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Iran: Warnings Hint At Greater Role By Revolutionary Guard In Muzzling Critics

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) appointed Mohammad Ali Jafari as the new head of the IRGC in early September (AFP) October 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said on September 29 that the "main responsibility" of the corps now is to counter "internal threats." He added that the IRGC will confront any threat that might undermine the achievements of the Islamic republic.

Jafari's comments are regarded by some analysts as a warning to domestic critics of the Iranian regime.

Jafari, who was appointed commander of the IRGC in early September, also said that the all-volunteer Basij militia will fall under the IRGC's command. The Basij has reportedly been involved in a number of attacks on students and intellectuals. Jafari said those forces will adapt to meet current threats. Jafari said the threats against Iran have become increasingly complex, adding that, "We don't have the right to remain silent."

Afshari said he also believes the IRGC will play an important role in the March 2008 parliamentary elections in Iran.

'Intervene More In Everything'

Mohsen Sazgara is a cofounder of the Revolutionary Guard. He is now a prominent critic of the Iranian leadership and a research fellow at Harvard University. Sazgara tells Radio Farda that he thinks Jafari's comments signal that the IRGC will play a more active political role in confronting government critics.

"It means that the mission of the Revolutionary Guard is to interfere more than before in the country's internal affairs and get involved in the repression against political, social, and cultural activists, and to intervene more in everything," he says.

"Under the current conditions, people like me who work peacefully and are involved in civil society cannot do anything meaningful. ... I think that as long as conditions remain the way they are, people like me cannot have an effective role." -- Activist Heshmatollah Tabarzadi

Student activists, human rights advocates, workers, and journalists in Iran have been facing growing state pressure in recent months. Such pressure includes harassment, detentions, imprisonment, and charges of security crimes. The state crackdown appears to be one of the harshest in recent years. Some regard it as a reaction to growing international -- and particularly U.S. -- pressure over Iran's nuclear program and accusations that Tehran is playing a disruptive role in Iraq.

Iranian officials have said on a number of occasions that Washington is trying to destabilize the Iranian system and instigate a "velvet revolution." They have accused women's rights activists and students of involvement in alleged U.S.-led efforts to spark a soft revolution in Iran. Some observers suggest that the $75 million that the U.S. Congress has allocated for democracy promotion in Iran has spawned those Iranian fears. They speculate that the crackdown is a preemptive move by the Iranian government that includes an attempt to create fear in society.

Jafari's comments have raised concern that critics in Iran could face tougher retaliatory steps. The IRGC is an influential player in Iran and reportedly wields some power outside the country. It is a military and quasimilitary force with huge economic assets that was founded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to safeguard Iran's Islamic establishment.

May Be Placed On Terrorist List

The United States has accused the IRGC's Quds Force of aiding Iraqi insurgents. Despite Iranian denials, the United States is reportedly considering putting the IRGC on a State Department list of terrorist organizations. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, presidential aides, ministers, and a number of members of Iran's parliament are IRGC veterans. Some members of Iran's pro-reform movement and dissidents are also former members of the guard.

Ali Afshari, a former Iranian student leader who is currently living in the United States, thinks Jafari's comments could augur a tougher crackdown on dissenting voices. He tells Radio Farda that the establishment is concerned that the country could face protests due to economic and social problems.

"The [other] issue is that the government feels threatened, especially because social movements in Iran have become more active than before, and they're also foreseeing more unrest in the future -- because in all social and economic spheres, discontent is growing," Afshari says.

Iranian political analyst Mehdi Fatapur, who is based in Germany, agrees that Jafari appears to be announcing that the IRGC has shifted its focus.

"The meaning of [these] comments is that from now on, directly acting against protests within society will be the main duty of the IRGC," Fatapur says. "The Guard did not have such a position -- before, its duty was to protect the country along with the army. But now it will be in charge of confronting those who protest."

Activists Facing Uphill Battle

Activists in Iran say they are already under increased government pressure. Some have left the country, while many who remain say they must be especially cautious.

Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, an activist and editor in chief of the banned publication "Gozaresh Ruz (Report Of The Day)," has spent a total of seven years in prison for his activism. Last week, he told Radio Farda that political and rights activists in Iran are facing an uphill battle.

"Under the current conditions, people like me who work peacefully and are involved in civil society cannot do anything meaningful -- sitting at home [and] reading and writing for myself has been the only thing I've been able to do for the past year -- since I was released [from jail]," Tabarzadi says. "The only [platform for expression] that I have now is a blog, and there's been pressure from [officials] to shut it down. I think that as long as conditions remain the way they are, people like me cannot have an effective role."

(Radio Farda broadcasters Behruz Karuni and Mohammad Zarghami contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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