For Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, life can be rich
As the zealous enforcers of Iran’s Islamic revolution, they are at pains to be seen living humbly, maintaining homes in the crumbling Soviet-style slums of downtown Tehran and dri- ving modest, imported South Korean cars.
But for many commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, the force thought responsible for ordering attacks on U.S. and international forces in Iraq, life is more luxurious than they want it to appear.
Behind the facade of a simple, pious existence, they live in mansions in the exclusive hills of northern Tehran with the latest model of BMW or MercedesBenz in the garage, luxury handwoven rugs on the floor, wardrobes full of designer clothes and a safe packed with diamond and gold jewelry.
Such men have grown rich as the Guards have extended their role from imposing Islamic rectitude at home and exporting Iran’s revolution to playing a huge role in the country’s economy. From the oil and gas indus-
tries to chicken farms and apiaries, the Guards have used their power and muscle to take control of major areas of business in Iran.
Now, though, their burgeoning economic empire is the focus of White House moves to classify the regime’s 125,000-strong praetorian guard as a “terrorist organization.”
Under plans disclosed two weeks ago, the Bush administration is expected to announce the classification in coming months in response to the Guards’ suspected role in terrorist attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Iran’s dis- puted nuclear program.
On Aug. 19, a top U.S. general said U.S. forces were tracking about 50 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps who have crossed the border into southern Iraq to train Shi’ite militia fighters.
“We know they’re here, and we target them as well,” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, citing intelligence reports as evidence of their presence. He declined to be more specific and said no Iranian forces have been arrested in his territory.
Listing the Guard as a terrorist group will allow the United States to freeze or block bank accounts and business transactions involved with the force, although the immediate effect would be limited as the U.S. already has an almost complete trade embargo with Iran.
But the designation could be more than symbolic if U.S. diplomats can encourage European states and companies to follow suit by persuading them that trade with Iran is effectively trade with the Guards.
Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the leader of the Guards, responded defiantly over the Aug. 18-19 weekend. “America will receive a heavier punch from the Guards in the future,” he said. “We will never remain silent in the face of U.S. pressure, and we will use our leverage against them.”
Under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself a former Guards commander, the organization has aggressively expanded its business empire as part of a strategy of placing hard- liners in key positions of power.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the exile opposition movement that revealed the existence of Iran’s secret nuclear program in 2002, has tracked the explosion of the Guards’ economic operations.
“The country’s economy and politics is now under the command of veteran Guards’ commanders and senior officials of the security and intelligence apparatus,” it concludes in a dossier on the Guards’ activities.
One former Guards commander to have benefited is Sadeq Mahsouli, 47, an Ahmadinejad confidant. He spent much of his career in the military and security apparatus before using his Guards contacts and credentials to build a business in construction and oil trading.
When he was nominated to be oil minister in 2005, his wealth raised opposition in the parliament, where one legislator called him a “billionaire general.”
Several Iranian businessmen, speaking anonymously, have detailed how the Guards have used force and intimidation to grab business.
“If you enter the economy using a gun and handcuffs, it is much easier to deal with competitors and to win the most lucrative contracts,” said Mohsen Sazegara, who co-founded the organization in 1979 but then turned against the regime and was jailed before going into exile in the United States in 2003.