The Headquarters for the Restoration of Holy Shrines: Another IRGC Front

Today, the U.S. Treasury designated a little-known ‘charitable’ organization called the Headquarters for the Restoration of Holy Shrines (HRHS). Despite its name, HRHS is in reality an Iranian IRGC terrorist front group that has been smuggling men and material into Iraq for almost two decades.

HRHS was set up during the 2003 Iraq War for the ostensible purpose of safeguarding Iraq’s Shiite holy sites, including in Najaf, Karbala, and Samarra. According to its own mission statement, HRHS has since broadened into offering “scientific, cultural, educational, sanitation, renovation, and humanitarian activities.”

However, there was a mountain of unmissable evidence that proves HRHS is actually a critical aspect of Iran’s long-term project to dominate its Iraqi neighbor and buttress its “Shiite crescent” through Syria and Lebanon.

Most palpably, the head of HRHS is chosen by the head of the IRGC-Quds Force (QF), Iran’s foreign expeditionary unit tasked with exporting the goals of the Revolution.  In July 2018, IRGC-QF Chief Qasem Soleimani appointed his friend, Hassan Pelarak, as HRHS Director.

A former IRGC Commander, Pelarak served in the same army unit as Soleimani and both men come from the same part of Iran, Kerman. Later, Pelarak was promoted to Soleimani’s ‘Special Assistant’ with a brief to oversee HRHS.

Pelarak’s replacement as HRHS Director is Mohammad Jalal-Maab, who was also appointed by Soleimani, in 2019. Like Pelarak and Soleimani, he also hails from Kerman, where he was the Mayor.

Both Pelarak and Jalal-Maab were also individually designated today.

According to Radio Farda, “3,000 Iranians are said to be working with the [HRHS] headquarters in Iraq.”

Furthermore, several clerics from the Supreme Leader’s office sit on the HRHS Board of Trustees. Before he was taken out in a Trump-authorized strike in January, Soleimani himself was also an HRHS Trustee.

Finally, while HRHS claims to be a “non-governmental organization,” it nonetheless appears as an entry on the Government of Iran’s budget.

If the regime ever sought to conceal the links between itself, the IRGC and HRHS, it has done a remarkably poor job.

An October 2018 lawsuit filed against Iran on behalf of U.S. soldiers who served in Iraq during the 2000s is clear: “HRHS is nothing more than a front for the IRGC-QF, whose mission is to support the Iranian-backed terror groups in Iraq, disrupt the stability of free and democratic Iraq, and expand Iranian influence in the country.”

When Qassem Soleimani was killed, UANI cautioned that the IRGC would continue to sow mayhem in large measure due to the entrenched economic position of its enormous construction and engineering arm, Khatam al-Anbiya (KAA). Interestingly, KAA has proved essential to HRHS’s operations, transporting matériel for the apparent task of ‘renovating’ religious sites across the border. As the servicemen’s suit against the Islamic Republic notes, “KAA and HRHS’ activities in Iraq, from 2003 until the present, provided the perfect vehicle through which Iran smuggled and disguised raw materials, currency, weapons, and munitions used by the Terrorist Groups to effectuate Iran’s campaign of terror in Iraq.”  HRHS’ modus operandi is apparently ramped up during the festival of Arba’een, when tens of millions of Shiite Muslims make the pilgrimage to Karbala in commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.  According to one report, “The pilgrimage is also a formidable recruiting tool for the Iranian regime and especially the Revolutionary Guards to find candidates that are ideologically loyal to the regime and ready to fill the ranks of security and military institutions.”

Ultimately, the IRGC’s exploitation of a supposedly humanitarian organization shows again how far it is willing to go to dominate not only its own country but those around it – including, increasingly, Syria. Just as the U.S. has blacklisted KAA for its IRGC links, it has now rightly done the same with HRHS and its leaders.