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The Revolutionary Guards, Past, Present and Directions for Future Development

General Background

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was established soon after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1980 and was composed of the same groups that led the revolution.[1] There were two central reasons for the establishment of the IRGC. First, it was designed to defend the achievements of the Islamic revolution and the new Islamic Republic. The IRGC was supposed to serve as an operational and political counterweight to the Iranian army (“artesh” in Fasi). The latter was clearly identified with the Shah regime. The second mission of the IRGC was to shoulder the burden of the military effort of the Iran-Iraq war.


The IRGC recruited Iranian youth to the war and operated a propaganda mechanism designed to increase the number of recruits. IRGC soldiers fought the most bitter battles in the war, battles in which it seemed time and again that the Iranians were on the verge of defeat but that ended up in failure. This involvement led to the growth of a generation of field commanders experienced in the tactical and operational aspects of battle. In contrast, it should be noted that the involvement of the Revolutionary Guards in the strategic leadership of the battle was relatively limited. This state of affairs influenced the development of the current generation of IRGC commanders, those who were junior officers and ordinary fighters in the 1980’s.

After the war, the Revolutionary Guards became the spearhead of civilian reconstruction efforts. While the Iranian army exuded an air of aristocracy, the Revolutionary Guards were perceived as a “popular” organization that represented the Iranian periphery with all of its identities. This geographic and ethnic diversity enabled the Revolutionary Guards to operate in a coordinated and effective manner in Iran’s various provinces. The leadership of the Islamic Republic needed a dedicated and politically committed body that could also carry out the necessary rehabilitation tasks. Within a short period of time, the Revolutionary Guards became an entity with significant operational and economic strengths, specializing in various infrastructure fields. The responsibility of the Revolutionary Guards was again operational and local, and their political power was expressed in their ability to respond to distress within specific contexts.


However, the indispensability of Iran’s reconstruction and the stability of the status of its conservative patrons in Tehran brought the Revolutionary Guards huge budgets from the central government. With the help of these budgets, the Revolutionary Guards also took control of the black market in Iran, which is based mainly on smuggling (due to the sanctions and isolation that Iran suffered) on a national scale. Over the years, veterans of the Iran-Iraq war gained key positions in local government and the civilian government ministries in Iran. Thus, they exerted a growing influence on the ongoing functioning of the Iranian state.

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