With a membership roughly 125,000 strong ranging across army, navy, air force and intelligence personnel, a force of revolution lies in the deserts and streets of Iran. This isn’t some new revolution, this is the same revolution as the late 1970’s. Of course, many post- revolution states have had problems integrating guerilla forces back into society, the Iranian supreme leader in his divine and glorious insight came up with the perfect solution. The Iranian revolutionary militias morphed into the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
With divine mandate in hand these warriors of god set out to defend the revolution against infinite foreign threats. Aside from the military force of the IRGC itself, two other organizations fall under the umbrella of the IRGC, the Quds and the Basij. While the IRGC is a highly-trained military force in charge of the defense of Iran and the state’s strategic weapons, the Quds and Basij fulfill different roles. The Quds work spread the Islamic revolution outside of Iran, operating as spies, saboteurs, assassins and trainers for foreign militant groups. They have even gone so far as to attempt to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a Washington D.C. restaurant. Far more public, the Basij militia are mainly a volunteer force who protect the ideology of the revolution in Iran mostly through coercion. In 2008 approximately 20% of the Iranian population was part of the Basij though only roughly 1.5 million could theoretically be mobilized for combat. Many members of the Basij are youth undergoing ideological indoctrination to reinforce support for the regime. During the Iran-Iraq war Basij forces mobilized between 7 and 8 hundred thousand fighters for disastrous “human wave” attacks. Given that there is no enemy for the Basij to hurl themselves against currently, members partake in activities such as drug trafficking crack downs, boarder patrols and moral policing.
The more shadowy main body of the IRGC is the most powerful single organization in Iran. Working alongside the government, they are subordinate only to the supreme leader. The IRGC isn’t just a military stronger than the state’s military, they also control billions of dollars of investments both in an outside of Iran, the organization has a stranglehold on both the legitimate and black market economic scene in Iran. Perhaps most horrifying though is the fact that the IRGC will hold major influence over determining the next Supreme Leader. Speculation holds that the only reason the Iran nuclear deal passed was because the IRGC wanted it to. It is reasoned that the IRGC believed that the resources freed up would be available to send off to foreign militant groups sympathetic to the IRGC’s interests. Some recent IRGC actions include training Houthi rebels in 2014 and attacking a replica US aircraft carrier during a training exercise in 2015. The IRGC has developed links to organizations from Hamas and Hezbollah to Los Zetas and Venezuelan drug cartels. All in all what was once a ragtag group of Islamic revolutionary militias in the 70’s has become a global organization with an insidious grip on both its home country and foreign groups, answering to no one.