It appears that Iran's pragmatic camp is focusing its attacks on its primary rival - Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Iranian President Hassan Rohani called for fighting corruption, hinting bluntly at the IRGC when, at an December 8, 2014 anti-corruption conference, he underlined the need to take a stand against the concentration of powers and authorities in a single entity: "If we concentrate in a single place weapons, funds, a daily newspaper, a website, and a news agency, corruption is bound to occur."
On January 5, 2015, Khabar Online, which is identified with the pragmatic camp, published an article that was unprecedentedly harsh in its criticism of the politically influential IRGC, the largest military and economic entity in the country. In it, blogger Reza Shah Mohammadi elaborated on these statements by President Rohani, and went on to warn that an institution that holds military, police, security, economic, political, and media authority is a danger to the regime, the people, and Iran's Islamic Revolution. The article warned about the possibility that IRGC members would carry out a military coup and officially take control of the regime, and called for sending the IRGC back to its original military camps and original mission.
The article reviewed how the IRGC had evolved from an organization established to defend the regime to an entity with such power. It reiterated the prohibition against its having any dealings with politics, that was outlined by the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and warned about the IRGC's blatant interference in politics in elections for the Majlis and for the presidency, and in the upcoming March 2016 elections for the Assembly of Experts - the body that chooses Iran's supreme leader.
The article was quickly removed from the website, and legal proceedings against the website were set in motion. The website's administration apologized and stated that the article was published without the approval of its director.
Leaders of the ideological stream, including IRGC representatives, described those responsible for the publication of the article traitors and inciters, and called for Iranian security apparatuses to take measures against them in order to prevent a return of the civil unrest surrounding the 2009 presidential election.
The following is the translation of the main points of the article on Khabar Online, as posted by the opposition website Enqelab-e Eslami, run by deposed Iranian president Bani Sadr, and by an Iranian blogger, who also posted a screenshot of the original article on Khabar Online; also below are reactions to it from the ideological camp:
Screenshot of Khabar Online article posted by Iranian blogger (freezepage.com/1420730322KELPXBBIPK, accessed January 15, 2015)
Khabar Online: "An Institution... Controlling Prisons And Solitary Cells, Investigating And Imprisoning Suspects... Maintains Troops Inside And Outside Iran And In Possession Of Missiles, Bombs, And Jets... Owning Communications Firms And Having The Ability To Tap Phone Calls And Disrupt Internet, Phone, Satellite, And Other Services... That Can Deploy Troops... [And] That Has Majlis Members And Ministers... Is More Dangerous Than Beneficial"
"Some time ago, at a national conference on improving administration and combating corruption, President [Rohani] made an unprecedented declaration... that 'if we concentrate in a single place weapons, funds, a daily newspaper, a website, and a news agency, corruption is bound to occur. Even Abu Zar and Salman [the Prophet Muhammad's most trusted companions] would become corrupt [under such circumstances]. That is why the world has become wise and has separated these forces.'
"This speech quickly made headlines, and fingers were pointed in one direction [the IRGC]. The next day, the honorable IRGC commander [Mohammad Ali Jafari] announced, 'The president did not mean us,' and the government spokesman [Mohammad Bagher Nobakht] said that relations between the government and the IRGC were good. All ended well...
"Obviously, the IRGC and the Basij, as effective elements in preserving the Islamic Revolution, played a key role in the crises [experienced by] the Revolution. After the 1978 Revolution, these popular forces armed themselves with light weapons [and operated] as armed forces, acting as both the police and the intelligence apparatus of the Revolution. At the start of the [1980-1988] Iran-Iraq war, this paramilitary force gradually grew according to necessity... it was equipped with medium and heavy arms, and was the chief element in beating back [the threat] of conquest, while sacrificing many martyrs [in defense] of the homeland.
"When the war was over, an institution that at the beginning of the Revolution acted as police and security forces according to need, and that in the war played the role of an army, was tasked with rebuilding the country. The Khatem Al-Anbia corporation [the engineering and industrial development conglomerate controlled by the IRGC]... became a construction project contractor. The constitution also permitted these forces to use their potential in peacetime to carry out non-combative tasks and to rebuild [the country].
"But the story does not end here. The two terms [of president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saw the militarization of the state economy under the banner of privatization, and included the transfer of large government firms - from communications firms to mining, oil, transportation, and service industries - to companies closely related to military, police, or security elements.
