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Iran's Revolutionary Guards

Introduction

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was founded in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend the regime against internal and external threats, but has since expanded far beyond its original mandate. Today the guard has evolved into a socio-military-political-economic force with influence reaching deep into Iran's power structure. During the first term of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current and former fighters carved out their place in government: they have been appointed ambassadors, mayors, undersecretaries, provincial governors, and fourteen of the country's twenty-one cabinet ministers are veterans of the force. Analysts say the organization, with its control of strategic industries, commercial services, and black-market enterprises, has evolved into one of the country's most influential domestic institutions.

Crackdowns on protestors in the wake of the disputed June 2009 presidential elections have brought new scrutiny of the guard's role. Some analysts believe IRGC influence in the political arena amounts to the irreversible militarization of Iran's government (NYT). Others, like Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, suggest the guard's power has grown to exceed (New Republic) that of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who legally has final say on all state matters. But Frederic Wehrey, an adjunct senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and the co-author of a recent study on the IRGC, notes that the Revolutionary Guard is far from a cohesive unit of likeminded conservatives. Instead, he says, it's a heavily factionalized institution with a mix of political aspirants unlikely to turn on theirmasters.

'Guardians' of the Revolution

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Pasdaran in Persian, was formed by former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It was originally created as a "people's army" similar to...

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