The holy shrine of Imam Hossein in Karbala, Iraq. (Supplied)

By Behnam Gholipour

July 30, 2019

Ayatollah Khamenei has given the Headquarters of Reconstruction of Holy Shrines (HRHS) the task of “foiling sanctions” after transferring control of the powerful institution to the Revolutionary Guards’ expeditionary Quds Force.

On July 25, in two separate decrees, General Soleimani appointed Commander Hasan Pelarak to supervise HRHS’ projects and to be his special assistant and advisor, and asked Pelarak to help the Quds Force’s Economic Committee to bypass sanctions. In another decree, he appointed Mohammad Jalal-Maab as HRHS’ executive officer.

In an interview with the Fars News Agency [Persian link], Hasan Pelarak said that, by order of General Soleimani, the Headquarters of Reconstruction of Holy Shrines had been restructured into three parts: executive, developmental and supervisory. He added that Mohammad Jalal-Maab was now responsible for the executive and development mandates, while he would set task priorities and supervise their implementation.

Ayatollah Khamenei established the HRHS in 2003, and has been responsible for appointing its leading figures ever since its inception — so the recent restructuring is significant.

Although the HRHS has received financial assistance from the government and has ties with a number of institutions controlled by the Supreme Leader, its directors have repeatedly claimed that it is an independent organization that is financed by the Iranian people.

Between 2004 and 2017, the Headquarters of Reconstruction of Holy Shrines completed more than 200 development and industrial projects in the four Iraqi cities of Karbala, Najaf, Samarra and Kadhimiya, homes to Shia shrines, and there are dozens of projects currently under development in the same towns. The HRHS’ central headquarters are based in Tehran and it also has 31 offices across all Iranian provinces.

Over $206 Million from the Public Treasury

HRHS claims that it receives no funds from the government and that its finances are wholly dependent on the Iranian people and non-governmental organizations. But a review of government budgets shows that, from 2014 to 2016, it received a total of 876 billion tomans, over $206 million, from the government.

Up to now, the HRHS operated in Iraq under the supervision of a policy-making council consisting of Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, the head of the Supreme Leader’s office, and a number of government ministers. But with the recent restructure, General Soleimani will be the sole decision maker.

In addition to funds provided by the government, the major part of the organization’s budget comes from the office of the Supreme Leader, religious authorities, the Revolutionary Guards and other financial institutions controlled by the office of the Supreme Leader, including the huge religious endowment Astan Quds Razavi and the Mostazafan Foundation, a charity that is also the second-largest commercial enterprise in Iran. According to one official report, during last year alone the Headquarters of Reconstruction of Holy Shrines received 35 billion Iraqi dinars, close to $30 million at official currency rates. However, it is not clear how this money was spent, or what projects benefited from it.

There was uproar earlier this year when General Saeed Ghasemi revealed that during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Revolutionary Guards trained jihadist forces in the former Yugoslav province under the cover of the Red Crescent, and also cooperated with Al-Qaeda in Europe. Now that Soleimani has announced new appointments for the HRHS, there have been speculations that the Islamic Republic will use this organization as a similar cover to bypass sanctions and deploy its military forces in other countries.

Who is Commander Hasan Pelarak?

Hasan Pelarak is one of Ghasem Soleimani’s trusted commanders in Iraq and Syria. In 2009, on orders from Ayatollah Khamenei, Pelarak was appointed as the head of the Headquarters of Reconstruction of Holy Shrines. During his 10-year tenure, millions of dollars was spent on repairing Shia holy shrines in Iraq, although there are no clear or accurate reports on how this money was spent.

Pelarak was born in 1961 in the city of Rafsanjan in the southwestern province of Kerman. In 1980, when he was only 19, he was appointed as governor of the Kurdish city of Mahabad in northwestern Iran. Asked about his duties over those years, he has said that he fought against Kurdish rebels as a “volunteer.” He later joined the Revolutionary Guards and was given various responsibilities during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. He was the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ 41st Sarallah Division in southeastern Iran and had a support role at the Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, the vast engineering and contracting arm of the Guards. So Hasan Pelarak is well versed in both the military and commercial activities of the Revolutionary Guards. In addition, he was also the Deputy Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade and the CEO of the Iran Mineral Processing and Processing Company, a government-owned entity.

In the summer of 2010, Pelarak was appointed as the president of the board of Iranian Mines & Mining Industries Development & Renovation but his tenure lasted less than eight months.

Because of his birthplace, he has had close relations with Ghasem Soleimani and the Jahangiri Brothers, who were also born in Kerman. In 2015, Eshagh Jahangiri, the First Vice President to Hassan Rouhani, appointed Hasan Pelarak as his advisor. Pelarak also serves as deputy to the other Jahangiri brother, Mehdi, who is president of the board of directors of Mahan Mines and Industrial Development Company.

A Finger in Many Pies

Hasan Pelarak’s business activities extend into several other areas. He is currently president of the board of the directors of Pars Telecom, a telecommunication services and hardware company. He is also a member of the board of the directors of Pardis Sabz Mellal, a poultry products trading company, the Mines and Metals Development Investment Company, Omid Mining Industries Development Company, and Tehran Area Mining Development Company.

Commander Pelarak’s most significant job in business is as president of Kowsar Nabovvat Reconstruction Company, the most important business working on the reconstruction of Shia religious sites in Iraq and Syria.

He is also chairman of the board of Yas Investment Company, part of Yas Holding Company, which is reported to belong to the Revolutionary Guards’ Cooperative Foundation. In recent years the holding company has played an important role in banknote forgery, smuggling, and financing Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani, Iraqi and Lebanese fighters in the Syrian civil war. Although it was announced that the holding company was dissolved in 2017, it appears to have resumed its activities under the name of several other companies, including the above mentioned Yas Investment Company.

Considering his career and the positions he has held both in business and as a commander, Hasan Pelarak is clearly an important link between the Revolutionary Guards and other institutions under the control of the Supreme Leader and the financial support for armed groups outside Iran, as well as these organizations’ roles in helping the Islamic Republic bypass sanctions.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.