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Why Iran's Revolutionary Guards mercilessly crack down

A force to reckon with in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term, the Guards are led by commanders whose worldview was forged during the devastating Iran-Iraq war.

By Gareth SmythContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / August 6, 2009

Mohammad Ali Jafari (r.) appeared with President Ahmadinejad after taking control of the Guards in 2007. He said their 'main mission' was to deal with internal enemies.

AP/FILE

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Beirut

To Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the danger facing the Islamic Republic is acute: Its founding ideals are under serious threat at home and from abroad, and every sacrifice must be made to preserve them as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embarks on his second term.

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In response, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is openly taking the lead for curbing dissent following Mr. Ahmadinejad's sharply disputed June 12 reelection – a reflection of the influence it gained in both security and business affairs during the president's first term.

Over the past decade, and particularly the past two months, the perceived dual threat from domestic reformers and Western meddling has resulted in an IRGC-led militarization of Iran as security "needs" have shaped official decisionmaking.

Iran's reformists, decimated by arrests in the recent clampdown, have long argued that international pressure on Iran would strengthen the IRGC politically – while sanctions would increase the Guards' economic role.

Ironically, some conservatives now argue that continued protests will encourage a punitive approach from the authorities and a further drift to the right.

Amir Mohebbian, political editor of the conservative Resalat newspaper, for example, blames postelection violence on the reformists' decision to take to the streets.

"The support of foreign countries for the reformist movement, especially from the US, only helps antireform groups to show the hand of strangers behind their activities," says Mr. Mohebbian, an astute commentator who was one of the first to predict that Mir Hossein Mousavi would present a serious electoral challenge to Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Blaming the West, particularly Britain and the US, for fomenting the largest public protests since the republic's infancy, the IRGC has led efforts to suppress protests. It's been aided by its affiliated Basij militia, a volunteer force whose membership is put officially at many millions. The corps itself is estimated to have 125,000 members.

In addition, opposition activists have alleged that the IRGC, which has its own intelligence section, is responsible for the detention of hundreds without trial. They assert that it was concern over IRGC-run jails which led Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to close a key detention center, Kahrizak, last week.

How US pressure strengthens IRGC's hand

Established in 1979 as a parallel army to preserve the Islamic Revolution's ideals, the IRGC is led mainly by commanders who were profoundly shaped by the devastating 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. For nearly a decade, they fought far-superior forces that – backed by most of the Arab and Western worlds – attacked Iranians with chemical weapons and Scud missiles.

While Ahmadinejad is often credited with boosting the IRGC's standing, its clout also grew during the 1997-2005 presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami.

That period ended with rising US pressure on the regime, shaped by President Bush's characterization of Iran as part of an "axis of evil."

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