Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Head of Iran's elite force replaced

AFP , TEHRAN

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday replaced the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards force, in a surprise move at a time of mounting tension with the West.

State television said Revolutionary Guards chief General Yahya Rahim Safavi would be stepping down to become a special military adviser to Khamenei and would be replaced by fellow Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jaafari.

The move comes just two weeks after US officials said US President George W. Bush was set to issue an executive order blacklisting the force as a terror group in order to block its assets.

"Acknowledging General Safavi's 28 years of honest service in different military fields and 10 years of successful leadership of the Revolutionary Guards, I appoint you top adviser in military affairs," Khamemei said in a decree.

A separate decree read: "General Jaafari, taking into account your valuable experience and your brilliant record in the Revolutionary Guards, I appoint you as head of this revolutionary organization."

No reason was given over the reason for the switch, which was first announced on the main evening television news bulletin.

Khamenei thanked Safavi for his "valuable" service and advised his successor to highlight the "increasing progress" of the Guards.

The Guards is a force fiercely committed to defending the ideals of Iran's revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and whose influence has now extended beyond the military into politics and the economy.

Safavi explained the Guards' role in an interview last month: "We are a major offensive and defensive power in the Middle East. We have trained and equipped our forces with the latest equipment to defend our soil."

His replacement comes at a time of mounting tension with the West over the Iranian nuclear program, which Washington argues is aimed at making a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists its atomic program is peaceful.

Bush has never ruled out military action against Tehran, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned last week that Iran risked being bombed if no solution was found to the nuclear crisis.

Iran's military leaders have always warned that while Iran would never make the first attack it would launch a crushing response to any aggression against its territory.

In recent years, the Guards' influence has started to permeate all areas of Iranian society.

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