Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
Posted: October 28, 2009
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), or Sepah-e Pasdaran in Farsi, was founded in May 1979 following the Iranian Revolution that replaced Iran's monarchy with an Islamic republic under the auspices of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The IRGC, tasked with guarding Ayatollah Khomeini and his revolutionary government, was established as a parallel force to the existing Iranian army, whose duty, according to the Iranian Constitution, is to defend the country.
A November 2011 statement signed by 240 Iranian parliamentarians express their "all-out support for the IRGC, specifically its Quds Force," the IRGC's special operations unit and primary mechanism for supporting terrorist activity outside of Iran, "which has been able to safeguard the achievements of the Islamic Revolution."
In order to evade the weapons embargo the U.S. imposed on Iran in 1979, the IRGC reportedly built its own weapons infrastructure by acquiring arms from China, North Korea and the Soviet Union. During Iran's war with Iraq in the 1980s, the IRGC embraced a more conventional role as a military force and became capable of deploying troops alongside Iran's regular army. While the IRGC's primary role today is to ensure internal security, it also reportedly assists Iran's regular army with external defense, particularly in the strategic Persian Gulf, and enforces the government's Islamic code of morality.
The IRGC has history of deploying troops abroad, headed by the Quds Force. In addition to sending fighters to combat Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s, the Quds Force sent fighters to back the Bosnian Muslims' fight against the Serbs during the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s.
In recent years, the Quds Force has conducted underground operations and training and exported weapons to foreign terrorist groups, including, Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The Quds Force—whose personnel ranges from 1,000-15,000 men and women—also provides material support to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Shiite militias in Iraq, according to the State Department and other government sources.
In addition to the Quds Force, the IRGC is made up of four additional branches: Ground Forces, Air Force, Navy and Basij militia. The traditional military forces consist of an estimated 125,000 personnel who are also responsible for Iran's missile forces. The IRGC is also comprised of a counterintelligence directorate that scrutinizes IRGC adversaries in the region and participates in their subsequent arrests and trials.
In September 2007, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei named Mohammed Ali Jafari the new IRGC commander, replacing Yahya Rahim-Safavi. Jafari, who had commanded the IRGC land forces for 15 years, brought the Basij under the direct command of the IRGC in 2007. Today, the 90,000 active Basij, who can be supplemented with nearly one million volunteers, enable the IRGC to control Iranian governmental and non-governmental institutions, ministries, public and private businesses, banks and universities. Basij volunteers have also crushed riots in Iranian cities and were responsible for the crackdown against those protesting the disputed June 2009 presidential election.
Since its inception, the IRGC has been deeply involved in Iran's political affairs as well. IRGC members have occupied government positions, such as municipal councilors, mayors, governors and ambassadors to the U.N. and several other embassies in Western capitals. Brigadier General Hosein Salimi, the deputy commander of the IRGC described it as an "amalgamation of all kinds of powers."
Half of the cabinet members during President Ahmadinejad's first term in office were members of the IRGC, as is the president himself. In addition, one third of the seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Iran's parliament, were IRGC members.
The IRGC has played a commanding role in the Iranian economy since it helped rebuild Iran's financial infrastructure following the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "IRGC is so deeply entrenched in Iran's economy and commercial enterprises," former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said. "It is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran, you are somehow doing business with the IRGC."
Today, the IRGC is reportedly Iran's third-largest corporation and is linked to more than 500 companies, covering everything from nuclear power plants to banks to holiday resorts and is actively consolidating "broad swathes of the Iranian economy," according to Department of the Treasury officials.
In addition, the IRGC reportedly controls more than half of Iran's imports and one-third of the country's non-oil exports, enabling the IRGC to generate a profit of approximately $5 billion annually. At the same time, an IRGC general is Minister of Petroleum, giving the IRGC broad influence over Iran's vitally important oil industry.