Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf: Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Golden Child

Qalibaf

London – Twelve years after running as mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qaliba will attempt for a third time to run for the presidency in Iran. He had in recent months however faced real estate corruption scandals, but that has not deterred him from registering in the elections.

Qalibaf is one of hundreds of thousands of Iranian teenagers, who were swallowed up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ brainwashing machine in the early days of its formation. He is also one of the few residents from the town of Torqabeh who survived the Iraqi-Iranian war to later find himself occupying one of the highest military positions in the body tasked with protecting the trinity of the supreme leader, regime and revolution.

Qalibaf was born to a middle class family in August 1961 in Torqabeh near Mashhad, the second largest Iranian city. Qalibaf means carpet weaver in Persian. When he was 17, Ayatollah al-Khomeini formed the Wilayat al-Faqih regime after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards was created in 1980 at the beginning of the Iraqi-Iranian war. Qalibaf soon joined the ranks of the fighters in the southwestern fronts of the country.

Two years after joining the Guards, he became the commander of the “Imam Reza” brigade of fighters hailing from Khorasan before commanding, at the age of 22, the “Khorasan Victory” legion, one of the most prominent Guard legions during the war.

At the end of the war, he assumed the command of the “Khatem al-Anbiya” group, the economic branch of the Guards, before becoming commander of Guard air force between 1997 and 2000. Qalibaf was among the commander who received military training in North Korea in 1995. He also holds a doctorate in geopolitics from the conservative Tarbiat Modares University.

‘Pincers’ General

Days after the eruption of student protests in July 1999, the most prominent commanders of the Revolutionary Guards issued a strongly worded letter to then president Mohammed Khatami, threatening to intervene to quell the rallies if the government did not. The letter held greater significance in that it threatened to stage a military coup against the “reformist” government. This marked the most blatant form of Iranian Revolutionary Guards meddling in government affairs since its establishment.

In a recording that was later leaked by Iranian media, Qalibaf was heard as saying that he left his office, baton in hand, and headed to the streets to confront the students. He acknowledged that he and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Guards’ Quds Force, wrote the message to Khatami. “When there is a need to go down to the streets, we strike with a baton. We will be among those striking with the baton,” Qalibaf said at the time.

After the student protests, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei selected Qalibaf to head the Iranian police force. In his new position, he modernized the force by arming it with the latest equipment, but this period also saw a spike in restrictions imposed on activists, artists and intellectuals.

During the 2013 presidential debates, Qalibaf attempted to strike a blow to then candidate Hassan Rouhani by speaking about the need to adopt political openness, accusing him of preventing the issuing of permits to hold political activities when he served as secretary general of the national security council. Rouhani retaliated with a greater blow by saying: “It is true that we should be competing, but not in this way. I did not want to say this, but you are forcing me to. You once said: ‘Allow the students to draw near. We have the pincer plan attack.’ We said that we will not issue permits so that you will not be able to use them to carry out mass arrests.”

The label of “pincer” has followed Qalibaf wherever he goes.

His military background has benefitted his rivals in all three of the presidential races he entered. His competitors have always referred to his security and military record and his lack of clear political rhetoric. His portrayal as a candidate who makes orders in a military fashion has harmed his chances in winning the votes of those seeking more political and social freedoms in Iran.

First Electoral Failure

In 2005, Qalibaf left the police force and his military background behind to officially enter the political arena by running for president. The experience was however a complete failure as he came in fourth behind former Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Akbar Hashemi and reformist Mehdi Karroubi.

Three months after his defeat, the capital’s municipal council, which is dominated by conservatives, voted for him as Tehran mayor to succeed Ahmadinejad.

Second Presidential Run

In 2013, Qalibaf again attempted to run for president, under the slogan of “Life – People – Change.” This time around, he advanced to the second round, but he lost by a wide margin to eventual winner Hassan Rouhani.

During the 12 years he served as Tehran mayor, he sought to raise income through selling land around the capital and turning the agricultural property into commercial ones. He is therefore facing accusations that his measures targeted the poor in Tehran and its suburbs.

Third Presidential Run

In this year’s elections, Qalibaf toned down his usual rhetoric, which he had been adopting for the past eight years, and instead rehashed those of Ahmadinejad by focusing on issues that concern the middle and lower classes, specifically their livelihoods. The media has meanwhile portrayed him as a modest man, who prefers the simple life, as opposed to the image of the charismatic man, who wears expensive suits. This is the same image that Soleimani seeks to project to Iranians. During the second presidential debate that took place on May 5, Qalibaf defended Ahmadinejad’s government performance, saying that it addressed the poor classes more than Rouhani’s administration. Ahmadinejad did not shy away from voicing his displeasure with Qalibaf’s approach, accusing him of usurping his electoral platform.

