For Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, life can be rich

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Philip Sher­well

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.

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