Why does last week’s appointment of a high-ranking member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the country’s new oil minister matter?
Writes Omid Memarian in Inter Press Service:
The pressure on parliament to approve the posting appeared to be immense. At the Aug. 3 confidence vote, which ended 216-22 with seven abstentions, Rostam Ghassemi’s appointment was vocally opposed by only a single conservative member, Ali Mottahari.
“Appointing a military commander as the oil minister would cause a union of political power and economic power and this could lead to corruption,” he cautioned.
Mottahari recalled the period 1989 to 1997, under Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s presidency, when Iran’s intelligence ministry was allowed to engage in economic activities. During that period it became clear that the ministry’s operatives were directly involved in the murders of dissident Iranian intellectuals and writers.
Mottahari added that parliamentary oversight of the oil ministry would become much harder with an IRGC commander at the helm, and said that asking questions of the minister or putting him up for a vote of confidence would be difficult.
A U.S. State Department official told IPS in an email that:
Iran is tarnishing OPEC’s prestige by naming a minister linked to both [nuclear] proliferation activities and human rights abuses as the head of Iran’s oil ministry, when Iran holds the OPEC [Organisation of the Petroleum-Exporting Countries] presidency.
IRGC General Rostam Qasemi has been sanctioned by the U.S. and EU for his nuclear proliferation activities as head of Khatam-ol-Anbia, the construction and business arm of the IRGC and currently the largest contractor of government projects in Iran. His appointment shows the expanding influence of the IRGC in Iran’s economy.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been attempting to build alliances in the Revolutionary Guards since the beginning of his official political career in the 1980s. It has been his steadfast determination to concentrate power in his hands by getting the backing of Iran’s armed elite forces that has landed him in the position he is in today — isolated and under growing threat of impeachment.
According to Memarian, Ghassemi was reportedly not Ahmadinejad’s first choice for the post but “by choosing an IRGC commander who is less influential within the leadership, the president could improve his fractious relationship with the parliament and the IRGC, while also having an oil minister he is better able to control.”