The 125,000 strong Revolutionary Guard secures the revolutionary regime and provides training
support to terrorist groups throughout the region and abroad. Both the regular military [the Artesh] and
IRGC are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL). This new
ministry, established in 1989, was first headed by Akbar Torkan, a civilian and a former head of the
defense industries establishment. MODAFL curtailed the institutional autonomy of the IRGC and
brought it under the overall defense umbrella. The IRGC Ministry was scrapped, and its command
structures were brought within the new MODAFL.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or Pasdaran was formed following the Islamic
Revolution of 1979 in an effort to consolidate several paramilitary forces into a single force loyal to the
new regime and to function as a counter to the influence and power of the regular military. Although
the IRGC operates independently of the regular armed forces, it is often considered to be a military
force in its own right due to its important role in Iranian defense. The IRGC consists of ground, naval,
and aviation troops which parallel the structure of the regular military.
From the beginning of the new Islamic regime, the Pasdaran (Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami, or Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Revolutionary Guards) functioned as a corps of the faithful. Its role in
national security evolved from securing the regime and eliminating opposition forces to becoming a
branch of the military establishment.
As a means of countering the threat posed by either the leftist guerrillas or the officers suspected of
continued loyalty to the shah, however, Khomeini created the Pasdaran, designated as the guardians
of the Revolution. The Constitution of the new republic entrusts the defense of Iran's territorial integrity
and political independence to the military, while it gives the Pasdaran the responsibility of preserving
the Revolution itself.
Days after Khomeini's return to Tehran, the Bazargan interim administration established the Pasdaran
under a decree issued by Khomeini on May 5, 1979. The Pasdaran was intended to protect the
Revolution and to assist the ruling clerics in the day-to-day enforcement of the new government's
Islamic codes and morality. There were other, perhaps more important, reasons for establishing the
Pasdaran. The Revolution needed to rely on a force of its own rather than borrowing the previous
regime's tainted units. As one of the first revolutionary institutions, the Pasdaran helped legitimize the
Revolution and gave the new regime an armed basis of support. Moreover, the establishment of the
Pasdaran served notice to both the population and the regular armed forces that the Khomeini regime
was quickly developing its own enforcement body. Thus, the Pasdaran, along with its political
counterpart, Crusade for Reconstruction, brought a new order to Iran. In time, the Pasdaran would
rival the police and the judiciary in terms of its functions. It would even challenge the performance of
the regular armed forces on the battlefield.
Revolutionary Guard Military Capabilities
Initially the Pasdaran was planned as an organization that would be directly subordinate to the ruling
clerics of the Revolution. The Revolutionary Council in 1979 was composed of 12 members and the
Pasdaran of 30,000 members, divided as follows: Central Council of Saltanatabad, Tehran, 4,000
members; Provincial Command, 20,000; other commands for border checkpoints and key areas,
3,000; and a training center at Aliabad, 3,000. The commander of the Pasdaran was Ayatollah Lahuti
and its chiefs of staff were Hojjatoleslams Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Gholam Ali Afrouz.
By September 1980, the Pasdaran was capable of deploying forces at the front. Initially, the forces
were sent to conduct operations against Kurdish rebels, but before long they were deployed alongside
regular armed forces units to conduct conventional military operations. Despite differences, the
Pasdaran and the regular armed forces have cooperated on military matters.
The Pasdaran was also given the mandate of organizing a large people's militia, the Basij, in 1980. In a
1985 Iranian News Agency report, Hojjatoleslam Rahmani, head of the Basij forces of the Pasdaran,
was quoted as stating that there were close to 3 million volunteers in the paramilitary force receiving
training in some 11,000 centers. It is from Basij ranks that volunteers were drawn to launch "human
wave" attacks against the Iraqis, particularly around Basra. Subsequently the Pasdaran, on Khomeini's
instructions, initiated the training of women to serve the Revolution.
