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The Middle Eastern country became the second nation after China to suffer from the pandemic but despite a collapsed healthcare system, Iran has only reported 6,854 deaths. Sources claim those numbers do not accurately portray the real number.
A regional intelligence official in the Middle East told Business Insider: “[The Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard have been downplaying the extent of the COVID problem since the initial outbreak hit their guys hard in Qom at the start of the outbreak.
“Rouhani’s government has tried to take control of the situation and use the extensive health ministry networks that it controls to reduce the outbreak.
“But our intelligence indicted that reports about a struggle between the elected officials and the unelected structures controlled by Khamenei.”
According to the source, Khamenei reportedly forced the government to start easing lockdown restrictions which saw a spike of infections across the country back in April.
A source told the publication: “Any of the numbers the Iranians have put out since late April are considered extremely suspect because we have indications that the Revolutionary Guard – which means this comes from Khamenei’s office directly – are not reporting cases from its health and military infrastructure and possibly intimidating reporting from other areas as well because the leadership has decided this is a national security issue, where too many cases will make Iran look inept and weak in the face of American pressure.”
Iran was reportedly already under economic pressure from the tough sanctions enforced by the United States even before the outbreak of the deadly virus.
The country’s economy is expected to collapse during the COVID-19 pandemic as oil prices in 2020 have been historically low, reducing the Iranian revenue.
An unnamed oil industry analyst in the United Arab Emirates said the elected government is hurt the most by the collapse compared to the Revolutionary Guards.
The Iranian government relies on traditional taxation and revenue budgeting processes whereas the Revolutionary Guard maintains is own parallel government and economy.
The source said: “The Guard has always maintained its own cash flow from oil skimmed off the national production, through sweetheart contracts, and company ownership deals, and through off-the-books trade both in and out of Iran.
“And that’s before the direct support it gets from religious institutions and charities directly controlled by the supreme leader.
“Rouhani is forced to try to wrest political control over the Iranian system from a system designed to operate outside of that system.
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“It’s not easy.”
In an investigation by Reuters back in 2013, it revealed the Revolutionary Guard is a quasi-independent military and economic centre of power on its own.
A financial intelligence analyst with NATO’s member’s intelligence service said: “He’s got the type of money on hand to compete with a nation-state – the only other person with personal access to this much cash is probably Putin.
“Khamenei funds an independent parallel state that directly competes with Rouhani.”
Earlier this year, the struggle between the elected government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was made worse after two military disasters.
Back in January, the country accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner over Tehran, killing 176 people and last Sunday, the failed naval missile test accidentally killed at least 19 Iranian sailors and more are still missing.
Some are claiming that the two accidents have given Rouhani leverage to pressure the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
A regional intelligence source said: “They have refused to say if the missile test last Sunday was the IRGC or the proper Iranian Navy, but it’s assumed that a high-profile test of a high tech weapon system in plain view of all their enemies in the Gulf would have only been a Revolutionary Guard production.
“But the incident as well as the tragedy in January with the airliner has given Rouhani a legitimate claim that the Guard is failing at both its international responsibilities with these failures as well as poorly responding to COVID.”
Last week, it was reported Iran had taken desperate measures to help its economy with the nation’s hyper-inflated currency renamed and revalued, slashing four zeros off all dominations.
The head of Iran’s Central Bank announced that the currency, which has long been called rial, is likely to soon be called the Toman and the new national currency was approved by the Iranian parliament.
With the new currency, what was 10,000 rials will now become one Toman under the new plans.
According to Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA, the bill was approved by lawmakers but the plan will need to be given the green light by clerics.
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