Iranian hardliners see Trump’s victory as a unique opportunity to claw back the power they lost under the Iran deal – Business Insider

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IRGC
In
this picture taken on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008, Iranian
Revolutionary Guards members march during a parade ceremony,
marking the 28th anniversary of the onset of the Iran-Iraq war
(1980-1988), in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary
founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran,
Iran.

Vahid
Salemi/AP


ANKARA (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s victory and the war on Islamic
State have given Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps what it sees as a unique opportunity to claw back economic
and political power it had lost.

Sidelined after a nuclear deal was reached with Iranian reformist
leaders and the administration of President Barack Obama and
major nations, the IRGC is determined to regain its position in
Shi’ite Iran’s complex governing structure.

Republican Trump said in the campaign that he would abandon the
2015 deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for the
lifting of economic sanctions. His tough stance, in contrast to
Obama’s olive branch, is expected to empower hard-liners who
would benefit from an economy that excludes foreign competition.

In addition, the Quds force, that conducts IRGC policies
overseas, has played a successful and key role on the
battlefields of Iraq increasing the Guards’ kudos at home.

“Trump and the Islamic State militants were gifts from God to the
IRGC,” said a senior official within the Iranian government,
speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity like other figures
contacted within Iran.

“If Trump adopts a hostile policy towards Iran or scraps the
deal, hard-liners and particularly the IRGC will benefit from
it,” a former reformist official said.

Elected in a landslide in 2013 on a promise to end Iran’s
diplomatic and economic isolation, reformist President Hassan
Rouhani has struggled to reconnect Iran’s economy to world
markets and to attract foreign investment.

Uncertainty over the nuclear deal, unilateral U.S. sanctions,
political infighting in Iran alongside complex regulations, labor
issues and corruption have hampered a post-sanctions economic
revival causing concern to Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
who blames the government.

Sanctions benefited IRGC

Deeply loyal to Khamenei, the IRGC was created by Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution. The
IRGC first secured a foothold in the economy after the 1980-88
Iran-Iraq War when the clerical establishment allowed them to
invest in leading Iranian industries.

Involved in a wide range of businesses, from energy and tourism
to car production, telecoms and construction, the IRGC’s empire
grew by taking billions of dollars in projects vacated by Western
oil companies because of sanctions imposed to curb the nation’s
nuclear ambitions.

Trying to limit IRGC influence, Rouhani’s government stalled or
canceled some major projects with the IRGC, including a $1.3
billion deal with National Iranian Gas Co. in March 2014.

Under the nuclear deal, international sanctions were lifted in
January opening up the Iranian economy, thereby threatening the
IRGC power base. Now the Guards see an opportunity to lever back
their position in the Iranian hierarchy.

“The IRGC will use Trump’s win to convince the clerical rulers to
give them more political and economic backing. This is what they
have been hoping for since the deal was reached,” said the senior
government official, who declined to be identified.

“If Trump’s presidency scares away foreign investors from Iran,
then it is the IRGC that will regain its economic power,” said a
former reformist official close to Rouhani.

“More economic involvement of the IRGC means a riskier market for
foreign investors. It will hinder Rouhani’s planned economic
growth and will give more political power to the IRGC and their
hard-line backers,” the reformist official added.

Guard against uncertainty


donald trump
President-elect Donald
Trump

Zach Gibson/Getty
Images


Senior members of the IRGC and its front companies remain under
unilateral U.S. sanctions for what Washington said was supporting
“acts of terrorism”.

Anxious about losing economic power, the IRGC accused Rouhani of
favoring foreign firms rather than domestic ones, demanding a
bigger role in the economy and calling for implementation of
Khamenei’s vision for a self-reliant Iran.

“The IRGC-linked companies cannot compete with the foreign firms.
Therefore, they will want a limited presence for foreign firms in
Iran,” said Tehran-based trader Mohammad Ali, adding: “Money
means power.”

Foreign companies need an Iranian partner to do business in Iran,
which for big projects often means firms controlled by the IRGC.
Most of IRGC front companies are not formally owned by the Corps,
but by individuals and firms linked to it.

The IRGC remains opaque to outsiders.

“The Guards have different layers. The roots of the IRGC are
seasoned and senior commanders who idolize the supreme leader and
are ready to sacrifice their lives for pillars of the revolution
and have influence in political and overseas activities of Sepah
(IRGC),” a retired IRGC commander told Reuters, declining to be
named.

“Also there is another layer and not at the top that have been
involved in business activities. They gained more economic power
under former president (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad.”

The future of the nuclear deal will have a direct bearing on IRGC
military, political and economic ambitions and it is unclear if
Trump will carry out his threat to abandon it.

During the campaign, Trump dismissed the deal as “one of the
worst deals I’ve ever seen negotiated”. But Trump has in the past
made contradictory statements so foreign governments are unsure
how much of his rhetoric will be translated into policy.

Middle East political analysts expected the powerful clerical
establishment’s political backing of the IRGC to harden in
reaction to the uncertainty concerning a Trump presidency.

The Sunni crescent

“The IRGC will gain more power at least until the dust settles
after Trump’s win … the atmosphere in Iran will be militarised
because of more power that will be provided to the IRGC,”
political analyst Hamid Farahvashian said.

“Uncertainty over Trump’s Iran and regional policies, Iran’s
presidential election in May and economic hardship that might
lead to street protests will force the establishment to give more
power to the IRGC.”

It was the IRGC that suppressed student protests in 1999 and also
silenced pro-reform protests that followed Ahmadinejad’s disputed
re-election in 2009.

Analysts and officials say Tehran’s Shi’ite Muslim clerical
rulers are adamant that the IRGC is the key to help preventing
the emergence of a so-called “Sunni crescent” of power from the
chaos of the Middle East conflicts.

In rivalry with Sunni Saudi Arabia, Iran has fought decades of
sectarian proxy war in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and other
regional countries. Quds force commanders have been active
recently on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.

“The IRGC will adopt a more aggressive and tougher approach in
the coming months,” the former reformist official said.

Western governments and Israel accuse the Quds Force of arming
various militant groups in the Middle East.

“The Corps are in charge of preserving Iran’s national security
and its overseas activities. So, having a threat like Daesh (IS)
at our borders and the regional crisis make the Guards essential
for Iran,” a senior Iranian security official said, on condition
of anonymity.

“No matter who is the president in America or elsewhere, we will
support our allies and our Guards will do that.”

 

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, editing by Peter Millership)

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