Iran General NewsHardliner takes over Revolutionary Guards

Hardliner takes over Revolutionary Guards

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The Sunday Times: Iran’s most powerful military commander, who masterminded the capture and subsequent release of 15 British servicemen earlier this year, was ousted yesterday as head of the Revolutionary Guards in an upheaval engineered by hardliners. The Sunday Times

Uzi Mahnaimi

IRAN’S most powerful military commander, who masterminded the capture and subsequent release of 15 British servicemen earlier this year, was ousted yesterday as head of the Revolutionary Guards in an upheaval engineered by hardliners.

Major-General Yahya Rahim Safavi, 49, was removed from his post by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader. Mohammad Ali Jaafari, who was in charge of antiAmerican activity in Iraq, was named as his replacement.

“Regarding your valuable experience and shining background at different times, and varied responsibilities in the guards, I appoint you as the com-mander-in-chief of this revolutionary service organisation,” Khamenei told Jaafari. Safavi, who commanded the guards for 10 years, will become Khamenei’s senior adviser on armed forces affairs.

Iranian experts regarded Jaafari’s promotion as a victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as Safavi was not seen to be tough enough in the face of mounting western pressure and argued the guards were not strong enough to repel a foreign attack.

His successor is known to be more bullish about the guards’ fighting ability, and has taken an active role in Iran’s clandestine activities in neighbouring Iraq. Earlier this year US forces almost captured Jaafari in Iraq. He escaped but the Americans seized five of his colleagues, all belonging to the Quds force of the guards.

The decision to dismiss Safavi came after a month of unrest among high-ranking guards officers. “They’ve wanted to get rid of him for long time,” an Iranian source said last night, “but the spiritual leader hesitated to do so.”

The 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guards are an ideologically driven force set up shortly after the 1979 revolution to act as guardians of the Islamic republic. The force has a separate command structure from the regular military and answers directly to Khamenei. The guards include sea, land and air forces.

They also have a stranglehold on Iran’s political domain, controls vast swathes of the national economy and run the nuclear weapons programme.

It was revealed last month that America intends to designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organisation, although debate is continuing within the Bush administration over timing and intent. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, argued privately it was “too early” to go public with the information and that it could disrupt diplomatic relations. Such a move, however, would enable Washington to target the guards’ sprawling finances.

Iranian sources said last night that the US moves against the Revolutionary Guards triggered the decision to remove Safavi.

As well as being a fighting force, the guards have growing business interests, including an engineering subsidiary, Khatam al-Anbia, which has taken on several oil and gas projects in Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer.

“The country’s economy and politics is now under the command of veteran guards commanders and senior officials of the security and intelligence apparatus,” the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran claims.

By some estimates, the guards are linked to more than 100 Iranian companies, controlling about $12 billion in various branches of the economy ranging from the oil industry to chicken farms. Critics have accused them of mafia-style practices.

The main reservations of the ultra-fundamentalists about Safavi were based on his opposition to the expansion of the Revolutionary Guards in economic sector of the country, his ties with reformist circles, and his efforts to coordinate the guards’ activities more closely with the generals of the regular army.

He was also severely criticised for his decision earlier this year to end confrontation with Britain and free the 15 servicemen seized in April by the Revolutionary Guards.

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