When Ali Khamenei was appointed Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, knowing that he lacked the charisma of his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, and therefore would need the power of the military to subdue his rivals and consolidate his position, he tried to pull the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps closer to himself. At the same time, the newly elected president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who as the wartime supreme commander had already nurtured close relations with the IRGC generals in a bid to exploit the public resources of the nation with less restrictions, sought to partner with the IRGC in his “privatization” movement—basically, the mass transfer of public property, resources and organizations from the government sector to the regime insiders. Thus, the Khatam al-Anbiya construction camp was born as the first and foremost financial institution of the IRGC.
In December 1989, Khamenei issued a decree to establish the Khatam al-Anbiya camp with the purported aim of “utilizing the civilian capacity of the armed forces to develop the construction of the country.” The camp was originally intended to be formed and run as a joint enterprise between all the branches of the armed forces of the Islamic Republic, including the army, the IRGC and the police. However, in the course of time, Khatam al-Anbiya turned into an exclusively IRGC venture with managers and senior officials appointed by the guards.
The sole body overseeing the activities of Khatam al-Anbiya is the IRGC Intelligence Protection Unit; other regulatory bodies are not mandated to monitor and request performance reports from the camp. The nominal commander of Khatam al-Anbiya is the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, but he appoints a successor to take over the real workings. The scope and direction of the camp’s participation in financial and economic projects is determined by the IRGC commander-in-chief.
The Khatam al-Anbiya camp grew exponentially during the long period of Mohammad Ali Jafari’s command over the Revolutionary Guards (2007-19). This was also the time when the Supreme Leader, backed by his IRGC praetorians, launched a definitive “Look to the East” policy by systematically discarding the ostensibly “Western-friendly” elements of the regime, as well as the Russification and Sinicization of the intelligence apparatus and the military. With the ouster of Rafsanjani’s circle and the so-called “Reformists” by the Revolutionary Guards, especially during the eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-13), Khatam al-Anbiya succeeded in monopolizing a large share of the economic and development projects in Iran.
With the intensification of international sanctions against the Islamic Republic over the regime’s nuclear ambitions and the forced emigration of multinational companies from Iran, the camp also seized substantial oil, gas and petrochemical projects. All of this provided a propitious platform for Khatam al-Anbiya to grow into a full-fledged leviathan that today dominates almost all the financial, economic and industrial sectors in Iran.
The Khatam al-Anbiya camp is also one of the main institutions tasked with implementing Khamenei’s “Resistance Economy.” This is nothing more than a concerted effort by the Revolutionary Guards to monopolize Iran’s resources, mines, industries and infrastructure projects in order to circumvent international sanctions and fund the ideological-military expansionism of the Islamist regime in the region and beyond, as well as the ongoing suppression of popular dissent and protest in Iran.
Khatam al-Anbiya is also responsible for preparing a “reverse sanctions list.” According to this list, goods produced by domestic manufacturers—companies affiliated with the IRGC—should not be sourced from abroad, which means that the IRGC also intends to monopolize the production and import of goods in Iran. Thus, the Khatam al-Anbiya camp has played a key role in concentrating Iran’s economy in the hands of the militant Islamists and their Revolutionary Guards, in addition to breaking the international sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic. Accordingly, Khatam al-Anbiya has been sanctioned several times by successive U.S. governments since 2010.
Nevertheless, the scope of the activities of the Khatam al-Anbiya camp is growing larger every day, contributing to the expansion of the Revolutionary Guards’ empire in Iran and across the Middle East. During the past two decades, Khatam al-Anbiya has thrived to such an extent that some of its commanders—Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Rostam Ghasemi and Saeed Mohammad—have achieved or are about to achieve key positions in the regime’s political hierarchy by relying on the camp’s seemingly unlimited and unaccounted-for revenues with the solid support of the Supreme Leader and his so-called household.
Qalibaf first became the mayor of Tehran and then speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and now longs for the presidency. Ghasemi was the oil minister in Ahmadinejad’s government, a former adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s first deputy and a senior adviser to the former defense minister, and is said to be one of the presidential candidates in the upcoming elections. Mohammad, the last commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya camp and a model “young Hezbollahi manager,” also recently resigned his post in the hope of becoming president and announced his readiness to run in the 2021 elections.
It appears that the cadets of the Khatam al-Anbiya camp will soon be the main executors of the Islamic Republic’s policies on the situation inside Iran, as well as the regime’s position vis-à-vis the West and Iran’s regional neighbors. Based on the hardline stances of the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard generals, it can be clearly seen that the Islamic Republic intent upon intensifying its suppression of domestic dissent, animosity towards the West and the United States, and expansionism in the Middle East against the security interests of Arabs and Israel.
As such, while the regime keeps escalating, the West’s insistence on returning to the original 2015 nuclear deal or even concluding a new agreement with the Islamic Republic with the intention of reducing its nuclear and missile and regional threats is as unrealistic and counter-productive as it can get, and will only encourage the regime to escalate more with the prospect of impunity or even reward for its terrible behavior on the horizon. Peace in the Middle East is predicated on the dissolution of the IRGC’s apocalyptic empire and establishment of democracy in Iran.
Reza Parchizadeh, Ph.D., is a political theorist and analyst with a focus on the Middle East, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.