Monday, March 19, 2007


Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has been restructuring its military capabilities and taking an increasingly prominent role in the nation’s political life as the United States builds political and military pressure on the Islamic republic.

A number of former commanders have assumed political positions or become involved in shaping foreign policy, even as the military force — known formally as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — prepares itself for “asymmetrical warfare” and the possibility of internal unrest.

The involvement in national politics has been evidenced by a series of recent statements more appropriate to diplomats than to soldiers.

On Feb. 21, the overall commander of the IRGC declared that the United States was not able to make any security changes in the Middle East without the cooperation of Iran, according to IRNA, the state news agency.

Gen. Yahya Safavi was echoed by Ali Said, supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s personal representative to the IRGC.

He said on Jan. 31 that “if America abandons its self-centeredness, and village headman position, Iran … could fulfill its role in the region and help resolve regional issues.”

The foray into politics demonstrates the growing power of the Revolutionary Guard — which already controls Iran’s borders and runs the country’s ballistic-missile and satellite programs — during nearly two years of government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During that period, IRGC-affiliated construction companies such as Khatam ol-Anbia (“Seal of the Prophets”) also have been awarded numerous contracts.

“By involving the Revolutionary Guard in the political life of the country, [Ayatollah] Khamenei’s direct and unwise leadership of the corps has simply exacerbated matters,” wrote Mohsen Sazegara, one of the founders of the IRGC and now a Harvard-based dissident, in a recent opinion piece.

At the same time, the Revolutionary Guard has come under extreme pressure as a number of its personnel are killed, arrested or have disappeared under conditions that have prompted suspicions within its upper echelons that the United States is sponsoring a guerrilla campaign against it.

One of its generals, Mohammed Mohsen Shirazi, has not been heard from since he disappeared while on a secret assignment in Iraq nearly a month ago, according to Katib News, a Web site said to be affiliated to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.

Several other IRGC officers have been killed in separatist guerrilla attacks in ethnic minority-dominated border areas such as Kurdistan, Balochistan and Khuzestan.

In response to what it sees as a looming American threat, the Revolutionary Guard has been restructuring its military doctrine toward asymmetrical warfare.

“In view of the disparity which exists between us and some of our enemies as far as military equipment and weapons are concerned, our efforts are aimed at redressing this by forming small resistance groups capable of carrying out highly destructive maneuvers,” said Seyyed Morteza Musavi, the commander of the 2nd brigade of the 41st Sarallah division.

The comments are at variance with the standard utterances made by IRGC commanders boasting of their ability to crush any attack on Iran.

Maneuvers carried out over the past few years also indicate a rising fear that Iran must train to face internal civil disturbances as much as external threats.

Last month, the IRGC hosted a 20-day maneuver that it said was aimed at demonstrating “delaying operations, neighborhood defense, search and rescue, modern warfare, regaining of lost positions [and] dealing with urban disturbances.”

The IRGC was created after the 1979 Iranian Revolution at a time when the regular army’s loyalty to the Islamic Republic was still uncertain.

It is thought to number about 120,000 armed troops, including naval and air units — nearly a third of the size of the 400,000-strong regular armed forces.

Other recent exercises illustrate that the Revolutionary Guard is moving toward developing its urban-warfare abilities.

Last month, 2,500 members of the IRGC-affiliated Bassij neighborhood militia staged military exercises in the western suburbs of Tehran.

“In the military exercises, the Bassiji forces destroyed the positions of enemy forces who had been ferried to Tehran by helicopters and mopped up the drop-zone,” the ISNA news service reported.

It was the first time Iranian forces had conducted a war game with the objective of destroying helicopter-borne forces, according to the Iran Focus news Web site.

• The writer’s name is being withheld because of the sensitivity of the matters discussed.

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