Marking the 38th anniversary of the creation of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Wednesday that the country’s elite force has turned into a “strategic asset” and a “defense shield” not only for Iran but also for the “Islamic Resistance in the region” against the “hegemonic” powers and Israel. “Today, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps has not only demonstrated its influential role in regional and international developments as a powerful military and defensive power, but has also become an optimal model and a school of thought of resistance and anti-imperialism for justice-seeking and freedom-loving nations. It has expanded the strategic depth of the Iranian revolution, regime and nation in the crisis-filled modern world,” it said. A by the Armed Forces General Staff also claimed that the “enemies” have launched a propaganda campaign against the I.R.G.C. because the I.R.G.C. is a “major barrier to their anti-Iranian and anti-revolutionary policies and strategies.”

Comment: In 1979, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, established the I.R.G.C. to defend Iran’s nascent revolution against domestic and external threats. Article 143 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution that the “Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, organized in the early days of the triumph of the Revolution, is to be maintained so that it may continue in its role of guarding the Revolution and its achievements.” Over the past three decades, however, the I.R.G.C. has evolved into not only Iran’s most powerful military force but also a dominant player in the country’s politics and economic and industrial sectors.

The I.R.G.C.’s ground, naval and air forces are far more advanced, equipped and well-funded than those of Iran’s Artesh (regular army). The I.R.G.C. also manages the country’s controversial ballistic missile program and segments of the nuclear activities. Far from its original mandate, the I.R.G.C. and its elite Quds Force now control an extensive network of Shiite militia forces from Afghanistan to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and beyond. I.R.G.C. companies, charities and cultural organizations also promote Iran’s ideological and political influence from South and Central Asia to the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America.

In the past decade, the I.R.G.C. has also turned into the most significant economic player and dominates the country’s key sectors such as energy, construction, telecommunication, media, mining, electronics, automobile, banking, and shipping, among others.  While I.R.G.C. leaders claim their involvement in the economic sector benefits the Iranian people and economy, in reality the I.R.G.C spends most of the revenues on military expenditures at home and abroad. Khatam al-Anbia and its front companies implement major projects not only inside Iran but also , particularly in conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq. The company is one of the main sources of revenue for the I.R.G.C. In October 2007, the U.S. Department of Treasury Khatam al-Anbia because I.R.G.C. uses profits from the company for its illicit activities, including nuclear proliferation and support for terrorism in the Middle East. I.R.G.C.-affiliated individuals and entities are also reportedly engaged in illicit drug trade and black-market enterprises.  

I.R.G.C.’s political influence is also growing. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appoints former I.R.G.C. officials as his advisors and to key positions in the government. Both the Ahmadinejad and Rouhani governments have selected I.R.G.C. commanders to serve in their cabinets. Many retired I.R.G.C. officials have also found their ways into the parliament.