"These companies... play a prominent role in various centers of the state economy. It is estimated that during Ahmadinejad's two terms, tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars were funneled into institutions or companies related to them, including their pensioners' cooperatives, [to create] an infrastructure circumventing the sanctions levelled on [Iran's] Central Bank. Unfortunately, some officials in this revolutionary institution [the IRGC] recognize no limitations to their actions, explaining that the IRGC's duty is to protect the Revolution from any danger, be it military, political, economic, or security. [emphasis in the original]
"Although the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] stressed that they [the IRGC] must stay away from politics, it gradually began to play a more prominent role in politics and in the elections for the Majlis and presidency. This military institution [the IRGC] no longer even conceals its role in the political arena, and has actually become the chief instigator of conflict in the political arena and in Majlis, presidential, and municipal elections - together with maintaining [its own] news agency, news websites, and daily newspapers, and controlling a crucial sector of the public media. There is even a fear that in the elections for the Assembly of Experts [to be held in March 2016] and in the election of the next Supreme Leader, they will feel a responsibility and a religious obligation to act. [emphasis in the original]
"This is where not only reformists, but also prominent conservatives such as [Majlis member] Ahmad Tavakkoli sense danger. There have been many warnings in the past of the danger of corruption stemming from the impossibility of creating economic competition when [the IRGC] rivals the private sector, and controls sea ports and airports that can import and export anything it pleases with no government or Majlis oversight. This danger, created by the concentration of various types of power in one place, has been mentioned in many previous articles and writings...
"An institution authorized by the judiciary to act like the police - controlling prisons and solitary cells, investigating and imprisoning suspects; like the military -maintaining troops inside and outside Iran and in possession of missiles, bombs, and jets; and like security apparatuses - owning communications firms and having the ability to tap phone calls and disrupt Internet, phone, satellite, and other services, and an institution that can deploy troops and prevent passenger planes from landing, was capable of stopping the reform government from inaugurating the Imam Khomeini Airport [i.e. during Khatami's 1997-2005 presidency]; and an institution that has Majlis members and ministers - such an institution is more dangerous than beneficial. If this process continues, the new generation of members of the military - those whose only memory of the [Iran-Iraq] war is in images on their laptops - may in future play the same role the military played in Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq (prior to the American occupation), and Turkey (before Erdogan). [emphasis in the original]
"...There is a fear that members of the military's participation in the [state] economy will push this institution to the edge of a cliff and will create a security problem for the country - even before it creates one for the private sector or for any other institution or external element. [emphasis in the original]
"Let us assume that these former fighter brothers [IRGC members], whose training and experience are in war and military affairs, also happen to be knowledgeable in matters of [state] economics, trade, and industry, and rightly replace incompetent administrators of government and public companies. Can anyone guarantee that the commanders and fighters that we have in peacetime taken from army bases, tanks, and battalions and dispatched to the offices of trade, manufacturing, and construction companies will return whence they came when necessary? [emphasis in the original]
"Work at economic offices demands a rapport with local and foreign companies, staying at luxury hotels and offices, maintaining ongoing contact with beautiful jetsetters, and breathing rarified air. Their organizational effort and duty is aimed at accumulating and concentrating as much wealth and profits as possible, and at ensuring personal interests. [That is why] there is the constant risk of financial corruption.
"At times of crisis, when winds of war blow, and when the country faces dangers, will we be able to send these generals - now wearing business suits - to the dirty and bloody frontlines thick with smoke, fire, and martyrdom? Will we be able to extract them from the driver's seats of warm, comfortable vehicles, and dispatch them to the confines of crude tanks and APCs? Will an institution whose main responsibility was [once] to protect the homeland during hard times, war, and foreign attack be as effective as before? Or will this organization, which is now mature, hand the country over to foreigners - as the Iraqi army did?
"Woe betide us if, under the shadow of absolute systemic corruption, we one day see reports that Iran, like the Iraqi army, paid wages to 50,000 nonexistent troops. We have not yet forgotten that former brothers [IRGC members] have been arrested in the state fuel committee lawsuit, and have been accused of issuing thousands of fuel ration cards for nonexistent vehicles.
"In conclusion: If we are concerned about Islam, the religion, and the state, we must rescue the military, police, and security institutions from the trap of political activity, and send them back to their camps and headquarters. Let us allow the wheels of the economy to be administered by private-sector economists and industrialists. Instead of militarization, let us privatize the banks, the natural resources, and the economic offices... Let us [hand over] politics to unarmed politicians. [Let us hand over] policing to the police forces, and security affairs to the relevant ministry. [Let us restore] media and Internet to their proper status...
"Otherwise, we must anticipate that sooner or later, the corrupted Salmans and Abu Zars will steer the country over the edge of the abyss."
Ideological Camp Demands Firm Response To Khabar Online
As soon as the article was posted online, senior officials in the ideological camp called on the regime to deal harshly with Khabar Online, and accused the pragmatic camp of treason.
Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy committee member and IRGC veteran Mohammad Ismail Kothari said on January 8, 2015: "The people knows full well who truly serve [it, i.e. the IRGC] and who only talk, and even betray... The security apparatuses and judiciary must deal swiftly with this affair, so that others will not be emboldened to raise such nonsense and create another fitna."
On January 12, 2015, the Iranian Press Supervisory Board cautioned Khabar Online about its "publication of an article that weakens the armed forces."
Deputy Attorney General Abdolsamad Khoramabadi announced on January 13, 2015 that "the website Khabar Online has been found guilty for disrupting public opinion, and that its case would be handed over to the court."
