Wednesday , 24 July 2024

IRGC’s Hidden Links to Iran’s Presidential Candidates

iranintl – The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) spokesperson reiterated last week that the Revolutionary Guard would refrain from any involvement in the election process despite the close affiliations of most candidates with the organization.

Ramezan Sharif emphasized that the IRGC would remain neutral and abstain from supporting or opposing any candidate but while the IRGC officially denies fielding candidates in Iran’s upcoming presidential snap elections, the majority of contenders appear to maintain close ties with the organization.

Even when the president is not affiliated with the IRGC, its influence remains profound. Former President Hassan Rouhani famously dubbed the IRGC a “shadow government with guns,” lamenting its extensive control over political, military, and economic realms.

He once characterized them as “a government wielding both military might and media dominance, possessing an unrivaled grasp on power, leaving little room for challengers.”

This election cycle underscores the IRGC’s pervasive influence, as evidenced by the strong connections of most of the six hand-picked presidential candidates to the organization through personal relationships or their staff affiliations.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf‘s association with the IRGC dates back to his youth. He officially joined the IRGC at 19 in 1980 and served until 2005.

He has held various high-ranking positions within the IRGC, including serving as deputy commander of the Basij, leading the Khatam Al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, and commanding the IRGC Air Force.

During Ghalibaf’s tenure leading the IRGC Air Force, clashes emerged with the Army over land seizures. Ghalibaf’s forces resorted to violence, resulting in the death of an army soldier.

As Speaker of Parliament, Ghalibaf furthered IRGC’s economic interests. In one instance, he reportedly replaced the head of the Central Bank to facilitate IRGC financing during Ebrahim Raisi’s presidency in 2023.

In a leaked audio recording from February 2022, conversations among senior Revolutionary Guard generals surfaced, shedding light on a significant corruption scandal. The discussions implicated Ghalibaf during his tenure as Tehran’s mayor.

The funds at issue were primarily allocated to the Quds Force, the IRGC’s clandestine overseas operations unit, which wields huge economic power in Iran. Still, they became entangled in transactions between the municipality and Yas Holding, an IRGC’s Cooperatives Foundation subsidiary engaged in services, dealerships, and subcontracting within the housing sector.

Throughout his term, he oversaw the enactment of the Strategic Action Law to Lift Sanctions and Safeguard Iran’s National Interests in the parliament. This law compelled aggressive measures to expedite Iran’s nuclear program and limit International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight.

In March, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the IRGC’s Aerospace Division commander, praised Ghalibaf’s pivotal role in establishing IRGC missile sites, hailing him as “revolutionary” and “indefatigable.” He emphasized the need for “jihadist managers” like Ghalibaf in the country’s economy.

Ghalibaf’s potential presidency would mark the first time a former senior career commander of the IRGC assumes the position under Khamenei. His presidency would likely safeguard IRGC interests in the event of Khamenei’s passing during his tenure at 85 years old.

Alireza Zakani

Although not a military figure like Ghalibaf, Alireza Zakani is well-known for his role in leading the IRGC’s Student Basij Organization (SBO).

Alireza Zakani has held various prominent positions within the Islamic Republic, including leading the SBO, serving as a member of parliament, presiding over the Parliament’s Research Center, and currently holding the position of mayor of Tehran.

Renowned for his conservative ideology and often referred to as the “revolutionary tank,” Zakani is re-entering the presidential race after withdrawing his candidacy in 2021 to endorse Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.

He is subject to UK sanctions due to allegations of serious human rights abuses in Iran.

While not donning a military uniform, Zakani, who served as Ghalibaf’s campaign manager during his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2005, aimed to govern Tehran with military-like tactics, evidenced by his establishment of IRGC and Basij-led camps in the city.

He has also received support from figures like General Esmaeil Kosari, a former IRGC commander and current member of parliament, in controversial decisions like building mosques in parks.

