Ex-Iran oil minister and IRGC commander Rostam Ghasemi dies: Who was he?

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Rostam Ghasemi, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander who served in several key positions in Iran, died of cancer on Thursday at the age of 58, state media reported.

Ghasemi had resigned from his position as the minister of roads and urban development in November due to deteriorating health, according to state media.

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A month before his resignation, photos emerged on social media of Ghasemi with a woman who was not wearing a hijab.

The photos were taken in Malaysia in 2011, his office confirmed. The unveiled woman seen with Ghasemi was his second wife whom he married after the death of his first wife.

An Iranian regime official being seen with an unveiled woman is certain to generate controversy, given the Islamic Republic’s mandatory hijab law, but the timing of the photos’ release also coincided with the ongoing anti-regime protests in Iran, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurdish woman who died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police for allegedly not complying with the regime’s strict hijab rules.

The photos prompted angry reactions from Iranians on social media who lambasted regime officials for their “hypocrisy.”

The photos also led several Iranian lawmakers to call on Ghasemi to step down.

Ghasemi was born in 1964 in Fars province.

He joined the IRGC at the age 17 shortly after the force was established in 1979 and took part in Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq.

After the war ended in 1988, he joined the IRGC-run Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, which was founded to restore the country’s infrastructure. He was appointed chair in 2007, and later oil minister in the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In 2013, he was named by Foreign Policy as one of the world’s 500 most powerful figures as Iran’s oil minister. But before that, he was added to the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list as head of the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya. He was also under EU sanctions.

Ghasemi’s main challenge as oil minister was “to bypass sanctions and sell oil while under sanctions,” the semi-official ISNA news agency said.

“He tried various methods to circumvent sanctions, some of which were met with setbacks, and others of course worked, and he was able to keep the government’s pockets full.”

Ghasemi was also close to the late Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and served as his assistant for economic affairs in the IRGC’s Quds Force.

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