The IRGC: A state within the Islamic Republic

The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has increased tension between the two. The United States has criticized the role Iran has played in the Middle East mainly through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Boris Johnson, the UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, cautioned that more sanctions could produce other effects like empowering Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds force, an IRGC unit responsible for clandestine and external operations.

And indeed, many outside of Iran view the IRGC and its various divisions as a military organization responsible for destabilizing activities in the Middle East with its foreign bases and strong economic and political influence, albeit sometimes covertly or through proxies.

The IRGC was born prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 because some young revolutionaries expected a long fight with the Shah’s army. However, the IRGC remained after the overthrow of the Shah because of fears of a coup by army forces and with the support of foreign powers — particularly the United States. Many Iranians at that time had an evil image of the United States because Washington long supported the Shah and were cohorts of the British SIS which orchestrated a military coup in 1953 against Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically elected PM who tried to nationalize Iran’s oil sector.

The first major duty of the IRGC after the revolution was to guard Shiite clerics specifically, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The first transformation of these young ideological guards occurred with the start of war between Iran and its neighbor to the west. During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the IRGC expanded its ideological base with a sense of national pride and grew its armed forces.

A few months after the war, Khomeini died and the Islamic Republic had a leadership gap. Khomeini was a charismatic leader with a strong and direct link to the country’s people — not dependent on political or military institutions to derive and project his power. Ali Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor, lacked this charisma and used the IRGC to solidify his position. Iran was devastated after the war, so Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s president from 1989-1997 utilized the IRGC for post-war reconstruction.

In 1990, the IRGC established Khatam Al-Anbiya, which now is the Islamic Republic’s biggest construction firm. In an interview with Fars News agency last year, Khatam al-Anbiya head Gen. Ali Abdullahi said 200,000 Iranians work at the company, further cementing relations between the IRGC and the labor force.

Sanctions by the international community are forcing multinational companies to leave Iran, which allows the IRGC to more easily obtain oil and gas related contracts. Since 2000, Khatam Al-Anbiya has been involved in many gas and oil projects including South Pars gas project.

The political involvement of the IRGC also increased during the second term of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when the Guard Corps managed to suppress widespread protests of Iranians over fraud in the 2009 presidential election. The IRGC’s leaders have served in key political positions as government ministers and ambassadors.

Both reformists and hardliners, including the IRGC as a conservative organization, struggle over controlling more resources and are united against outsiders. Often the tension and public debate between reformists and hardliners in Iran is limited to election campaigns. Current President Hassan Rouhani criticized the involvement of the IRGC in the economy and politics during his re-election campaign in 2017, yet he has increased government funding for Iran’s military forces including the IRGC.

With the transformation of the IRGC over the decades, it is not hard for the IRGC leaders to negotiate with outsiders including the United States to stay in power in Iran. The IRGC functions like state within the Islamic Republic so it can reshape Iran’s foreign relations. The long-term internal challenge for the IRGC is widespread economic hardship across the country which has contributed to recent protests. However, the IRGC, in contrast to the 2013 Egyptian army, lacks considerable popular support to seize direct governmental power through and election or military coup.

Source » rudaw

You May Be Interested