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.
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In the name of security, Iran's reformists warned, fundamentalists in the IRGC and other parts of the security apparatus were undermining the country's laws and judicial processes.Skip to next paragraph
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Saaed Hajjarian – the recently arrested "brain of the reformists" – warned in an interview with this reporter in 2005 of "a ladder of democracy – or rather semidemocracy – that someone climbs up, and then kicks away."
Mr. Hajjarian continued: "To threaten Iran, nearly every day, America is looking for any excuse – the nuclear issue, terrorism, human rights, the Middle East peace process. There are different US pressures ... but some make the situation here more militarized, and in such an atmosphere, democracy is killed."
In 2006, the US allocated $66 million to groups working to "promote democracy" in Iran, and the following year persuaded the United Nations Security Council to sanction several IRGC commanders over the corps' role in Iran's missile and nuclear programs.
The Bush administration regularly accused the Guards of supplying advanced explosives to insurgents in Iraq, a charge detailed in a 2008 State Department report on terrorism that also outlined IRGC arms supplies to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
After taking over as commander of the IRGC in September 2007, Mohammad Ali Jafari devolved its command structure to Iran's 30 provinces and the capital, while more closely integrating the Basij.
The IRGC linked the move to Israeli military maneuvers in the Mediterranean and to violence in Iran's Kurdish and Baluchi regions, where Iran alleged the US supported militant separatists. But Mr. Jafari was also quoted by the Iranian media as saying, "The main mission of the IRGC is to deal with the internal enemies."
Billions in contracts under Ahmadinejad
In addition to enhancing its security remit, the IRGC has expanded an array of businesses originally launched to exploit its construction experience from the 1980-88 war. This growth has derived in part from filling the gaps left by international firms pulling out due to UN and US sanctions, especially in the energy sector.
No reliable figures exist for the IRGC's overall economic strength, as its subsidiaries are subject to little public scrutiny. But estimates reach many billions of dollars.
In a rare disclosure, businesses were put at 30 percent of IRGC "capacities" in a 2006 interview by Brig. Gen. Abdol-Reza Abed, an IRGC deputy commander and head of Khatam-ol-Anbia, one of its many companies.
The IRGC's economic role has clearly increased with projects awarded by Ahmadinejad.
Within a year of his taking office, Khatam-ol-Anbia won a $1.3 billion contract for a gas pipeline from the Persian Gulf to the eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, and edged out Norwegian firm Kvaerner for developing part of the South Pars gas field. An IRGC-owned company, Sepasad, has also won a $1.2 billion contract to build a line of the Tehran subway.