Qalibaf’s electoral run pits him against another conservative, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the former general prosecutor. The two candidates were unveiled by the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, which is comprised of a group of conservative parties seeking to avoid a repeat of the 2013 presidential elections defeat. The Front had announced that one of the candidates will withdraw from the race in favor of the one who has a better chance of winning. In this case, Raisi is seen as the victor against Qalibaf after he received the backing of three of the most important religious groups in Iran, while no conservative party has announced its support for Qalibaf.

Qalibaf should not however be underestimated. He has the ability to carry out electoral campaigns throughout Iran and owns several media outlets that will promote his electoral platform.

He has however been faced with real estate corruption scandals and accused of shortcomings in handling a fire that broke out in a Tehran mall that saw the deaths of 15 fire fighters and 10 citizens.

Should he be elected president, Qalibaf has vowed to create four million job opportunities, but his rivals have portrayed him as a “general”, who is seeking to curb freedoms, eliminate women from the workforce and reinstate the security policies of Ahmadinejad.

The candidate enjoys the support of the most prominent and influential Revolutionary Guards members and he has good ties with Soleimani. Raisi also enjoys similar support among the Guards. Observers see this as a factor that may force Qalibaf to withdraw from the race in favor of the better candidate. It was said that the Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces had promised Qalibaf that he could be appointed vice president if he is not elected president.

We can say that the aspirations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ “Khorasan golden child” have stumbled in face of the aspirations of Ebrahim Raisi, the judiciary’s “Khorasan golden child.” Raisi is eying becoming Iran’s next supreme leader, a position occupied by another Khorasan native, Ali Khamenei. Fate could play in Qalibaf’s favor where Raisi could don Khamenei’s cape and he would replace him in the presidential seat.

US Imposes Sanctions on Soleimani’s Brother

Soleimani

London, Washington – The US listed Sohrab Soleimani, the brother of Qassem Soleimani, to its sanctions list for overseeing torture and other abuses at Tehran’s Evin Prison, the White House said on Thursday.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a press briefing that the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, OFAC, designated Soleimani in its sanctions list for his connection to human rights abuses against Iranian political prisoners in Iran’s prisons.

Qassem Soleimani is the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The measure taken by the US Treasury Department targets both Sohrab and the Tehran Prisons Organization.

Adding Sohrab to the list came as Iran continues to arbitrary arrest foreigners, including US nationals.

In another Iranian development, Iran’s Attorney General alluded to prosecuting former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the eve of his decision to run in the upcoming presidential elections to be held on May 19.

Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri threatened to prosecute Ahmadinejad, without naming him, saying: “A person spoke a while ago in the region of Ahwaz, and said other things at another place. We tell those that your time is coming.”

In Ahvaz last month, Ahmadinejad had lashed out at his critics. “A person with wild authority in this country acts as a Sultan, ignoring people’s needs,” Ahmadinejad had said. At that time, his comments created confusion concerning the identity of the mentioned person.

Ahmadinejad’s decision on Thursday to run for the presidency also sparked disputes among reformists in Iran.

Mohammad Reza Aref, head of the List of Hope Reformist Parliamentarian bloc, warned on Thursday from “plans to target the unity of the reformist movement,” and accused Ahmadinejad of seeking to “incite tension once again,” similar to the protests that erupted following the 2009 presidential elections.

IRGC: We will Continue to Support Bahrain, Yemen, Syria

Iran

London- Mohsen Rezaei, a former IRGC commander, stated that Iran will not stop supporting Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Rezaei added during an interview with U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor that Iran will not rage a war against Saudi Arabia unlike the propaganda war which will continue as long as Riyadh is adopting the same attitude in the region.

This interview coincided with first of its kind statements made by IRGC Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani on the ongoing political conflict in Iran, following critics demanding him to cease military intervention in Syria.

Rezaei revealed Iran’s motives to intervene in the Arab internal affairs, especially in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq. He actually admitted that it is an implicit war on Syria.

In a related matter, Soleimani accused internal parties in Iran of trying to persuade the Iranians that the country is in an international isolation. Soleimani delivered his speech during a conference held on the honor of Iran casualties in the First Gulf War.

