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Iran floods expose deepening rift between Rouhani, IRGC

Iran floods expose deepening rift between Rouhani, IRGC
Widespread flooding across Iran has deepened the fissures already growing between the government of President Hassan Rouhani and the all-powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Rudaw reported on Wedesday.
At least 42 people have been killed and more than 25,000 homes destroyed across in Iran in flash flooding caused by unseasonably heavy rainfall. 

The scale of the catastrophe has led IRGC commanders and their backers to question the government’s handling of the situation. 

Tens of thousands of guards and paramilitary Basijis were mobilized to take charge of the situation on the ground. Their affiliated media outlets meanwhile savaged the government’s perceived incompetence. 

Tensions began to brim on the evening of March 24 in the northern town of Aq Aqala in Golestan province, near the Turkmenistan border, where roughly 30,000 residents were battling the rising water. 

General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, the IRGC commander-in-chief, ordered several controlled explosions to divert the water away from residential areas. In the process, the IRGC engineers blew up part of a railway line connecting Iran with Turkmenistan.

President Rouhani indirectly criticized the railway demolition, claiming the explosions had no impact on the rising water levels. 
The government’s official newspaper warned against using the floods for political point-scoring. 

Guards’ commander Jafari visited another flood-hit area of northern Mazandaran province on Sunday, reassuring residents the IRGC would stand with them. 

Rouhani has had a long-simmering feud with the commanders of the IRGC, which appear to behave like a state-within-a-state loyal only to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Iran’s supreme leader. 

The latest spat in the saga saw the attempted resignation of Rouhani’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, when the Syrian president was invited to Tehran without his knowledge – widely interpreted as a deliberate IRGC snub.  

The Rouhani-IRGC dispute centers on the guards’ ever- growing power in the Iranian economy, politics, and foreign affairs. 

For instance, the IRGC’s engineering wing Khatam al-Anbiya, which is blacklisted by the US Treasury Department, is heavily engaged in Iran’s construction, infrastructure, oil and gas, and agricultural sectors, and even its missile defense systems.  

The spat has largely played out in the pages and programing of government and IRGC affiliated media. 

Hussein Shariatmadari, editor of the hardline newspaper Kayhan, went on the offensive on Sunday, arguing Rouhani should have been thanking the IRGC for its flood-relief work rather than raising “questionable criticism” of its conduct in the north of the country. 
“I wish that Mr Rouhani would cut short his apparent touristic trip to Qeshm Island upon hearing of the destructive flooding in the provinces of Golestan and Mazandaran and would come back to express empathy with the affected people, but sadly he did not do that,” Shariatmadari said. 

Meanwhile, Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, found a scapegoat in Persian speaking media outlets based outside Iran. 

He lambasted these media outlets on Twitter for giving extensive coverage to the floods “in order to prove the incompetence of the country’s officials.” 

The floods are only the latest stick used by the IRGC to beat the government. The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, so carefully brokered by Rouhani and Zarif, gave the hardliners a boost. The onset of the economic crisis and collapse of the currency after Washington reimposed sanctions handed the guards further political ammunition. 

The question remains just how many more crises Rouhani’s government can withstand before the hardliners succeed in removing him from office or sideline his authority altogether. 
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