The first operations commander of the Pasdaran was Abbas Zamani (Abu Sharif), a former teacher
from Tehran. A graduate of the College of Education (Islamic Law Section), Zamani was one of the
founders of Hizballah in 1971. As early as 1970, when he first traveled to Beirut, he established
contacts in Lebanon with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and various guerrilla groups
there. Unverified reports have claimed that the Pasdaran has received organizational and training
assistance from the PLO, but no Palestinians were known to have visited the Aliabad or other
Pasdaran training grounds. Khomeini and his supporters in Iran, as well as many other Iranians, have
continued to support the Palestinians, however. For example, PLO leader Yasir Arafat was one of the
first world leaders to visit Tehran after the Revolution; he opened a diplomatic mission in what formerly
had been the Israeli embassy.
The Pasdaran was quite active in Lebanon. By the summer of 1982, shortly after the second Israeli
invasion of Lebanon, the Pasdaran had nearly 1,000 personnel deployed in the predominantly Shia
Biqa Valley. From its headquarters near Baalbek, the Pasdaran has provided consistent support to
Islamic Amal, a breakaway faction of the mainstream Amal organization that contemplated the
establishment of an Islamic state in Lebanon. The secular Baathist Syrian regime has found the
Pasdaran presence in Lebanon alternately helpful and threatening. The Pasdaran's alleged
involvement in anti-American terrorism in Lebanon remained difficult to confirm.
From modest beginnings, the Pasdaran became a formidable force. Under the command of Mohsen
Rezai, the Pasdaran became large enough to match the strength of the regular military. According to
the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 1986 the Pasdaran consisted of 350,000 personnel
organized in battalion-size units that operated either independently or with units of the regular armed
forces. In 1986 the Pasdaran acquired small naval and air elements, and it has claimed responsibility
for hit-and-run raids on shipping in the Persian Gulf. Darting out from bases on a chain of small islands
in Swedish-built speedboats equipped with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the
Pasdaran has established a naval zone in northern Gulf waters. Hosain Alai, the Pasdaran naval
commander, announced on April 27, 1987, that the Pasdaran was in "full control" of certain portions of
Gulf waters and would continue to operate from Farsi Island, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as
from Sirri, Abu Musa, and Larak islands. At that time 200 Pasdaran pilots reportedly were in training in
By 2000 the IRGC Navy operated from several island bases and, when directed in the past, was the
force of choice for launching attacks against Arabian Gulf shipping from make-shift bases constructed
on oil platforms, and several small Gulf islands. Locations include Al Farsiyah, Sirri, Abu Musa, and
Larak. No common fleet structure has been identified, but the basic pattern seems to be small "naval
guerrilla" formations. Boghammar patrol craft and coastal missile battery sites are under IRGC control.
Since the mid-1990's, newer model aircraft have gone exclusively to the regular air force, thus
effectively negating any IRGC air capability.
Revolutionary Guard Internal Security Role
Since 1979 the Pasdaran has undergone fundamental changes in mission and function. Some of
these changes reflected the control of the Islamic Republican Party (IRP) (until its abolition in 1987)
over both the Pasdaran and the Crusade for Reconstruction. Others reflected the IRP's exclusive
reliance on the Pasdaran to carry out certain sensitive missions. Still others reflected personal
ambitions of Pasdaran leaders. The Pasdaran, with its own separate ministry until 1989, evolved into
one of the most powerful organizations in Iran. Not only did it function as an intelligence organization,
both within and outside the country, but it also exerted considerable influence on government policies.
In addition to its initial political strength, in the course of several years the Pasdaran also became a
powerful military instrument for defending the Revolution and Islamic Iran.
The Pasdaran, under the guidance of such clerics as Lahuti and Hashemi-Rafsanjani, was also "to act
as the eyes and ears of the Islamic Revolution" and as a special task force of the Imam Khomeini to
crush any counterrevolutionary activities within the government or any political usurper against the
Islamic Government. Over the years the IRP's leadership used the Pasdaran to eliminate opposition
figures and to enhance its own position. Using the Pasdaran as a springboard to more important
positions, Pasdaran leaders could always obtain access to the Revolutionary Council and Khomeini.
