Iran Guards replaced foreign firms in projects: report

Tue Dec 15, 2009 8:13am EST
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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards have replaced of foreign firms in some projects in the major oil producer, a senior commander said in comments published on Tuesday, a sign of the elite force's growing economic clout.

But Rostam Qassemi, who heads the Guards' Khatam al-Anbia engineering unit, dismissed claims that it controlled most of the Islamic Republic's construction and other development projects, business daily Donya-ye Eqtesad reported.

"We are witnessing a ballyhoo these days, both inside and outside the country, over the Guards economic activities," he was quoted as telling a news conference, adding "foreign firms were afraid of being replaced by local companies" in projects.

But Qassemi added: "the volume of projects run by Khatam al-Anbia is only four percent of all projects in the country."

Analysts say the political and the economic influence of the Guards appears to have grown since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself a former Guardsman, came to power in 2005.

The force played a key role in quelling street unrest that erupted after Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June.

In September, Iranian media said a consortium affiliated to the Guards bought 50 percent plus one share in the state telecommunications company for around $7.8 billion.

Qassemi said his unit has replaced big foreign firms such as Total (TOTF.PA: Quote) and Shell (RDSa.L: Quote) in some projects, the newspaper reported. It did not make clear whether this was because they had pulled out or because of other reasons.

Western firms are becoming increasingly wary of investing in Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, due to an international row over its nuclear program. The West suspects Iran aims to develop nuclear bombs. Tehran denies this.   Continued...