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A New Appointment At IRGC May Signal Concern Over Unrest In Iran

Hossein Nejat, a trusted IRGC commander will head the most important security force in Tehran. Undated.

IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami has appointed Brigadier General Hossein Nejat as his deputy commander in charge of Sarallah, the most important security command in Tehran.

In theory, Sarallah is under the direct command of the IRGC's commander in chief. But as he is too busy fulfilling his other responsibilities, he delegates his authority to a deputy commander. Therefore, Hossein Nejat is effectively the commander of Sarallah in Tehran.

But why this appointment is significant? Sarallah is the Iranian capital's most important security headquarters and is tasked with protecting the capital and important government institutions in the city against any threats including riots, widespread anti-government protests or military threats against the government such as a coup.

This makes Sarallah the most important one of the IRGC's ten regional security headquarters spread around the country.

Three provincial garrisons, Mohammad Rasoulallah in the greater Tehran, Sayed ol-Shohada in the Province of Tehran, and Imam Hassan in the neighboring Alborz Province as well as hundreds of Basij militia bases, the 27th Division in Tehran and the 10th Division in Karaj, and if needed, the entire police force in Tehran and Alborz Provinces also come under Sarallah's command to eliminate possible threats and suppress protests.

In the past, Sarallah has been the most important tool used in suppressing major anti-government protests in 2009, 2018 and 2019 in Tehran and the small towns surrounding the capital.

Sarallah's new commander Hossein Nejat, is one of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's most trusted officers. He has previously served for 10 years (2000 - 2010) as the commander of the IRGC's Vali Amr Unit which is Khamenei's own special guard.

Hossein Nejat, whose real name is Mohammad Hossein Zibaee Nejad, has been serving with the IRGC for 40 years now. He has worked for many years with former IRGC Commander Mohsen Rezai at the IRGC's intelligence unit.

During the war with Iraq in the 1980s, Nejat was the counter-intelligence chief of Khatam ol-Anbia, Iran's most important headquarters during the war.

After playing a key part as a senior commander in suppressing the 2009 protests in Tehran, he was appointed as one of the commanders of The Muslim Combatants Association, an affiliate of the IRGC with branches all over Iran. He has also been a key element in holding the large Arba'in rallies in Iraq, which is an annual tour de force event showcasing Iran’s and IRGC's power in Iraq and the region.

In 2016, Nejat was appointed as a senior deputy to IRGC Intelligence Chief Hossein Taeb and remained in that position until spring 2019. During this period the IRGC Intelligence Organization became more and more powerful and closer to Khamenei's office with its power gradually overshadowing the might of the Ministry of Intelligence.

Following the latest changes in the structure of IRGC's command network in 2019, Nejat moved on to become IRGC's deputy commander for cultural affairs. And now he has been appointed as the commander of Sarallah Headquarters.

As well as being a confidante of Ayatollah Khamenei, Nejat maintains close ties with his politically active son Mojtaba, a possible candidate to succeed Khamenei as the Islamic Republic's next Supreme Leader.

Nejat is actually a member of a whole network of IRGC commanders who are close to Mojtaba Khamenei. The network is better known as Habib battalion named after a similar unit in the Iran-Iraq war where Mojtaba served as a young man. The network is a circle of hardliner and most aggressive members of the Islamic Republic's security and intelligence forces, as far as critics and dissidents are concerned. One of its members is the highly influential and powerful IRGC Intelligence Chief Hossein Taeb.

Many of the members of this network now hold the most important military, intelligence and security positions in the Islamic Republic. If we assume that Khamenei's concern about a new round of major protests like the ones in 2018 and 2019, especially in light of his concerns regarding succession are the two main preoccupations of the government in Iran, then we can better understand various measures such as Nejat appointment. He and others trusted by and obedient to Khamenei are prepared to suppress the people, and are appointed to top political, military and security positions.

The Islamic Republic fears that the current economic crisis might lead to more widespread protests and urban riots in the future. Therefore, it is appointing its most trusted and oppressive commanders and officials on top of important military, security and intelligence institutions. These measures show that Khamenei is preparing to hand over power to the next leader. At the same time it reveals the Islamic Republic's serious concern about recurring major anti-government protests at the time of Khamenei's death that could endanger the Islamic Republic's stability and even its existence.

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    Morad Vaisibiame

    Morad Veisi is a journalist and an editor at Radio Farda and is considered an expert in affairs related to Iran's IRGC and the Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei.