The Iran File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.
[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]
Key Takeaway: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is expanding its economic influence and role in the Iranian regime’s effort to mitigate US sanctions, possibly seeking to outcompete the Rouhani administration.
IRGC Quds Force Commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani restructured his economic arm in Iraq, emphasizing the need to “neutralize” sanctions. Soleimani’s decision comes shortly after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed IRGC financier and hardline industrialist Parviz Fattah as head of the Foundation of the Oppressed (Bonyad-e Mostazafan). The foundation is a major regime-controlled business conglomerate and holding company that the regime uses to dominate the Iranian economy. The US Treasury Department sanctioned Fattah in 2010 due to his close ties to the IRGC and its economic network. Fattah’s control over this economic giant may mitigate the impact US sanctions have on the IRGC’s finances. The IRGC may also begin to assert itself as the most central and influential Iranian body in countering sanctions, increasing the economy’s reliance on the Guards.
IRGC Quds Force Commander Soleimani restructures his economic arm in Iraq to mitigate US sanctions. IRGC Quds Force Commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani *appointed on July 25 Hassan Polarak as his personal adviser and assistant and Mohammad Jalal Moab as the executive head of the Iraqi Holy Shrines Reconstruction Headquarters. Polarak was the organization’s previous head and served with Soleimani in the IRGC Ground Forces 41st Sarallah Division in Kerman Province. Soleimani now charged Polarak to work with the IRGC Quds Force’s Economic Committee to “neutralize” US sanctions. The Iraqi Holy Shrines Reconstruction Headquarters supports the rebuilding of Shia religious sites and is involved in economic, cultural, and social activities in Iraq. Soleimani also *divided the organization into two components: one for executive and development affairs and one for pilgrimage supervision and tourism. Soleimani’s appointments and orders indicate the IRGC Quds Force’s increasing role and influence in Iran’s effort to mitigate sanctions.
Supreme Leader Khamenei appoints new heads of Iranian economic giants. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on July 22 *appointed Parviz Fattah as head of the Foundation of the Oppressed and Morteza Bakhtiari to replace Fattah as head of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee. Fattah *replaced Mohammad Saeedi Kia, who is now the chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees. Bakhtiari was previously deputy and *special adviser to Hojjat ol Eslam Ebrahim Raisi during his time as Astan Quds Razavi custodian. Astan Quds Razavi is another regime-controlled economic entity with a vast and diverse network of companies in various sectors across the Middle East.
REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS & DIPLOMACY
US sanctions Foreign Minister Zarif. The US Treasury Department designated Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as a specially designated national on July 31. The Treasury Department attributed the designation to Zarif’s ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who the US also sanctioned on June 24. The Treasury Department also accused the Foreign Ministry of cooperating with the IRGC Quds Force. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated the designation signals to Iran “that its recent behavior is completely unacceptable.”
Oman and the UAE hold talks with Iran to de-escalate regional tensions. Law Enforcement Forces Border Guards Commander IRGC Brig. Gen. Ghassem Rezaei *met and discussed maritime security cooperation with his Emirati counterpart Brig. Gen. Ali Mohammad Mosleh al Ahbabi in Tehran on July 30. The two signed a memorandum of understanding to promote border cooperation. Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi also traveled to Tehran on July 27 and discussed regional tensions and US sanctions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Supreme National Security Council Secretary RADM Ali Shamkhani. The UAE and Oman sought to de-escalate regional tensions after the IRGC seized a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on July 19. Oman has historically served as a diplomatic mediator between the US and Iran.
Supreme Leader Khamenei condemns Bahrain amid rising tensions with Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei *condemned the Bahraini government in response to its execution of two Shia men on July 27. Bahrain accused the two of “terrorism crimes” and maintaining ties to the Iranian regime. Iranian-backed Bahraini militias separately released threats against the Bahraini government for the executions. These tensions come as the Bahraini government *hosted an international security meeting on July 31 to address Iran’s threat to maritime trade. The UK invited the US, France, and other unspecified European countries to participate in the Bahraini meeting to discuss protecting commercial traffic from Iranian aggression near the Strait of Hormuz.
NUCLEAR DEAL DEVELOPMENTS
Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Araghchi convenes with JCPOA Joint Commission. Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araghchi traveled to Vienna, Austria, to participate in an *extraordinary meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Joint Commission on July 28. British, Chinese, EU, French, German, and Russian officials also participated in the meeting. Araghchi *described the meeting as “constructive.” The meeting comes after Iran *violated the JCPOA on July 8 to pressure Europe to provide Iran economic relief.