For example, President Khamenehi and Majlis speaker Hashemi-Rafsanjani were both former
commanders of the Pasdaran.
Although little was known about the Ministry of the Pasdaran, its intelligence-gathering operations, and
its relationship with SAVAMA, several reports speculated that the Pasdaran maintained an intelligence
branch to spy on the regime's adversaries and to participate in their arrests and trials. Khomeini
implied Pasdaran involvement in intelligence when he congratulated the Pasdaran on the arrest of
Iranian communist Tudeh leaders. Observers also believed that the Pasdaran had contacts with
underground movements in the Gulf region. Given their importance in domestic politics, it would have
been possible for Pasdaran members to be assigned to Iranian diplomatic missions, where, in the
course of routine intelligence activities, they could monitor dissidents. Observers believed that
Pasdaran influence might be particularly important in Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.
With the abolition of the IRP in 1987, observers were uncertain whether the Pasdaran would continue
to enjoy unlimited support from high-ranking clerics. Its power base remained strong in 1987, with the
continuing support of Khomeini and other religious authorities. Having eliminated armed leftist groups
such as the Mojahedin and the Fadayan, the Pasdaran had fulfilled all IRP expectations.Staunchly
religious, nationalistic, and battle-trained since 1980, the Pasdaran had emerged as a critical force in
determining Iran's national security strategy. In a post-Khomeini era, the Pasdaran could wield
enormous power to approve or disapprove governmental changes. In contrast to the Pasdaran, which
had a primary responsibility for upholding the Revolution, the major concern of the Iranian military was
the prosecution of the war with Iraq.
The IRGC's active involvement in domestic politics began following Ayatollah Khomeini's death in 1989.
Using the experience it gained in carrying out large projects during the war with Iraq, the corps has
become a force in Iran's economy by launching numerous companies. Many of these enterprises
receive lucrative government contracts and are active in the agriculture and oil sectors, on road and
dam construction, and in automobile manufacturing. In addition, former IRGC commanders run the
Oppressed and Disabled Foundation, an extremely powerful and wealthy organization that takes care
of underprivileged Iranians.
In the 1990s some IRGC commanders denounced then-President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani's political, social, and economic reforms as damaging to the values of the
Under Khatami's presidency (1997-2005) the reform movement accelerated -- helping the IRGC gain
prominence. Following the 1999 student riots, some hard-line elements of the IRGC warned Khatami
that his reforms were endangering the revolutionary order and that the IRGC could not stand by and
watch as the fruits of the revolution were destroyed. As a result, these IRGC officers said, they
essentially had no alternative than to intervene to uphold the interests of the Islamic regime. In a letter
to Khatami, 24 IRGC commander stated that they would take the law into their own hands unless the
president cracked down on demonstrators. It became evident that the IRGC's opposition to the reform
movement was such that it would take action to counter it when deemed necessary.
In 2003, Rahim-Safavi wrote in a letter to the Majlis speaker: "The IRGC considers itself responsible for
the defense of the Islamic Revolution, its achievements, and the ideology and values of Imam
Khomeini. We insist upon avoiding political games and infighting among different parties and groups.
[Parliamentarians] should also refrain from extremist actions and respect the dignity of the Majlis. Our
main mission is to stop those who wish to destroy and overthrow the Islamic Revolution."
By 2005 the IRGC's long reach into political affairs was increasingly apparent. Iran's parliament
included about 80 former IRGC members, while other former members command the regular army and
the national police. Still more occupy important civilian and government positions, such as municipal
councilors, mayors, provincial governors, university professors, and businessmen. And possibly most
significant, none other than the country's new president -- Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- served with the
IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War.
Source: Global Security.Org