Commenting on the Iranian role in the region, Soleimani said that toppling Saddam Hussein by the U.S. for the sake of the Iraqi people is a lie. He implicitly criticized Iranian President Hassan Rouhani determination to rebuild relations with other countries, considering that anyone – who tries to make enemies appear like friends – is a traitor.

Soleimani also defended the Iranian policy in Iraq and Syria, warning of the contradiction of stances in Iran towards the current topics in the region. The conflict in the region gets a “special attention”, according to Soleimani.

He reiterated that Iran is a safe country of remarkable security and political position.

This statement was sarcastically received by the Iranians who believe that Iran’s security stands on the destruction of neighboring countries.

Hours following Rouhani’s statement on Iran’s openness to establish relations with the world countries including Western ones, General Hussein Salami, the Deputy Commander of the IRGC, described negotiations with the U.S. as a waste of time.

He considered it a silly idea to believe that the U.S. will keep its promises.

IRGC Commander Reaches Mosul Borders to Examine Military Field

IRGC commander

Baghdad, Dialah- An Iraqi parliamentarian has revealed that Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) Commander Qassem Soleimani reached Nineveh Governorate’s border to be briefed about the conditions there and the possibility of starting a battle to liberate Mosul.

“Soleimani, along with his companions and bodyguards, headed for Kirkuk then Nineveh without having to cross Baghdad”, said the lawmaker who preferred to remain anonymous.

“An Iraqi officer informed me that Soleimani and his companions entered the Iraqi territories with four wheel vehicles holding Iranian licence plates without presenting their passports, as usual.

The officer contacted relevant security authorities who in their turn affirmed that Soleimani needs no passport, since he is a consultant to the Iraqi government,” added the MP.

“Then, I communicated with supreme authorities and their response was that Soleimani is a military consultant participating in the war against ISIS,” he continued.

A prominent figure in Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) admitted that Iran is offering massive support to PMF; Member of PMF Nazem al-Assadi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We don’t receive the support directly from Iran but through the Iraqi government by virtue of Iranian-Iraqi agreements that aim at fighting ISIS.”

PMF spokesperson Ahmad al-Asadi stated that Soleimani will lead the Mosul liberation battle, affirming that he is not a military consultant to the PMF only but also for the army, federal police and Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service.

A Kurdish security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that there is an Iranian camp in Iraqi Kurdistan that consists of officers from the IRGC and the so-called Hezbollah. These members are carrying out training for Shi’ite Iraqi militias to participate in Mosul battle.

However, MP Hamed al-Matlak expressed rejection to Soleimani’s participation in Mosul’s upcoming battle or any other battle in Iraq.

“The Iraqi army has major military leaders of wide experience in the field since the Iran-Iraq war. We should seek help from them and not the Iranian commander.”

Everybody’s Gathered at the Gates of Fallujah

Discretion stars the Fallujah current state-of-affairs, as imminent war approaches; the ISIS-infested Sunni city is also engulfed by bigoted Shi’ite militias. Presence of Iranian leaders and ground forces about and around the city is also being registered. As for Iraqi army forces sieging Fallujah, Sunni parties and political leaderships are included alongside Anbar tribal fighters who are partaking in the preparations for entering the city.

Reported crimes of Shi’ite militias against uprooted Fallujah citizens are a reality. Fallujah citizens also complain about the insufferable brutality of the so-called Sunni terrorist organization ISIS. Despite, the loud contradiction present in the previous statements, they all are evidently true. Fallujah’s case is the apparent Iraqi paradox.

On the city’s frontier, Iranian militias commander Qassem Soleimani sides with Sunni Iraqi Minister of Defense Khaled al Obeidi, Sunni Iraqi Parliament Spokesperson Salim al-Jabouri, Shi’ite Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, bigoted Popular Mobilization Forces, and with Sunni Anbar tribal factions in a mission to besiege ISIS.

The concoction of Iraqi forces lining up on Fallujah’s gates and deploying in one camp does not necessarily mean there is consensus among them. On the contrary, it represents the lack of trust and the widened gap of differences, so that everyone showed up to fight the same battle.

All those contributing to the Fallujah mission, come with a different aim and opinion on how the battle should be carried out. They disagree on how the current circumstances should be dealt with, and how the liberated Fallujah should be molded.

What unifies the mixed bag of forces is the united hatred to a common enemy, ISIS– a terrorist organization which delivered Fallujah, Anbar and Iraqi citizens in general to an excruciating humanitarian low.

