Iran’s Revolutionary Guards turn parade attack into win

An attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran

An attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran

An attack on a military parade in Iran is a blow to the image of its Revolutionary Guards, but the elite force could yet turn the bloodshed to its advantage.

It will use public sympathy to bolster itself at the expense of President Hassan Rouhani.

Twelve Guards were among 25 people killed on September 22 when gunmen fired on a viewing stand as military officials watched a ceremony in the city of Ahvaz marking the start of Iran’s 1980-1988 war with Iraq.

The bloodshed exposed vulnerabilities of the Guards, custodians of clerical rule since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, who have sought to project an image of invincibility.

Initial responses from ordinary Iranians have been largely sympathetic, however, with many posting on social media to express support for the security forces.

“The fact that the attack took place on the anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Iran is likely to prompt a nationalistic backlash among Iranians,” said Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at the Crisis Group think-tank. Iran lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the war with Iraq.

Pictures of soldiers shielding women and children with their bodies or carrying them away from the scene were widely shared, while more than 20 newspapers used a photograph on their front pages of a commando cradling a baby while holding an AK-47.

“See how a member of the Revolutionary Guards helps a child without fear. Salute to your courage!” read one Twitter post, typical of thousands.

But a small number of Iranians shared pictures of the harsh suppression of protests in 2009, when the Guards shot and ran down civilians in the streets.

The public reaction was similar to that seen last year after Islamic State militants attacked Iran’s parliament and the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing 18.

The Ahvaz incident could prove more of a setback for Rouhani, a pragmatist leader whose position within Iran has been severely weakened by the U.S. withdrawal from a nuclear deal with world powers that he engineered and which the Guards and other hardliners opposed.

“The Guards will blame Rouhani for the lax situation and shore up their own agenda in the country,” said Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews.

“Rouhani is a lame duck. He’s long lost the possibility of challenging the Guards,” Ansari added. -Reuters

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