Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the Al Quds Force, and Other Intelligence and Paramilitary Forces

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is a product of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini established the force to protect the Islamic order of the new Iranian government. The IRGC has since evolved to be a major political, military, and economic force in Iran. It is believed to have close ties to the Supreme Leader, but has its own factions--some of which have loyalties to President Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad who is a veteran of the IRGC. It is far more political and ideological than the regular armed forces. A number of senior officers in the IRGC have relatives or close ties to leading members of Iran’s leading clerics.

The IRGC (Pasdaran) has contributed some 125,000 men to Iran’s forces in recent years and has substantial capabilities for asymmetric warfare and covert operations. This includes the Al Quds Force and other elements that operate covertly or openly overseas, working with Hezbollah of Lebanon, Shi’ite militias in Iraq, and Shi’ites in Afghanistan. It was members of the IRGC that seized 15 British sailors and Marines, who seem to still have been in Iraqi waters, in March 2007.

The IRGC operates most of Iran’s surface-to-surface missiles and is believed to have custody over potentially deployed nuclear weapons, most or all other chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and to operate Iran’s nuclear-armed missile forces if they are deployed.

The links between the IRGC and Iran’s nuclear program are so close that its leaders were singled out under the UN Security Council Resolutions passed on December 23, 2006, and March 24, 2007, and had their assets frozen. The commander, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, deputy commander, Brigadier General Morteza Rezaie, and the heads of the IRGC ground forces, naval branch, Al Quds Force, and Basij (Mobilization of the Oppressed Force) were all involved.