An IRGC commander has disclosed details of a "very frank and fierce meeting" with former President Hasan Rouhani in which commanders, including Ghasem Soleimani, issued a stark warning to him.

The interview with the IRGC Aerospace commander Amir-Ali Hajizadeh was published by the hardline Kayhan newspaper Wednesday and was focused on Soleimani, the slain commander of the IRGC Qods Force, who was killed in Baghdad by a US drone strike on January 3, 2020.

Hajizadeh told Kayhan that the meeting with the former president was held during his second term of presidency to warn him that the IRGC would not stay silent regarding his “transgressions.”

Hajizadeh was probably referring to Rouhani's meeting including Commander-in-Chief Mohammad-Ali Jafari and Soleimani on July 25, 2017, a few days before the confirmation of Rouhani’s re-election by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Hajizadeh's account of the meeting is in stark contradiction to state media reports at the time which said Rouhani and the commanders had expressed support for each other without mention of any confrontation.

Summer of discontent

Tensions between Rouhani and the IRGC rose to new heights after his re-election on May 29, 2017. In a June 23 meeting with businessmen, Rouhani strongly criticized IRGC's business activities. "Part of the economy is controlled by an unarmed government, but we surrendered it to a government armed with guns," he said about IRGC's meddling in government affairs.

Rouhani was apparently referring to IRGC-affiliated business consortiums' taking over big companies such as the Iran Telecommunications Company in 2009 in the name of privatization during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Mobin Trust Consortium, largely owned by the IRGC Co-op Foundation, had won the tender for $7.8 billion along with two other state entities under irregular and suspicious circumstances.

In the interview with Kayhan, Hajizadeh did not make any mention of IRGC's economic activities and said the commanders offered to help Rouhani's government. "You saw in crises such as floods and earthquakes and other things the IRGC was really present," he said in the interview while accusing Rouhani of "assaulting friendly forces," meaning regime insiders.

"The Revolution, people, the ruling system, and the Leader are our redlines. Don't think you can always say these things and we will remain silent," Hajizadeh said the commanders in the meeting warned Rouhani while adding that Soleimani expressly warned Rouhani not to follow the same path as Ahmadinejad.

"Do you want to become like him? Why are you self-harming? Why are you constantly attacking us? Let's solve the problems," Soleimani told Rouhani according to Hajizadeh.

Do you want to become like Ahmadinejad?

Many allege that it was the IRGC that helped Ahmadinejad, a quite obscure figure, to climb the political ladder and capture presidency in 2005.

Relations between Ahmadinejad and the IRGC deteriorated during his second term, after he was once again helped by the Guards to overcome rivals in the disputed elections of 2009. But in 2011, Ahmadinejad publicly defied Supreme Leader Ali Khameneiover sacking his intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi. He also attacked the Guards publicly on several occasions and even dubbed them "our smuggler brothers" in reference to IRGC's massive role in hugely profitable illicit imports through ports under its direct control.

Apparently referring to Ahmadinejad and Rouhani's objection to IRGC's support of proxy forces in regional countries, Hajizadeh said under the influence of "poisonous propaganda" many questioned Soleimani's spending of Iranian money in other countries. "Why does he take our money abroad? Why, in their view, does he support a dictator? Why should we get involved in Syria anyway?" Hajizadeh said, presumably referring to Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.

In the interview, Hajizadeh also admitted that there was so much opposition to the IRGC's involvement in Iraq and Syria that the death of its forces in the early days of the conflicts had to be kept secret. "We really didn't know how to justify the deaths of the first martyrs of the wars in Iraq and Syria," he said adding that not being able to call them martyrs and burying them as such was a big problem and they had to be buried without any ceremonies.

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