General Ramazan Sharif, head of public relations for Sepah (the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), has given an extensive and revealing interview to Reformist newspaper Shargh. Sharif is described by the author of the article, Mohammad Norouzi, as “one of the few people in the security field who has had a good relationship with the media.”
When asked which presidency Sepah had the most engagement with, Sharif said, “It varied for different segments.” Of Mohammad Khatami’s eight years from 1997 to 2005, Sharif said, “In the cultural field, during the Reformist era, we were not satisfied with their performance, and Sepah’s interaction with them was less. The type of thinking the officials had, whether cultural or foreign policy, resulted in our interaction being less.”
“Sepah supported a discourse which would present the country’s strength and have a more positive influence in the realm of deterrence and decrease the enemy’s greed,” Sharif continued. “For example, at the height of when Khatami was pursuing the “Dialogue of Civilizations,” America labeled us the “axis of evil,” along with North Korea and Saddam [Hussein]. This is the nature and view of the enemy toward our reality.” After 9/11, Iran was one of many countries to assist the US in the invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban. Shortly afterward, US President George W. Bush, in a now-famous speech, labeled Iran, North Korea and Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” in his State of the Union address.
“In the field of Sepah’s construction, during [the presidencies of] Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, there were fewer obstacles,” said Sharif. Sepah’s construction projects are run primarily through the engineering firm Khatam al-Anbia and its subsidiaries. Khatami al-Anbia began operations in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war and continued to grow during the reconstruction era after the war under Rafsanjani.
Sharif continued, “Getting work was harder under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two terms. This isn’t just my opinion, either; this also the statements of the former commander of Khatam al-Anbia, too.” The former head of Khatam al-Anbia, Rostam Ghassemi, is a former commander of the Revolutionary Guard and is currently Iran’s oil minister.
“I don’t want to say that they had malice,” Sharif added. “But there was more difficulty in work.” Given Sepah’s role in the 2009 election crackdown, the general perception was that their control over economic affairs had increased drastically as well. Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guard Corps member himself, was president during a time when Iran experienced unprecedented oil revenues.
“The system’s policy and Sepah’s duties are clear,” Sharif said. “Sepah, as protector of the revolution, at any rate that the administrations have provided the conditions for, was quick to help them.” Contrary to Sharif’s statements, it was under Khatami’s presidency that Sepah and the administration seemed the most divided, when 24 officers wrote a letter to the president warning him that their “patience has come to an end.”
Sharif continued, “During [Khatami’s administration], we saw the presence of Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq and Sepah, as a front line, was able to competently perform its duty and distance the country from threats.” Fearing that after the American invasion of Iraq, Iran would be invaded next, many believe Iran supported Iraqi insurgents in order to trap US troops inside country and thwart any invasion plans that the US may have had for Iran.
Sharif also said that under Ahmadinejad, the “Americans had come to the stage of invading us,” but were deterred by Iran’s much-publicized “Great Prophet Maneuvers” military drills.
Sharif concluded, “Sepah’s and the armed forces’ gift to the administration is national security. A president who does not have any concern about national security can pursue his promises with more ease. And this is true of the future administration, too.”