-reform activist?

"The Basij has always been on the scene," added another.

Source: BBC Monitoring research 5 Feb 08

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