By Track Persia

September 29, 2018

Despite it has been in turmoil for most of the years since taking power upon the fall of the Pahlavi monarchy in early 1979 led by the late Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian theocracy has been overwhelmed by the armed attack in Ahwaz a few days ago.

The attack in Ahwaz prompted the theocratic regime to take advantage of the incident by uniting ranks behind it and claiming that the attack was a regional and American plot targeting the nation’s stability. The regime fears a more dangerous attack may threaten its existence and Iran’s already deteriorated economy because of the low oil purchase and the implementation of dollar bans.

The siege on Iran’s economy has put the Iranian people in a confrontation with the regime, given the current siege is unlike the previous ones which the regime partially succeeded in overcoming it. The turmoil in Iran is featuring riots as millions of protestors shouting “Death to the Dictator”, reflecting acute frustrations with the behaviour of the rulers because of the failed economic policies and security oppression.

A most dramatic change of government in Iran’s history was seen with the 1979 revolution where Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini. The new system was a Shi’ite republic based on the rule of Islamic jurists, or wilayat al-faqih, where clerics serve as heads of state under the leadership of the wali al-faqih,  represented by Iran’s supreme leader.

In Twelver, or Ja’fari, theology, the wilayat al-faqih concept is rejected by most Shi’ite religious leaders as this implies taking advantage of the faithful by assuming the role of the semi-divine 12th Imam al-Mahdi (Muhammad ibn Hassan al-Mahdi), an eschatological redeemer of Islam and ultimate saviour of humankind. The Shiite Twelvers believe that al-Mahdi is the final imam, and he will emerge with the Jesus Christ to bring peace and justice to the world. They say al-Mahdi was born in 869 AD and assumed the Imam at five years of age after the killing of his father Hassan al-Askari. Early in his Imamate he would only contact his followers through four deputies. After a 69-year period, known as ‘Minor Occultation’, a few days before the death of his fourth deputy Abul Hassan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarra’ie in 941, he is said to have sent his followers a letter declaring the start of the ‘Major Occultation’ during which al-Mahdi was not in contact with his followers.

The new Iranian Shiite system based on wilayat al-faqih has made a few changes in Iran. A pro-US foreign policy under the Shah was exchanged for one of opposition to America, Israel and some regional countries such as Saudi Arabia. A modernising capitalist economy was replaced by a populist and Islamic economy culture. A patriotic monarchy was replaced by a theocracy. The new security system was set up by the domineering Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the successors of the 16th century Qizilbash (red-turbaned forces which used to guard Safawi rulers).

The leader of the revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini, was Iran’s Supreme Leader until his death in 1989. Khomeini promised the Iranians to build a more Islamic society that would enjoy democracy. However, the 1979 revolution has failed to fulfil that, instead it delivered a fractured society euled by clerical clique that has different ideas on how to take the country forward. Khomeini was followed by Ali Khamenei, then a mid-ranking theologian given the higher title of ayatollah. Contrary to mainstream narratives, the regime most powerful apparatus IRGC seems it is not unified and it does not take all of its orders from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. This has led a profound tension between the IRGC and the President Hasan Rouhani’s government.

Beside Wilayat al-faqih ideological concept, the Iranian regime is also keen to pursue the implementation of its expansionism strategy which is reflected in its desire to export Khomeini’s revolution to the whole world starting from neighbouring and regional countries.  This strategy is implemented by the form of proxy ideological and criminal militias trained by the regime’s IRGC’s external wing, Quds Force.

Some of these proxies are so powerful, given the long years of funding and training that they have received from Tehran, that they hold significant government positions in the countries they are based in such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Iraqi Badr Organisation.

The main goal of the theocracy’s employment of proxies is to export its revolutionary concepts by conducting sectarian terrorist acts against its adversaries and those reject its interests and ideals. The regime, for example, has been supporting Assad’s dictator regime, a Shiite ally, for years in suppressing the Syrians from the majority Sunni population because of rising up against the regime in Syria. It sent various Shiite militias from Arab countries such as the Lebanon and Iraq along with sectarian Shiites from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The misleading claims the regime present to the Iranians for its interference in Syria is to protect the Shiite shrines.  The regime tries to justify its interference in other regional countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen by claiming that without the Iranian presence in these countries, IS militants would have reached Iran.

Similarly, in Iraq, under the pretext of fighting the IS militants who conquered large swaths of the country in June 2014, the regime in Iran helped channel Iraqi Shiite militias into a powerful government-recognised apparatus of what became known as Hashid Sha’abi, or the Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF). These militias have controlled most Sunni-populated territories in Iraq by exploiting the jihad fatwa against IS, that had been issued by the most senior Shiite cleric in Najaf, Ayatollah Ali Sistani. They are accused of carrying out a mass sectarian persecution of the Sunni Arabs including imprisonment, displacement and forced disappearance against them.  Most importantly, these Iranian-backed militias have not only managed to integrate into the Iraqi security, but they have also gained important positions in Iraq’s government and parliament.


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.