Quds Force Commander and Candidate: Gholamreza Baghbani

April 13, 2012
Brigadier General Gholamreza Baghbani. (Left) Date and location unknown, (Right) Campaigning for parliament in Sistan va Balouchestan Province, February 2012

This is the sixth Middle Eastern Outlook in a series about the IRGC Quds Force.

The US Department of the Treasury (USDOT) has designated Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC QF) Brigadier General Gholamreza Baghbani, current chief of the IRGC QF office in Zahedan, a narcotics trafficker. The USDOT does not provide evidence proving this designation, nor does a survey of the Persian language open-source material on Baghbani. A review of Baghbani’s career, however, can provide insight into the ongoing generational change within the QF—as the older generation of IRGC QF field operatives is retiring from operational positions, they are actively attempting to infiltrate politics, exemplified by Baghbani’s candidacy for Iran’s ninth parliamentary election.

Key points in this Outlook
  • Brigadier General Gholamreza Baghbani’s failed 2011 attempt to secure a position in Iran’s parliament exemplifies the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force’s (IRGC QF) desire to penetrate Iran’s political sphere.
  • The US Department of the Treasury recently designated Baghbani a narcotics trafficker, but the entire Quds Force should be implicated.
  • As they retire, older IRGC QF field operatives are pursuing high-level political and advisory positions, signifying a pattern of generational change.

On March 7, 2012, the US Department of the Treasury (USDOT) designated Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC QF) Brigadier General Gholamreza Baghbani, “current chief of the IRGC QF office in Zahedan,” as “a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker.” The USDOT elaborates:

    Baghbani allowed Afghan narcotics traffickers to smuggle opiates through Iran in return for assistance. . . . For example, Afghan narcotics traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban on behalf of Baghbani. In return, General Baghbani has helped facilitate the smuggling of heroin precursor chemicals through the Iranian border. He also helped facilitate shipments of opium to Iran.

The USDOT’s designation was overshadowed by events before it was released to the public. By this point, Baghbani had already chosen to run for parliament, and had likely resigned from his position in the IRGC QF, which makes the timing of the designation curious. It is also unclear why the USDOT chose to designate Baghbani alone as a narcotics trafficker and not the IRGC QF as a whole. If the USDOT believes that Baghbani engaged in narcotics trafficking while serving as an IRGC QF commander (as Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen’s statements in the designation’s press release indicate), then the implication is that the IRGC QF must have been complicit with or at the very least aware of Baghbani’s narcotics trafficking.

This designation is nonetheless significant in that it provokes a number of important questions about this senior IRGC QF commander: Who is Baghbani and what is his network? What is his career pattern? Why was he appointed a senior IRGC QF commander, and why has he left his military career to pursue a career in politics? Answers to many of these questions not only provide insight into this particular commander, but also enlighten us to career trajectories and generational change within the IRGC QF in general.

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