Shi’ite extremists have come to contribute to incitement to sectarian strife. Iranian General Soleimani -who had made the besiegement of Fallujah the slogan of alleged IRGC heroic deeds to be sold back home- hopes to compensate for the crushing defeat he suffered in Syria and to clean up his image.

As for PM al-Abadi and other parliamentary leaders- both Shi’ite and Sunni- all they pursue is a self-sought salvation from the escalating national crisis and the threat of them being ousted.

On the other hand, Anbar Sunni tribal leaders seek to protect their territory from a Shi’ite militias overrun, in addition to their desire for getting rid of the locally-pervading enemy, ISIS.

The tribal leaders also look forward to strike an agreement with the government to be in charge of entering Fallujah after its liberation in order to prevent sectarian clashes.

Moreover, the inner city debuts ISIS terrorists coexisting with enemy members of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party and the spiteful youth of Fallujah.

As to why do extremist groups return to Fallujah, despite the massive 10-year-old record of losses at hand, it is simply because Fallujah represents the Sunni gate to the Anbar governorate they long to dominate.

Anbar, strategically located, borders three countries – Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Not to mention that Fallujah is a 30 min drive to the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Former Iraqi PM Nouri al-Malki had pictured Anbar as a governorate which goes up against political authorities, and had used ISIS as an excuse for taking down rivals, and taking over all strings to the government into his personal hand, whether the security, military or financial sectors. Nowadays, ISIS and the likes of Iran attempt to exploit the same strategy to take over Iraq.

Iranians have entered Iraq last year allegedly to free the then ISIS-occupied Mosul. However, not a single parcel of land was freed—while Iranian presence is ongoing.

With all that being said, Iranians still boast about their protection of Baghdad from ISIS-held Fallujah posed threats. Iranians are drawing parallels to what the Syrian administration once did in Lebanon, a foreign country taking in a legally excused cover for it to help the central government against both ISIS and those who rebel against it.

Rafsanjani Admits Iran’s Involvement in Region’s Crises

Former Iranian president Rafsanjani ponders run in upcoming election - The Washington Post

London-Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said that Iran is involved in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan to defend national interests.

Rafsanjani explained during an interview with Aftab News that Iran cannot leave these countries easily, adding that continuing what they have started with there is not an easy mission.

He considered Iran’s intervention in regional crises as one of the international challenges his country is facing.

He added by saying, “Arab and Islamic countries are united against Iran in Syria and now want to control things in Iraq.”

Moreover, Rafsanjani admitted that Iran is facing troubles in the region; adding that these problems should be solved by proper management in order to reach a suitable solution.

On the other hand, Rafsanjani called for Americans to be “flexible” with Iran for a few years in order to gain the confidence of the Iranian officials; thus normalizing U.S.-Iranian relations.

He also implicitly pointed out that Rouhani wants to meet U.S. President Barack Obama. But “Khamenei’s pressure exerted on the Iranian president,” in addition to the unsuitable circumstances, “prevents such meeting from taking place.”

Rafsanjani acknowledged the existence of profound differences in the Iranian leadership, accusing some officials of deceiving public opinion.

Three days ago, Commander of Iranian Quds Force Qassem Soleimani pointed out implicitly to the existence of negotiations between Iran and the U.S. on the crises in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council defended Hassan Rouhani by explaining that one of his major political pledges, regarding ending the house arrest of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, has not been met yet because it is out of the government’s powers.

Notably, Rouhani is passing through very critical times due to the increased pressure exerted on him and as a result of the long list of accusations directed by his allies and rivals.

In addition, Rafsanjani mentioned that Iran is facing great internal challenges because of the political disputes, unemployment, and inflation.

Iranian websites circulated news on Rafsanjani’s statements at the time when former Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohsen Rezaee attacked the Saudi foreign minister with racist terms.

Furthermore, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Amir Abdullahian said that Tehran is determined to continue playing its advisory role in the region, reiterating Iran’s continuous presence in Syria, according to IRNA official agency.

He explained on Monday that Iran, with pride and determination, continues its advisory support in the region, pointing out to Iran’s crucial role to guarantee security and stability in regional countries and the world.

Iran justifies its military presence in Syria and Iraq by considering itself playing an advisory role, yet it names its militants in these areas with ideological titles such as “Defending Shi’ite Shrines,” showing contradiction between the official speeches given in Iran and the involved institutions that are sending armed militants to Arab countries.

