ThreatsWatch.Org: PrincipalAnalysis

Esteshadion: Ahmadinejad’s Suicide Brigade

By Dan Darling

Recent media reports concerning threats by Committee for the Glorification of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement or Esteshadion should be understood as one of several extremely disturbing aspects that have emerged inside Iran since the rise of the Abadgaran Movement in 2004. One unfortunate truth that has been missed by far too many Western observers since the election of President Ahmadinejad that while extreme even by the standards of many Khomeinists, he and his supporters did not emerge from a vacuum.

As EurasiaNet first noted in October 2004:

Abadgaran’s aggressive pursuit of its political vision seems to have caught not only Khatami-aligned reformists off guard, it also has surprised Old-Guard conservatives – namely the actual participants in the 1979 Islamic revolution whose idealism has faded over subsequent decades. The young neo-cons still tenaciously believe in the earlier utopian notions of the revolution; a theocratic and authoritarian state structure; an egalitarian and state-owned economic system; and a messianic foreign policy.

… Abadgaran adherents, many of whom have served as commanders in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, believe that generation change is needed to safeguard the Islamic revolution. Most are relatively unknown politicians, with little or no public record. This, they hope, can help them gain public approval, or at least a large enough share of it so that they can effectively govern.

Two trends in recent years played key roles in the creation of Abadgaran: the rise of reformists under Khatami at home, and the ascendancy of the Bush administration in Washington harboring notions of "regime change" in Tehran. The twin threats to conservatives’ political power in Iran forced a tactical change: Old Guard leaders gave the young neo-cons an opening, hoping to harness the youngsters’ energy in efforts to neutralize reformists, blunt Bush administration pressure and reinvigorate the stagnant economy.

The rise of Abadgaran certainly helped conservatives outmaneuver reformists in the domestic political arena. Now, with the reformists in retreat, Abadgaran members clearly want to develop into the dominant faction within the conservative camp. In striving to do so, the movement has attracted the backing of the Revolutionary Guards and many hardliners within the political and security establishments, as well as a significant number of religiously-inclined members of Iran’s lower and middle classes.

As of February 2006, a sizeable majority of the domestic agenda of the Abadgaran movement has already been achieved. As Mahan Abedin explains in the Asia Times:

Lack of progress on the economic and social-justice front notwithstanding, Ahmadinejad has introduced massive changes to the face and operations of the executive branch. Virtually all provincial governors have been replaced by Ahmadinejad loyalists, who tend to be young and hail from the Islamic Republic's security establishment, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC - or the Sepah-e-Pasdaran).
Moreover, Ahmadinejad has replaced most senior bankers and other important figures in charge of the country's finances. Furthermore, many of the country's most experienced diplomats have been recalled from abroad and replaced by less experienced figures, with backgrounds in the Sepah-e-Pasdaran and other security outfits.

At a superficial level it appears that the Ahmadinejad government is preparing for conflict and is reordering the entire machinery of government accordingly. But the changes introduced since August have a deeper meaning; they signify the coming of age of so-called "second-generation" revolutionaries who were propelled into a position of leadership by Ahmadinejad's surprise election victory last June.

The most important feature of the second-generation revolutionaries is that they developed their political consciousness in the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and not in the revolutionary struggle against the Pahlavi regime. While they are intensely loyal to the memory of the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (the leader of the Iranian revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic), the second-generation revolutionaries have tenuous ties (at best) to the conservative clerical establishment that controls the key centers of political and economic power.

As a result of these initiatives, Iran today is looking less and less like a theocracy and more and more like a traditional military junta, with current and former IRGC officers dominating most aspects of government. Such an identification is deceptive, however, as much of the old clerical elite such as former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and his allies governed Iran in a reasonably cynical authoritarian fashion indistinguishable from that of many twentieth century tyrants.

Abadgaran and its followers, however, are not traditional tyrants but are instead true believers who still believe in the original ideals of Khomeinism and the near-apocalyptic domestic and foreign policies that characterized his reign. As such, it should not be terribly surprising to see the formation of new Shi’ite terrorist groups inside Iran like Esteshadion for the duration of Abadgaran’s tenure – if nothing else, their existence serves a certain perverse nostalgic value for the IRGC leadership by recalling the thousands of Iranian teenagers who voluntarily sacrificed themselves in “human wave” attacks during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. And as AFP notes, Esteshadion’s mission far from merely defensive: members of the organization are also preparing themselves to carry out suicide bombings against Israel and execute the judgement of Khomeini’s infamous fatwa by assassinating Salman Rushdie.

Finally, those who would seek to characterize either Esteshadion or Abadgaran as fringe political movements inside Iran need only look at the main speaker at the Esteshadion gathering. Hassan Abbasi, described in one of the press accounts as a “university professor” is a well-known Iranian political scientist specializing in North American affairs, the head of the National Security and Strategic Research Center, and is the chief theoretician to Ali Khamenei. Far from being a fringe figure, he is one of the pillars of the reigning IRGC establishment and his willingness to address an Esteshadion gathering should be viewed as a demonstration of the continued prestigue within which the group and the ideology that drives it are held by the Tehran regime.