“As the thaw in relations between the West and Iran continues, the Islamic Republic is hoping to lure major oil companies back to invest in its all-important energy sector. But any oil firms that return to Iran will find a new force to be reckoned with: Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a military force set up in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to protect the country's Islamic political system. In particular, oil companies will find it necessary to come to some sort of accommodation with engineering contractor Khatam ol-Anbia, a company wholly owned by the Guards whose name means ‘Seal of the Prophets.’ Khatam was set up in 1989 following Iran's war with Iraq to provide employment for Revolutionary Guards and make use of skills developed in the conflict such as building roads and bridges. With up to 40,000 employees, according to U.S. government estimates, the company has expanded to become one of Iran's largest conglomerates, building everything from ports to highways. The Revolutionary Guards had only a small presence in the sector when major Western oil companies such France's Total SA and Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell PLC first signed oil deals with Iran in the late 1990s. After 2005, though, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signed billions of dollars worth of contracts with companies controlled by the Guards, particularly in the oil and gas sector. His aim was to prop up the most conservative elements in the regime to foster support for his hard-line stance on Iran's nuclear program. Khatam is one of those companies, and its influence grew rapidly from 2010, when the last Western oil majors pulled out of Iran as economic sanctions against the country tightened…Not all foreign oil executives are worried about dealing with Khatam. At the company's stand at the trade fair, Wolfram Schöne, managing director of German engineering firm AviComp Controls GmbH, was explaining the merits of his services to refurbish gas compressors. ‘They [Khatam] already know about us,’ said Mr. Schöne, who had traveled from Leipzig. ‘If they are not under sanctions, we will sell to them.’” (Wall Street Journal, “Oil Companies Returning to Iran Face Obstacle in Form of Revolutionary Guards,” 5/23/14)
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