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Why IRGC's Increasing Influence In Iran's Parliament Is Significant?

Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf greets members of the parliament after being elected as parliament speaker at the Iranian parliament in Tehran, May 28, 2020
Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf greets members of the parliament after being elected as parliament speaker at the Iranian parliament in Tehran, May 28, 2020

The commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) have always been present in the Iranian Parliament (Majles) over the years,holding various positions. The IRGC presence in the Majles has been more eye-catching after the 1980s war with Iraq and from mid-1990s.

Over the years, some well-known IRGC commanders including division commanders, provincial commanders, Basij militia commanders and members of the IRGC's intelligence service have served as members of the parliament.

Most recently, during the 8th, 9th and 10th parliaments, most recent ending in May, Ali Larijani was the Speaker of the parliament. His previous positions included deputy IRGC commander for parliamentary affairs and the acting chief of staff of the IRGC. On his final day at the Majles, many IRGC commanders went to see him and thank him for supporting the IRGC and other armed forces during his 12 years in the Majles.

With this background, there are a few points that make the IRGC's influence in the current 11th Majles even more significant:

First, increased IRGC influence at the Majles can increase its lobbying power to allocate more money for the Corps. This advantage will put the IRGC in a better position in comparison with the conventional army, other organizations and ministries in terms of budget, particularly that the army does not have a noticeable present in parliament.

Second, the presence of a network of IRGC and Basij officers at the Majles facilitates enacting more laws in the interest of IRGC and other outfits operating under its aegis. This makes it more difficult for the Majles to supervise the IRGC and conduct investigations about it.

Third, for the first time a top commander, the former chief of its air force, is now the speaker of the Majles. He is the highest IRGC commander serving as an MP at the Majles. This also marks the rise in the significance of IRGC's influence at the Majles.

Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf is still part of a network of senior IRGC commanders who meet each other regularly and align their political positions. This IRGC network now has one of its members on top of the Majles as well as having other IRGC and Basij commanders as members of the parliament.

Fourth, one of the members of the network of IRGC commanders is the head of one of the three branches of the government. Such a high-level position has a symbolic significance for the IRGC and the network of its commanders. But that is not its only significance. In recent years, meetings by the heads of the three branches of the state have occasionally replaced the Majles and the presidential administration as far as decision-making in key matters is concerned. Now, the IRGC has one of its commanders at such a high level of decision-making.

The fifth point is Qalibaf's experience in suppressing protests in Iran. The Islamic Republic had to face popular protests in various parts of the country where the government had to suppress the disgruntled protesters in order to ensure its survival. Survival is the most important thing on many senior officials' minds.

Qalibaf has always had a part in suppressing dissent and protests. He has played key parts in suppressions at least in three cases in 1999, 2003 and 2009. That no official evidence has been made public about his role in suppressing the November 2019 protests does not necessarily mean he was not involved in crackdowns.

He was one of the commanders of the violent crackdown on the students protests in 1999. He has said that he and former IRGC Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani suppressed the students using clubs while riding motorcycles.Qalibaf and some other IRGC commanders said in 1999 that commanders were prepared to kill hundreds of demonstrators if they got close to Khamenei's office.

He was also one of the signatories of a letter by 24 senior IRGC officers that threatened then President Mohammad Khatami with military intervention to suppress the students.

Evidence including an audio recording of Qalibaf indicate that he has once again threatened to shoot the students in 2003 when he was the police chief. Meanwhile in the post-election unrests in 2009, Qalibaf who was then the Mayor of Tehran, put the municipality's equipment and capabilities at the disposal of his colleagues in the IRGC who were attacking the protesters.

One IRGC commander at the time, Hossein Hamadani, said later that he had hired "thugs" released from prisons to beat the protesters and retained them for attack in cinemas and theaters in Tehran.

With such a background, Qalibaf contributes to the empowering of the IRGC as part of the Islamic Republic's suppression apparatus.

Sixth, and most important of all, is Qalibaf's views about foreign policy and particularly about challenging the United States in the Middle East. Qalibaf was a close friend of Qassem Soleimani who handled Iran's IRGC-centered foreign policy regarding the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. In his first speech as Majles Speaker Qalibaf vowed to follow the path of Soleimani and take revenge for his killing.

Unlike his predecessor who supported Rouhani's foreign policy, Qalibaf is a hardliner and a staunch critic of Rouhani's foreign policy. However, the Majles is not a key player in this field, which is controlled by Khamenei and the IRGC's Qods Force commanders, superseding the Foreign Ministry.

Overall, an IRGC brigadier general is leading the Majles who is obedient to Khamenei (like everyone else in the corps), is a member of the network of IRGC commanders, an advocate of enmity with America and a close friend of Qods Force Commander Esmail Qaani who comes from the same village as Qalibaf.

During the war with Iraq, Qaani was Qalibaf's deputy. No Iranian official and IRGC commander has ever been closer to the former and current commanders of the Qods Force.

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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.