TEHRAN, 1 December 2005 — The deputy chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards has been appointed as deputy interior minister for security and police, the official news agency IRNA said yesterday.
Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, 50, becomes the most senior member of the ideological army to join the government of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — himself a veteran of the force.
But the head of the Revolutionary Guards, General Yahya Rahim Safavi, dismissed concerns over the force’s increased involvement in national politics and fears of a militarization of the Islamic regime.
“Only idiotic politicians make such comments,” IRNA quoted him as saying.
“The Revolutionary Guards will help the government to assure lasting security in the country and the presence in governors offices takes us in this direction,” Safavi said, confirming a string of similar appointments.
The Revolutionary Guards Corps was set up in the wake of the 1979 revolution to defend the Islamic republic from “internal and external threats”. It is now one of Iran’s most powerful institutions and counts an estimated 350,000 men.
Zolghadr has been deputy head of the force for the past eight years, previously serving as its chief of staff. During the 1980-88 war with Iraq, he headed military training and guerrilla operations.
Ahmadinejad’s cabinet already includes several guard veterans, notably Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi.
“The nomination of certain brothers who served at the frontlines during the war should be a source of pride and not worry,” the guards’ political department, Abbas Haji Najari, said recently.
Members of Iran’s military are barred by the constitution from direct involvement in politics while still in uniform.
Signs that the Guards — or Pasdaran as they are known locally — were intent they were taking a higher political profile came during parliamentary elections in February 2004, when incumbent reformists — most of whom were barred from even standing — were ousted by a coalition of conservatives and hard-liners.
Among the new MPs were several dozen former members of the Revolutionary Guards or its volunteer militia, the Basij.
The force itself is also the most trusted power center when it comes to national security issues, notably being charged with handling the deployment of the Shahab-3 medium range ballistic missile.