Lotfollah Forouzandeh leads Zakani’s election campaign. Forouzandeh is currently Tehran’s municipality deputy for financial affairs. His appointment raised concerns about the misuse of municipal resources for personal political gain.

Forouzandeh held positions such as commander and deputy in the IRGC until 1992; he is also recognized as one of the founders of the Society of Devotees of the Islamic Revolution, a group composed of former Iran-Iraq war commanders who have wielded significant influence in elections since the early 2000s. This group notably contributed to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rise to power in the Tehran Municipality and the presidency.

Saeed Jalili

Saeed Jalili earned the moniker “a living martyr” following the loss of one of his legs during the Iran-Iraq War while serving in SBO.

Throughout his career, Jalili has held many significant roles, from the Office of the Supreme Leader to Iran’s Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

These positions include leading Iran’s Foreign Ministry’s Inspection Office, heading the Foreign Ministry’s US Affairs Office, serving as a senior director in Khamenei’s office, deputy foreign minister for European and American Affairs, secretary of the SNSC, and subsequently, the supreme leader’s personal representative on the SNSC.

Jalili, although aligned with the fundamentalist faction, lacks clear organizational ties with the Revolutionary Guards akin to figures like Ghalibaf or Zakani.

A leaked audio revealed that former IRGC Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani was discontent with Jalili’s management style. However, IRGC-affiliated media outlets, such as Fars, Tasnim, and Javan, as well as Ofoq TV, have maintained a favorable relationship with Jalili.

Mohsen Mansouri, who is leading Jalili’s campaign, has strong ties with the IRGC. As the governor of Tehran province and the head of the province’s security council, he appointed IRGC commanders to critical positions. Mansouri also directed resources to the IRGC in his capacity within Jalili’s campaign, appointing Rahim Aghdam, a Quds Force commander and associate of Qassem Soleimani, to the team.

Mostafa Pourmohammadi

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the only cleric approved to run for the presidency in 2024, is notorious among Iranians for his role alongside Raisi on the Death Commission, which sanctioned the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

He has maintained a positive relationship with the IRGC and even appointed an active IRGC commander to governmental positions.

Pourmohammadi served as a cabinet minister in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first administration. One of his initial appointments was Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, then deputy commander of the IRGC, as his deputy.

Pourmohammadi reportedly revealed electoral irregularities to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei without Ahmadinejad’s knowledge, leading to his dismissal as interior minister in 2008.

Subsequently, he stood in defense of the IRGC against Ahmadinejad’s criticisms.

In 2011, when Ahmadinejad referred to the IRGC’s illicit activities with the term “Smuggler Brothers” and mentioned illegal docks. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, then head of the General Inspection Organization, asserted that no illegal docks existed in the country.

Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi

Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a trained physician and former member of parliament, served on its presidium and as the first deputy speaker. He ran for the presidency in 2021 but was unsuccessful. Subsequently, Ebrahim Raisi appointed him as vice president and head of the Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Foundation. This Iranian parastatal organization is sanctioned for channeling financial resources to terrorist groups, notably Hezbollah.

As head of the Martyrs and Veterans Affairs Foundation, Ghazizadeh Hashemi naturally maintained business relations with the IRGC’s Quds Force.

Mohammad Reza Mirshamsi, who leads Ghazizadeh Hashemi’s election headquarters, is a relatively lesser-known figure with a history of serving as the political deputy at Imam Hossein University, an institution affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.

Masoud Pezeshkian

Masoud Pezeshkian is the only ‘reformist’ candidate allowed to participate in this election. A heart surgeon by profession, he previously served as the health minister in Mohammad Khatami’s administration.

Though he appears to have fewer connections to the Revolutionary Guards than others, he, along with Ghazizadeh Hashemi, wore the IRGC uniform alongside fellow parliamentarians in solidarity with the IRGC a day after then-US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

In December 2022, during a university lecture, he responded to a student criticizing his choice to wear the IRGC uniform by stating, “Without the IRGC, this country would have been divided, and our work would have ended.”