IRGC Weekly: Who Ordered The Writing Of This Article?
The editorial in the January 12, 2015 issue of the IRGC weekly Sobh-e Sadeq called for uncovering whoever ordered the article to be written, apparently hinting that this person was an official in the pragmatic camp: "Although this website renounced this brazen and criminal article, and despite the apology for its publication - which in itself must be dealt with - and despite the positions taken by officials from the president to the ministers in the [Rohani] government vis-├á-vis the IRGC, and despite the removal of the screen behind which the article's author concealed himself - this writer must provide the Iranian nation with a clear answer: On whose instructions and under whose oversight did he march on the direct route of sowing fear and hostility regarding the IRGC, and how did he march on this route until he reached such degradation and disgrace?"
IRGC Daily Javan: President Rohani's Statements Led To Baseless Accusations Against IRGC
The daily Javan, which is affiliated with the IRGC, claimed on January 7, 2015 that President Rohani's December 8 statements and warning about corruption resulting from centralization of power in a single body had led to baseless accusations against the IRGC. The newspaper stated: "Khabar Online mocked the IRGC, levelled dozens of accusations against [it], and removed the article - all within the space of a few hours. When a handful of high-ranking officials in the country allow themselves... to get Western and oppositionist media drunk, and to enjoy their crowing and applause, we should expect the devious snakes to rear their heads... Making vague statements... [and] distracting public opinion with deviant issues instead of meeting the demands of the people [a reference to Rohani's failure to stabilize the economy] is one of the reasons why the pioneers of jihad and martyrdom [i.e. the IRGC] will be accused of corruption...
"For some time now, Khabar Online has taken a highly hostile and resentful line against the forces that stand at the frontlines of the Islamic Revolution and against the values-driven media outlets... The Imam [Khomeini] banned the IRGC from entering the ring of political sectarianism. Can anyone prove that the IRGC has deviated from this order? The Imam spoke not of politics, but only of political sectarianism. The IRGC is not a classic blind and deaf force... it sees itself as defender of the achievements of the Islamic Revolution... and it is natural that some would interpret this as entering into politics...
"Several years ago, [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei said: 'The enemy inside our country is the one who repeats verbatim the words of the foreign enemy.' According to this principle, can you spot a difference between Khabar Online and Jaras [website affiliated with the Green protest movement], BBC Farsi, and Voice of America? Be sure that Voice of America has more respect [for us] than you do..."
Majlis Member to Khabar Online: You Fear The IRGC Dealing With Your Own Political, Economic Corruption
Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Ibrahim Agha-Mohammadi told Khabar Online's director: "You do not fear corruption in the IRGC. You fear the IRGC dealing with [the government's] political and economic corruption."
IRGC Official Warns Rohani Government Officials, Says They Are Collaborating With Iran's Western Enemies
In a January 11, 2015 interview with the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, Yadollah Javani, a senior advisor to Khamenei's representative at the IRGC, said: "Government officials are aware of the IRGC's capabilities... which can greatly assist the government in rebuilding... Even [President] Rohani discussed the capabilities of this revolutionary institution several times, and he is aware of them.
"In recent years, the West, and following it some media outlets in Iran, launched an project aimed at sowing fear of and opposition to the IRGC. Sadly, some in [Iran] are repeating [this action] and are collaborating, knowingly or not, with this Western project... The government had better examine them, because these people do not want the government to avail itself of the IRGC's potential and capabilities. Some media outlets associated with the reform movement and close to the [Rohani] government are, along with Iran's external enemies, aspiring to increase the number of Iran's enemies..."
In response to Yadollah Javani's comments, the website Saham News, which is affiliated with supporters of Green Movement leader Mehdi Karroubi, wrote on January 11, 2015 that "in his interview, Yadollah Javani did not address the IRGC's organized establishment of hundreds of small and large websites and news agencies with the aim of gaining control of the country's media. After Hassan Rohani was elected Iranian president, the IRGC, along with other power-hungry institutions, hindered the nuclear negotiations, applied media pressure to the Hassan Rohani government, and launched widespread efforts to gain political control in [Iran]. These stepped-up efforts led Rohani to publicly criticize, several times, this political/ military/ cultural/ economic/ security institution...
"Yadollah Javani's criticism comes as the IRGC is disregarding the people's vote and placing obstacles in the way of the election of the moderate option - Hassan Rohani - as president... According to the will of the founder of the Islamic Republic [Khomeini], the IRGC is banned from intervention in the country's political affairs."
 Fars (Iran), December 8, 2014.
 Fars (Iran), January 8, 2015.
 Tasnim (Iran), January 12, 2015.
 Fars (Iran), January 13, 2015.
 Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), January 12, 2015.
 Javan (Iran), January 7, 2015.
 Kayhan (Iran), January 14, 2015.
 Fars (Iran), January 11, 2015.
 Sahamnews.org, January 11, 2015.