London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Nine senior officers in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were killed on Monday in a plane crash in northwest Iran, close to the Oromieh Lake, including the commander of the ground forces, General Ahmad Kazemi, the head of intelligence, Colonel Bani Allah Shahmradi, known as Hanif, a the senior official responsible for the Iraqi file, Colonel Said Mehtadi Jaafari and Colonel Slimani.
“Ahmad Kazemi was killed with 12 of his deputies and accompanying officers”, Ahmad Panahi, head of Iran’s Emergency Centre was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.
The plan left the capital Tehran around 9:30 am on its way to the city of Oromieh where the senior Revolutionary Guards commanders were expected to take part in an emergency meeting on the situation in Iraq, which had been postponed from its original date on Sunday because General Kazemi had complained of ill health.
The plane, a Falcon of the Revolutionary Guards, was trying to make an emergency landing at Oromieh, 560 miles northwest of the capital, state television reported.
It remains unclear what caused the crash.
As soon as news about the plane crash spread, political and military circles were awash with rumors about the real reasons behind it and the possibility that a bomb exploded on board about 12 km west of the city of Oromieh.
One of the founders of the Revolutionary Guards, General Kazemi was one of the elite forces’ most prominent commanders. A veteran of the war with Iraq, he lead the Najaf battalion, known for its bravery and its role in ending the siege of Abadan and liberating the city of Kharmshahr.
A military source told Asharq al Awsat General Kazemi belonged to a group of Revolutionary Guard commanders loyal to the new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was opposed to a number of senior military officers who had sent a letter of protest to Supreme Guide Ayatollah Khomeini last week warning him of the dangers of the president’s policies and statements. “These policies will affect the security of the country and our strategic interests. We are not in a position to enter into an armed confrontation with the United States and Israel,” the letter said.
For their part, Kazemi and other senior officials of the Basij (a volunteer militia established by Khomeini and allied of the president) had sent a letter to the President indicating their readiness to fight the Great Satan (the U.S. ) and its agents ( Israel ).
Since Ahmadinejad was elected in June, and the Guard’s own candidate Colonel Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf failed, a secret war has been waged between the elite guards and the army, on the one hand, and the Basij, the security services loyal to Khamenei, extremist religious factions and the supporters of Sheikh Mohammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, the current president’s mentor, on the other hand.
The conflict has spread to Iran’s parliament, press and internet. Ahmadinejad is the first Iranian president whom a conservative- dominated parliament is trying to isolate, a few months after he was elected.
It was the second time in two months that a military plane had crashed in Iran. A military Hercules plane crashed in December close to Mehrabad airport, in the capital, killing 128 people, including 67 journalists. This incident, according to some sources, was related to an assassination on the president, given that the airplane he boarded on way to Saudi Arabia left the same airport only a few minutes prior to the crash.