Since its creation in 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 Ayatollah Lahuti and Hojjatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, was also "to act as the eyes and ears of the Islamic Revolution" and as a special task force of the Imam Ayatollah 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 Khamenei 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 (the official state intelligence agency and successor to the Shah's SAVAK), 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. Supreme Leader 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 wielded 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 IRGC became a force in Iran's economy by launching numerous companies. Many of these enterprises received lucrative government contracts and were 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 was set up to manage large holdings ostensibly to take 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 revolution.
Under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami's 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 commanders 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 occupied important civilian and government positions, such as municipal councilors, mayors, provincial governors, university professors, and businessmen. Possibly most significant was none other than the country's new president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who served with the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War. There was widespread claims that the Basij Force had been mobilized to encourage voters in a variety of ways to vote for Ahmadinejad, and to have all of its members vote for him as well. Observers inside and outside of Iran speculated that only with such assistance could a candidate, with single digit polling numbers just prior to the election and with a campaign very limited in its geographical scope, have been elected.
In 2005 the primacy of internal security to the IRGC mission became clearer with the creation in August of the Strategic Research Center, with Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari at its head (later to become Major General and head of the IRGC). The mission of the Center was to tackle a variety of missions vital to national security, reportedly including acquisition of nuclear technology and targeting dissidents inside and outside of Iran.
On 01 September 2007 Ayatollah Khamenei made Jafari head of the IRGC, further underlying the internal security priority, as well as sending a message to critics of President Ahmadinejad, of whom Jafari was a close associate. On 20 October 2007 Jafari said that the "Guards' primary mission at this juncture is to fight the internal threats," reflecting how important internal security had become again to the IRGC mission.
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