Scratch my back…
At its inception, and at Khomeini’s insistence, the IRGC was barred from the realm of politics and was meant to be a unifying organization for the good of the Iranian nation.
Having said that, as the Supreme Leader, Khamenei exercises the right to suggest, promote, endorse, place or bar candidates for jobs on many levels. One would think that as a cleric, Khamenei would favor clerics in key jobs – but Khamenei does not forget that his appointment to Supreme Leader was wholeheartedly supported by the IRGC, not by Iran’s clerics.
On taking office in 1989, Khamenei began by integrating IRGC officials into Iran’s economy – subsequently opening the doors to the political arena as well. He needed to surround himself with people whose goals were to protect his regime, making a point of placing IRGC-endorsed officers in strategic jobs: The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation (Ezzatollah Zarghami), the Supreme National Security Council (Saeed Jalili), and the Expediency Council (Mohsen Rezaei) to name a few. Within three decades, thousands of IRGC officers found their way into parliament, local government, the foreign office and more.
IRGC overtakes Clerics
By the time Ahmadinejad – himself a former IRGC officer – took office as president, the IRGC had become firmly entrenched in parliament and government: one third of Iran’s parliament and “half of the cabinet members…were members of the IRGC.” By 2011, on the eve of the appointment of Major General Rostam Qassemi as oil minister in his cabinet, the ratio of IRGC members had reached two thirds.
Conversely, the percentage of clerics in Iran’s parliament dropped from 50% in the 1980’s to 25% in the 1990’s to less than 10% today.
The case of Qassemi’s appointment deserves a closer look. Not only did it give the IRGC control over a lot more money, and power to make more money; Qassemi even “conditioned his acceptance of the cabinet position on a “purge of the forces close to the current of deviation…from the oil industry.” – “forces” close to Ahmadinejad himself – implying that Qassemi’s appointment was forced on him as president by Khamenei himself.
The resulting 216 out of 246 votes for the appointment could also be credited to the strength of Khamenei and the IRGC at the time, despite moderate conservative Ali Mottahari’s lone public objection: “The IRGC as a military force should not be connected with the political and economic power. In other words, the IRGC should not be [a part of the] cabinet.”
From Politics to Policies
It is through these appointments that the IRGC has muscled its way into politics and, more importantly, gotten its hands onto the resources of Iran – money that helps finance IRGC activities on a national and International level.
The next post will focus on the IRGC’s control of national and foreign policy in Iran.
Earlier post on IRGC: