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SIPAH-I PASDARAN-I INQILAB-I ISLAMI. One of the most interesting aspects of the Iranian Revolution is the institutional arrangement that was negotiated over the shape and structure of the post revolutionary armed forces. Rather than completely dismantling the pre revolutionary military structure and replacing it with a militia-based organization, as has been done in many other revolutionary situations, the leadership in Iran has combined a systematic purge and islamization of the armed forces with the creation of a parallel military force, the Sipah-i Pasdaran-i Inqilab-i Islami (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC]), which now includes its own military command units (army, air force, and navy) as well as a cabinet-level ministry.

The beginnings of this organization can be traced back to the most chaotic days of the Iranian Revolution, when armed groups of local neighborhood committees (komitehs) were organized into a paramilitary force to maintain order in major cities. [See Komiteh.] During this period, the armed insurrection that led to complete power seizure was accomplished by a tactical grouping of diverse clerical and secular forces leaving many people but especially the more radical groups well armed. Shaul Bakhash argues that the formation of the IRGC reflected the desire of some of the radical clerics to have an organizational counterweight both to the regular army and the parties of the Left, who were suspected of creating their own armed units. Its creation, then, was a clear signal suggesting the radical clerics’ determination to protect “their” nascent revolution with an armed institution of their own. As such, the IRGC’s history has mirrored the trials and struggles of the Islamic activists in their aspiration to usurp, maintain, and consolidate state power. Restoring order to the cities and dislodging members of opposition groups from government positions in the earliest days of the revolution, suppressing ethnic uprisings throughout the country in the summer and spring of 1979, helping Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s efforts to monopolize power in the middle of intense and violent attacks by the leftist Mujahidin in the spring and summer of 1981, and actively participating in a war that Iraq launched to loosen the Islamic activists’ grip on power are just some of the more important tasks the IRGC has had to pursue in order to assure the survival of the Islamic regime.

The organization was formally established by a decree issued by Ayatollah Khomeini on 5 May 1979. Its continued existence and role as the guardian of the Islamic Revolution were affirmed in the Islamic Constitution (Article 150). Like the rest of the armed forces, the IRGC is expected to be Islamic, popular, and constituted from those who believe in the goals of the Islamic Revolution and are devoted to their fulfillment (Article 144). In defining the meaning of Islamic armed forces, the constitution uses the term maktabi (cleaving to the line of Khomeini) to require training in principles of belief as well as commitment to the defense of Islam. To fight and make peace in accordance with the requirements of Islamic doctrine necessarily entails the defense of the country, since the former views the latter to be a legitimate right.

Since its inception, the IRGC has witnessed phenomenal growth, reportedly numbering as high as 450,000 uniformed personnel by 1987. Most observers agree that much of this growth can be attributed to the war with Iraq. In addition, the war afforded the opportunity for appropriating such additional functions as mobilization of sufficient numbers for the war and coordinating the war activities of its affiliate militia organization, Basij-i Mustaz’afin (Mobilization of the Oppressed), which was the linchpin of the so-called human-wave attacks against the Iraqi positions.

Throughout this period of growth, the IRGC leadership has shown a remarkable degree of continuity. After an initial and unsuccessful attempt by non-clerical leaders (such as Defense Minister Mustafa Chamran and President Abol-Hasan Bani Sadr) to control it, the most important positions in the IRGC’s command hierarchy have been occupied by men who had either been appointed in the early 1980s or come up through the IRGC’s chain of command. The composition of the rank and file, however, reflects subtle changes. Initially, the IRGC drew from both highly educated and politically sophisticated men who had fought in the underground against the shah and religiously minded lower-class families. But with increased size and sophistication, which has entailed the organization of IRGC academies throughout the country, some changes are evident. Sepehr Zabih estimates that the rank and file consists mostly of young men in the 18-26 age group, with a predominantly urban lower-class background. He, nevertheless, admits that kinship and affiliation with clerical leaders continue to play a role in both recruitment and promotion in rank.

With the end of the war, the IRGC, like the Islamic Revolution itself, has had to find ways to adapt itself. Several important concerns have surfaced. The first relates to the size of the armed forces, including the IRGC. However, security concerns and the potentially disastrous political consequences of antagonizing the IRGC by cuts in budget and personnel have prevented the articulation of this concern in coherent ways. A second related concern, regarding the larger Basij forces, has also not been effectively confronted. In 199i and 1992, the regime indicated that it would maintain some of these forces in conjunction with the IRGC near major cities as antiriot squads. The political necessity of maintaining a large number of people on the state payroll, however, continues to be a headache for an already bloated state in the middle of economic difficulties.

The final, and conceivably the most important concern, is the relationship between the IRGC and the regular Iranian armed forces. The existing dual structure is costly, detrimental to the creation of a clear decisionmaking center on defense matters, and potentially explosive. However, attempts to merge the two forces in spring 1991 were effectively resisted by the IRGC. Instead, some exchange of leadership personnel and cooperative activities, such as joint maneuvers and operations, have been promoted. The issue is bound to remain important in the future. As one of the most important institutions born during the revolutionary moment, the IRGC’s identity and future remains solidly tied to the shifting power alliances of Iranian postrevolutionary politics. As such, political maneuvers and divisions within the broader polity are bound to be reproduced within the IRGC, itself a highly politicized institution. For now, the IRGC, along with the regular islamized forces, does enjoy a certain amount of legitimacy because of its success in defending the country’s territorial integrity. But, it has a considerable way to go before it becomes part of a more integrated and cohesive armed force.

[See also Iranian Revolution of 1979.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bakhash, Shaul. The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and Islamic Revolution. New York, 1984. The best available commentary on the events surrounding the creation of IRGC.

Entessar, Nader. “The Military and Politics in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In Post-Revolutionary Iran, edited by Hooshang Amirahmadi and Manoucher Parvin, pp. 56-74. Boulder, 1988. The most concise analysis of the effects of the Islamic revolution on the structure of the armed forces.

Hunter, Shireen. Iran after Khomeini. New York, 1992. Presents an overview of the most recent changes within the dual structure of the military (see chapter 2).

Katzman, Kenneth. The Warriors of Islam: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Boulder, 1993. The most comprehensive discussion of the organization of the IRGC and the ways it has resisted professionalization so far.

Zabih, Sepehr. The Iranian Military in Revolution and War. New York, 1988. Effective use of Iranian sources to analyze the conduct and structure of IRGC (see chapter 8).

FARIDEH FARHI

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/sipah-pasdaran-inqilab-islami/
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