Generational change within IRGC adds to tensions

Time will tell if the span of a single generation is enough for an organisation such as the IRGC to shed most of its ideological fervour.
Sunday 21/10/2018
New IRGC-KACB chief Saeed  Mohammad (L),  outgoing  IRGC-KACB chief Brigadier-General Ebadollah Abdollahi (C) and IRGC commander Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari.  (Tasnim)
A generation breeds another. New IRGC-KACB chief Saeed Mohammad (L), outgoing IRGC-KACB chief Brigadier-General Ebadollah Abdollahi (C) and IRGC commander Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari. (Tasnim)

A new generation of officers is on the rise within the ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It is a generation that was neither active in the revolution of 1979 and establishment of the Islamic Republic nor fought in the 8-year-long war with Iraq from 1980. Those experiences shaped the ideological worldview of the current leadership but the new generation appears more technocratic in its view of the world.

Indeed, the IRGC’s new generation received a technical education at some of the better Iranian universities. It has most of the managerial skills needed for the IRGC’s growing list of non-military enterprises. That technocratic worldview, however, clashes with the ideological foundations of the revolutionary state. It is those foundations that legitimise the IRGC’s power grab. The changing perspective within the IRGC risks creating considerable tensions within the regime.

Saeed Mohammad, 50, personifies the promise and perils of the generational change within the IRGC. On October 2, Major-General Mohammad-Ali Jafari, IRGC chief commander, appointed Mohammad chief of the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbia Construction Base, a conglomerate that employs more than 135,000 people and is Iran’s largest contracting company.

Originally, Khatam al-Anbia was the IRGC Corps of Engineering. It was tasked with building trenches and fortifications during the war with Iraq. After the war ended in 1988, then IRGC chief commander Mohsen Rezaei reorganised the corps. It was supposed to engage in the post-war reconstruction of Iran and simultaneously provide jobs for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers returning from the front.

In the first few decades after the end of the war, several military commanders who were well known from their service during the conflict took charge of Khatam al-Anbia. These include Mohammad Vafaei, Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, Hassan Danaeifard, Abd al-Reza Abed, Rostam Qassemi, Abol-Qassem Mozaffari and Ebadollah Abdollahi.

But Mohammad, Khatam al-Anbia’s new head, never wears a military uniform. His military rank is not known and he is addressed as “Dr Mohammad.” He has a doctorate in civil engineering from Tarbiat-e Modarres University in Tehran and is a faculty member at the Imam Hussein War University, which is affiliated with the IRGC.

Previously, Mohammad served as executive director at several subsidiaries of Khatam al-Anbia, including the Sepasad Group, which is engaged in building dams and water infrastructure, and the Iranian Atlas Group, which has built huge shopping malls in the country.

Khatam al-Anbia has always had an uneasy relationship with President Hassan Rohani’s government. Rohani perceives the IRGC and its economic and contracting arms as formidable obstacles to private sector growth. However, he lacks the power to do much about the flow of cash to the IRGC’s economic empire. A change of leadership at Khatam al-Anbia is unlikely to alter the difficult coexistence between Rohani’s government and the IRGC.

In his inaugural speech, Mohammad expressed Khatam al-Anbia’s commitment to serve. He said: “The Khatam base has always been alongside the government. Now that the unjust sanctions of the enemies against the regime have intensified, we are more determined than ever to serve the people alongside the government.”

He asked for the “assistance of statesmen so the plight of the people improves, and Khatam al-Anbia finishes 40 vital and most important projects at the 40th anniversary of the revolution.” In other words, Mohammad demanded more money from Iran’s impoverished government to advance the IRGC’s economic interests.

That the interests of the government and the IRGC conflict is not new and it’s not likely to prove a challenge to Mohammad, Khatam al-Anbia’s new chief, but Mohammad himself and the new managerial generation he represents is a different quantity.

This new generation may find itself at odds with the more ideologically minded one that went before. Would Mohammad, for example, advocate reconciliation with the United States to remove the reimposed American sanctions against Khatam al-Anbia? How would such a line be perceived by the older generation? After all, the older generation is not only ideologically more committed but also habitually uses ideology to control Iran’s economy.

Time will tell if the span of a single generation is enough for an organisation such as the IRGC to shed most of its ideological fervour.

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