In a common matter, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamkhani defended Iran’s decision to intervene in Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi Lawmakers Condemn Quds Force Leader Qassem Soleimani’s Presence in Iraq

Iraqi Lawmakers Condemn Quds Force

London- Sunni politicians in Iraq condemned, on Saturday, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani visiting Shi’ite paramilitary forces fighting alongside the Iraqi army to drive ISIS militants out of Fallujah.

Three lawmakers from the province of Anbar told Reuters the visit by Iran’s Quds Force commander could feed into sectarian tension and cast doubt on Baghdad’s declarations on the offensive being an Iraqi-led effort to defeat ISIS, and not to square debts with the Sunnis.

Fallujah, which lies about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, is a stronghold of the insurgency that fought U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shi’ite-led authorities that replaced former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

Iranian media outlets published pictures of a visit by Soleimani to Fallujah and of him meeting with the leaders of the Iraqi coalition of Shi’ite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or Hashid Shaabi. This is the second time Soleimani appears in Iraqi conflict zones.

An Iraqi government spokesman did not confirm Soleimani’s visit and stressed that Iranian advisors are present in Iraq in order to assist in the war on ISIS in the same capacity as those of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalitions. However, Member of Parliament (MP) Hamid rejected that.

“We are Iraqis and not Iranians,” he said. “Would Turkish or Saudi advisers be welcomed to assist in the battle?” al-Mutlaq added.

“Soleimani’s presence is suspicious and a cause for concern; he is absolutely not welcome in the area,” said Fallujah parliamentarian Salim Muttar al-Issawi.

“I believe that the presence of such an official from the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard could have sectarian implications,” said another MP from the city, Liqaa Wardi.

The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, a political organization formed after Saddam’s removal to represent Sunnis, rejected the participation of the Shi’ite militias in the fighting in Fallujah.

“The militias … didn’t come to liberate areas, as they claim, but to carry out their sectarian goals with direct guidance from Iran,” it said in a statement on Friday.

“The presence of Iran’s military advisers in Iraq under the command of General Qassem Soleimani is at the request of the country’s legitimate government in order to fight terrorists,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said, according to Fars news agency.

Iran Allocates Yearly $70 Mln for Palestinian “Jihad”

A Palestinian woman argues with an Israeli border policeman during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah.

London- Iran decided to provide fixed financial support to the Palestinian Jihad Islamic Movement, has visited Tehran in April, Palestinian sources close to the movement stated.

The PIJ delegation was headed by its Secretary General Ramadan Shalah and included his assistants Ziad Nakhleh and military official of the movement Akram Ajuri. It held several public meetings with Iranian leaderships and other private meetings with the Commander of the Iranian National Guard and Commander of the Quds Force Qassem Soleimani.

The parties discussed various files that elaborated the Iranian vision for the PIJ Movement in the coming years.

One of the major decisions taken by Qassem Soleimani and approved by the political and military offices of the Movement, according to the sources, was restructuring al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the PIJ, and assigning Khaled Mansour the general commander of the Brigades in Gazza Strip.

Notably, Mansour is considered to be one of the most prominent leaders who are close to Iran and is respected and honored by the PIJ Movement.

Soleimani also ordered allocating $70 million as an annual budget for the Quds Brigades, transferred from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s treasury.

Tehran pledged funding the movement consistently after a hiatus for two years.

PIJ’s latest visit, which was the first from two years, came as a culmination of efforts to end the boycott led by the so-called Lebanese Hezbollah. The two parties agreed in April to revive former relations.

Iranian support has been resumed since March and will resume on a wider scale in the coming period. The Movement was able to pay two months salaries for its members after several months of facing financial crisis.

According to the sources, Iran was content with its deal with the PIJ Movement and with Ramadan Shalah’s statement from Tehran confirming the country’s supportive stance with Palestine.

During a public appearance in Tehran, Islamic Jihad leader Shalah said “defending Palestine is defending Islam.”

“Transformations in some Islamic countries allowed Israel to commit many crimes against the Palestinian people without being halted by any one.”

When pointing out to Iran’s support rather than any Arab country, Shalah said: “None of the Arab countries has supported and will never support the popular uprising in Palestine due to the conflicting policies adopted by their officials in the recent years.”

He added: “We have noticed that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the only country that supports the uprising and helps the martyrs’ families.”

Sources considered this statement as a revival of relation between the movement and Tehran in addition to Iranian leadership’s will to direct a reproof message for Hamas after the latter rejected Mohammed Javad Zarif’s offer to resume relations with Iran in exchange for supporting it in its stances and siding with it against Arab countries.