Despite a severe crackdown, the most unprecedented wave of dissent continues to spread across Iran. With the regime’s demise on the horizon, some speak of a possible “power transition.” They believe that the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the main force behind the suppression of the protests, can help realize this goal.
But the regime’s history proves that the belief that the IRGC can have any positive role in the future of Iran is a myth. Any roadmap for establishing democracy in Iran will eventually require the complete disbandment of the IRGC. This makes it imperative that for the international community to target the heart of the regime and help the revolution of the Iranian people by blacklisting the IRGC and all its affiliates.
What is the IRGC?
Founded shortly after the 1979 anti-monarchial revolution, the mandate of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is to “preserve the revolution and its values,” or simply the ruling theocracy. The regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, once said: “If the IRGC is gone, the whole country will be lost.”
The IRGC has been actively engaged in domestic oppression and exporting terrorism abroad. The organization began its career in the Iran-Iraq war. While controlling all military personnel and logistics, the IRGC effectively helped prolong the antipatriotic war, including using schoolchildren as cannon fodder or “disposable soldiers” for sweeping the minefields.
Simultaneously, the IRGC began cracking down on dissidents, mainly the members and supporters of Iran’s principal opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Seeing the opposition and Iran’s vibrant society as the main threats to the regime’s grip on power, the primary task of IRGC has been quashing the opposition. The recent killing of over 750 protesters and gunning down of over 1,500 Iranians during the November 2019 uprising are some of the most recent atrocities of this criminal entity.
IRGC’s chain of command begins with the Commander-in-Chief at the highest level, followed by the Deputy Chief of Staff, then the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Deputy Coordinator, who are directly subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief. At the lowest level of the hierarchy are the Commanders of the Five Forces, which consist of the Ground Forces, Navy, Air Forces, Basij Militias, and the notorious Quds Force.
The Quds Force’s main task is to export terrorism abroad directly or indirectly via training and funding terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. However, the Quds Force also engages in domestic violence during crises, such as the November 2019 uprising.
In addition to these forces, the IRGC has the so-called “Intelligence Organization,” which is notorious for its brutality in hunting down dissidents by using the Basij paramilitary force to gather intelligence and conduct surveillance.
The IRGC’s commander-in-chief and other high commanders are appointed by the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. The IRGC operates under Khamenei’s direct supervision and is considered his “personal army.”
How IRGC Destroyed Iran’s Economy
Throughout its history, the mullahs’ regime has expanded the IRGC’s clout from the military to the political and economic arenas, to give its chain of command and members more incentives to preserve the clerical dictatorship at all costs and with whatever it takes.
The regime has used different legal maneuvers and repressive measures to allow the IRGC to overtake vast parts of the economy. Since 2005, a minority ruling elite comprising the Supreme Leader’s office and the IRGC has gradually taken over property ownership in various spheres of the economy, depriving the population of economic rights.
The so-called “privatization” started in 2005 when Ali Khamenei and the IRGC appointed loyal executives who were aligned with Khamenei. This power shift was initiated by a directive in May 2005, transferring 80% of Iran’s economic enterprises to non-government public, private, and cooperative sectors. From 2005 to 2008, close to $12B in shares were transferred, a 12-fold increase from 1991 to 2004.
The Supreme Leader’s office has devoured financial markets, taking control of banking, financial and credit institutions, insurance, stock markets, commerce, and real estate. This has been achieved through the cooperative (ta’avoni) system, particularly within the 14 economic blocks. In 2006, Khamenei issued a directive to organize Iran’s economy around the IRGC and Bassij cooperatives and foundations, particularly Setad. In 2008, banking system reforms transformed Iran’s banks into conduits for cash grabs by the Supreme Leader’s enterprises. IRGC affiliates and Khamenei aides gained access to low-interest loans, resulting in a financial crisis.
The policy of cutting subsidies in 2010 caused arguably the most significant economic transformation since the 1962 Land Reforms. The price of gasoline increased 21-fold, natural gas prices increased sevenfold, and manufacturing costs skyrocketed. Around 60-70% of production facilities were shut down or had capacity reduced, and Velayat-e faqih’s commercial enterprises dominated the market. Eliminating subsidies accelerated the monopolization of financial markets and economic activity, annihilating a large segment of the manufacturing sector and increasing inflation rates.
Although an oppressive force, the IRGC has monopolized Iran’s economy to fund its illicit activities, acting as the most important barrier to Iran’s economic prosperity.
International sanctions did not cause Iran’s economic troubles, and lifting them did not provide a remedy. The country’s chronic recession stems from systemic and entrenched forces related to the sociopolitical roots of the despotic regime in power. Despite a hostile domestic environment, the regime persistently seeks survival. Its legitimacy is continually challenged by a population largely excluded from political representation and economic benefits, as evidenced by the nationwide protests in 2018 and 2019.
How IRGC Devastated Iran’s Ecosystem
In addition to its role in devastating Iran’s economy, the IRGC is the most destructive force for Iran’s environment.
The drying up of Lake Urmia, or Hawizeh Marshes, and countless other environmental crises, such as water and dust storms in Iran, are seriously threatening the Iranian people. There have been several protests in recent years in different parts of Iran by people and farmers who demand their right to water irrigation or clean air.
Iran’s water crisis results from 43 years of anti-human policies by the clerical regime. The issue is caused by several factors, including the IRGC’s performance on surface waters, the Ministry of Energy on groundwater and aquifers, and countless dams without proper scientific studies. The Central Plateau hosts water-intensive industries, and water mismanagement in agriculture and the cultivation of water-intensive irrigated crops further exacerbates the issue. The over-extraction of groundwater significantly threatens the country’s future and makes Iran uninhabitable. The country is one of the world’s largest consumers of groundwater, with most of its population highly dependent on it for drinking and irrigation.
The impacts of the crisis include decreased well yields, saline water intrusion into aquifers, land subsidence, increased pumping costs, decreased groundwater flow into wetlands and rivers, and numerous other worrying consequences. Continuing with the business-as-usual approach will expose Iran to food and water risks and social, political, and security issues. It is a crisis that may pose a more significant threat to the country than its classic foes.
Could IRGC be Part of a Solution?
The recent uprising laid bare the regime’s weakness and showed that regime change in Iran is inevitable. While Khamenei’s IRGC thugs are slaughtering Iranian people, some media celebrities-turned-activists speak of the IRGC as a force for change.
Thus, these so-called “opposition figures” are, in fact, acting in the interests of the ruling theocracy.
Among them is Shah’s offspring, Reza Pahlavi, who is marketing a return to the deposed monarchy. He has made contradictory statements about the IRGC, varying from praising them to asking for their designation as a terrorist entity. However, the IRGC dominates Iran’s economy and is the primary force of oppression that controls everything and is directly controlled by Khamenei.
The IRGC is the core of the ruling theocracy’s survival, and its existence is tied to the clerical regime’s continuation. Despite some claims, its members cannot simply “join people” and “bailout with the system” while keeping their structure, uniforms, and arms. The IRGC’s grip on Iran’s economy, especially in key industries such as oil, banking, and construction, enables the regime to maintain power and enrich itself while suppressing the people.
The international community can help Iranians in their quest for freedom by putting more pressure on the IRGC. The European Countries should blacklist this terrorist organization instead of dragging their feet with futile negotiations with Tehran and providing it with incentive packages, which IRGC uses to continue its existence.