June 14, 2024

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Who is Iran’s Qalibaf and why does he matter?

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The Speaker of Iran’s parliament Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf (Ghalibaf) has been in the news more often lately, trying to involve himself in local politics and foreign policy. He recently torpedoed the idea of negotiations with the US. He is hostile to America and Europe, and encourages distrust of both.

He wants “smart and active resistance” to the West and also wants to undermine any potential nuclear inspections or IAEA reports. This means he potentially sits astride important policy decisions and is linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in his overall views. These views are called “hardline” in Western media, part of the largely mythical narrative that there are “moderates” and “hardliners” in Tehran. Qalibaf is not so much a hardliner as an extreme rightiwing nationalist, and his views represent the more extreme right of what is already a far-right theocratic regime.

Who is this Qalibaf and why might we see more of him? He is from northeast Iran’s Razavi Khorasan province and is apparently of Kurdish ancestry. He was born in 1961. He has a PhD and was a former pilot in the IRGC. He rose through the ranks during the Iran-Iraq war, eventually commanding a division. After he left the fighting units and studied he got involved in running companies linked to the IRGC. He remained close to Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, who he had known during the war years. He believes in the same worldview as Soleimani, using Iran to support Hezbollah, Yemen, Iraqi Shi’ite militias and Palestinians.

In 1999 he bragged about his role in suppressing protests, according to one account. He and Soleimani even signed a letter that was sent to then President Mohammed Khatami urging a crackdown. Qalibaf liked to beat the protesters with a stick, Arab News claims. After his stint in the IRGC he became mayor of Tehran.

He supported suppressing protests. He also formed links with other Islamic “revolutionary” technocrats who wanted to create a unique system of hi-tech aerospace endeavors to make Iran one of the more important regional countries in military and defense systems. It is these men, along with the supreme leader, who supported his election according to reports.

He has sought to run for president several times. He and his network are also considered to be corrupt. But reports indicating he has friends from the highest levels who have protected him. It raised eyebrows when he was elected speaker of parliament because of his military background. His election is seen as a victory for the supreme leader and the “hardliners.” Arab News calls him a principalist or “ultra-conservative” but also “one of the most corrupt politicians in the country.” This is in contrast to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was seen as an extremist and antisemite but was not considered personally corrupt.

Iran is at a unique time in history. Harmed by COVID-19 and economic sanctions, it is reaching out to China and Russia. It also must decide what to do with its weapons programs, as well as its role in Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. For the speaker of parliament that will be important. Qalibaf will seek to distance Iran from the EU and the US.

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN Jerusalem Post Middle East

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