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Iran Hardliners Consolidate Control

1:31 PM, Sep 1, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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As President Obama's September deadline for Iran to conduct negotiations on its nuclear program approaches, Iran's nuclear chief indicated that his country is ready for a new round of talks. While Iran's signal must be welcome for the administration, the Economist explains that the Iranian government is increasingly falling under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the hardline Islamists responsible for maintaining control inside the country and exporting the revolution to outside countries. IRGC leaders are taking control of government posts while amassing the nation's wealth:

Meanwhile, Mr Ahmadinejad has forwarded a cabinet list for parliamentary approval that reflects the influence of his IRGC cronies. The ex-guardsmen and spooks down for ministerial posts include a petroleum minister with no experience of the oil industry (but a background in an IRGC think-tank) and an intelligence minister who used to represent the Supreme Leader inside the IRGC command. Some 20 staff have already been sacked from the intelligence ministry for being too moderate. Critics of Mr Ahmadinejad are expected to mount some parliamentary opposition to his choices. But with the chief posts pre-anointed by the Supreme Leader, the arch-conservative, militaristic tone of the next cabinet is ensured.

The IRGC leaders have united behind Mr Ahmadinejad not only to defend their shared idea of an Iran that is less of a republic but more stridently "Islamic". They also want to protect a moneymaking machine. The IRGC controls a big chunk of the 70% or so of Iran's economy that is state-run, with stakes in everything from dental and eye clinics to car factories and construction firms. Even "privatised" assets seem to fall into its hands or those of friends. The real private sector has grown hoarse crying foul, as recently when the state privatisation agency quietly passed ownership of Tehran's main convention centre to an army pension fund.

There should be no illusions in the Obama administration that it will be negotiating with the "moderate" elements of the Iranian government. The IRGC is cementing its grip on Iran and will decide on the future of Iran's nuclear program.