On Sunday, the Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council Sadegh Larijani announced the appointment of Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr as the new secretary of the Expediency Council, following the resignation of Mohsen Rezaei. Rezaei had held this post since 1997—he used it as a platform to mount unsuccessful runs for parliament and the presidency. That changed after he became vice president for economic affairs in the Raisi administration, which resulted in the need for a shakeup on the Expediency Council.
The Expediency Council, which arbitrates differences between Iran’s parliament and the Guardian Council and acts as an advisory body to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, functions as a place where Khamenei often places former officials for whom he has limited use. Even former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been disqualified from running for the presidency twice since he left office in 2013, has held membership. Nevertheless, the Expediency Council generated controversy in recent years, especially as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) legislation, which the Rouhani administration had championed to improve Tehran’s economic fortunes, was stalled in the body.
The new secretary has a similar pedigree as the old secretary. Both Rezaei and Zolghadr landed in the position after serving as senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with Rezaei as its commander-in-chief and Zolghadr as its deputy commander-in-chief. Born in Fars Province, Zolghadr received his undergraduate degree from Tehran University and served in the Iran-Iraq War as commander of the Ramazan Base.
He later became deputy coordinator of the IRGC from 1989-97—which overlapped with Rezaei still serving as the head of the IRGC—and rose to the position of deputy commander-in-chief from 1997-2005. During his time as the second-in-command, IRGC senior commanders signed onto a letter accusing then reformist President Mohammad Khatami of leading the country into anarchy amid a student protest in July 1999. Zolghadr himself worked closely with the Basij and Ansar-e Hezbollah to suppress dissidents during these years.
Zolghadr then transitioned into Iran’s government, serving as deputy interior minister for security affairs from 2005-2007 in the Ahmadinejad administration. Indeed, the appointment can be seen as a payoff as after the 2005 presidential election, Zolghadr was quoted as alleging there was “a complicated and multi-layer operation” which catapulted Ahmadinejad to Iran’s presidency. Zolghadr was such a significant player in the new administration, that his boss, then Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, later recalled, “when I talked to then commander-in-chief of the Guards, Brigadier General Rahim Safavi, he said that Mr. Zolghadr, deputy commander-in-chief of the Guards, enjoys a certain position and respect. Now that he is going to the Interior Ministry, we in the Guards ask you [to] preserve his [elevated] position and respect in the ministry.”
During this period, Zolghadr was sanctioned by the United Nations in 2007, appearing on a list of “Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps key persons” under UN Security Council Resolution 1747. He sparked controversy over a trip he made to Russia in defiance of a UN travel ban. He proclaimed at the time that his visit “was strong proof showing the elements of the UN Security Council Resolution 1747 against the Islamic Republic of Iran have had no effect.” After a falling out between Zolghadr and Ahmadinejad, Iran’ s Supreme Leader found a landing spot for him as deputy chief of the Armed Forces General Staff for Basij Affairs. Zolghadr then transitioned to the judiciary as its deputy head for strategic affairs, having been named to the post by Sadegh Larijani when he served as chief justice.
Zolghadr brings cross-institutional exposure to his role as secretary of the Expediency Council. He has served in Iran’s armed state—IRGC and Armed Forces General Staff—elected state as an appointee in a presidential administration—and deep state in the judiciary. Thus, he is a well-positioned hardline political operator. In fact, at the time of their appointments, Zolghadr is the one with more experience within different state organs than even Rezaei who technically held a higher office than him as commander-in-chief of the IRGC.
One additional aspect of his appointment is particularly noteworthy and that is his relationship with Sadegh Larijani. Larijani, who recently resigned from the Guardian Council after it disqualified his brother Ali from the presidential election in 2021, has been gradually marginalized since he left the chief justiceship. Nevertheless, he remains chairman of the Expediency Council and the appointment of Zolghadr, who served under him in the judiciary, could be a signal that for the time being, Larijani won’t be completely ostracized, and Iran’s Supreme Leader is allowing him to continue to use the Expediency Council as a platform.
Source » iranintl