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Iran Forms New Police Force to Replace Feared Komiteh

April 1, 1991

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Iran’s spiritual leader on Monday formed a new police force to replace the feared Komiteh, the hard-to-control security force whose overly zealous agents came to symbolize the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Brig. Gen. Mohammad Sohrabi, formerly the head of the gendarmerie, to direct the new security force.

Mohammad Seifollahi, a commander of the Komiteh, was given the rank of brigadier general by Khamenei and appointed to head the new organization’s security and intelligence operations, Tehran radio reported.

The broadcast, monitored in Nicosia, quoted Khamenei as saying the security of the nation must be raised to the ″highest standard,″ and that the organization ″must be structured and run with the greatest commitment and ability.″

Like the Komiteh and the gendarmerie, whose functions overlapped, Iran’s armed forces are made up the regular military forces and the Islamic Republic Guards Corps, which has its own air force and army.

But since his election in June 1989, Iran President Hashemi Rafsanjani has been trying to eliminate competing power centers within the armed forces and the police by merging rival organizations - a move opposed by both the Guard Corps and the Komiteh.

He has also been trying to ease the government’s hold on Iranian society, where Komiteh agents were known for harassing or arresting women who even slightly deviated from the Islamic dress code that ordered them covered from head to foot in public.

Social contact between the sexes is also banned under Iran’s brand of Islam, and the Komiteh regularly arrested unmarried couples seen together in public.

In veiled criticism of the Komiteh, Rafsanjani and his pragmatic allies had often cautioned the Komiteh against their excessive zeal, and warned them not to ″alienate the public.″

Earlier this year Rafsanjani merged the navy with the Guard Corps’ naval wing. He said last year that the army and the air force also will be merged.

Rafsanjani, a so-called pragmatist, is opposed by radical rivals who draw their main support from the Komiteh and Guard Corps, and who are against his modest attempts to liberalize society.

But ever since their revolutionary patriarch Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini died of cancer in June 1989, the radicals have been sidelined by Rafsanjani.

His decision to replace the Komiteh with a new security organization is a measure of his power against his diminished rivals.

Earlier this month, Rafsanjani said that after the revolution Iran was viewed as a revolutionary nation relying on ″club-wielding bullies.″

He said that 12 years after the revolution, the country had a more ″pleasant and moderate face.″

Both the Komiteh and the Guard Corps were formed after the revolution as a counterweight to the forces left over from the previous government, whom the revolutionaries suspected of sympathizing with the toppled monarch.

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