By: Amir Farshad Ebrahim
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (Sepāh e Pāsdārān e Enqelāb e Eslāmi ) formed as the first apparatus and institution in the very first days of the victorious Islamic Revolution against the Pahlavi order, at the order of Ayatollah Khomeini (the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran).
On 2nd of April 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini officially announced the establishment of this institution to the Islamic Revolutionary Council (which also assisted in developing this institution), considering at the time that no functioning military existed or an official revolutionary guard loyal enough to carry oust (their) orders. The sensitivity and urgency of building the Revolutionary Guards meant that the leaders of the Revolution feared the old military or some remaining Pahlavi-era structures would carry out a coup d’etat against the Revolution.
Mohammad Hossein Sazegara was one of the first insiders of the Revolutionary Guards who accompanied Ayatollah Khomeini in his stay in Neauphle Le Chateau, a village in the outskirts of Paris. He said, “The idea of creating a people’s army to institutionalize the Revolution was first discussed in Neauphle le Chateau, but the Revolution succeeded sooner than we expected it to.” As quickly this idea appeared in the minds of the Revolutionaries in Nouvel le Chateau, it quickly materialized in Tehran and thus the Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Iran formed.
On 21st of Febrauary 1980 the interim government spokesman Abbas Amir Entezam informed the print media about the formation of the Revolutionary Guards—but this force since the early days of the Revolution took shape in the mosques, government sites, garrisons, palaces, and other hot spots around the country. With all this in place, on 21st of February 1980 Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Council and the newly formed Revolutionary Guards Leadership Council to oversee the process of fully developing this institution.
Before Ayatollah Khomeini’s order, a number of armed groups were active under the direction of the Revolutionary Guards. A number of political forces under Hossein Lahooti’s command were stationed in the Shah’s Garden (former intelligence center for the Shah’s Guard). A number of other groups led by Mohammad Montazeri (Ayatollah Montazeri’s son) and Mohammad Kazem Mousavi Bojnourdi were stationed in the Shah’s old police headquarters. Abbas Zamani (nicknamed Abu Sharif), who later became one of the first commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, also had at his disposal forces in the Jamshidieh garrisons.
However the most central and critical division of the Revolutionary Guards was stationed in the garrisons located by a street in northern Tehran known as “Saltanatabad” and this street later became famously known as “Pasdaran” because of the Guards’ post in the palace that once belonged to the Savak. Many underground freedom movements who had key representatives in the interim government also settled there.
After intense clashes of opinions and after some new revelations, the Revolutionary Council decided to combine and consolidate the armed civilian forces under the “Islamic Revolutionary Guards” banner, and in this way the Guards included youth, students, and veteran combatants from the pre-Revolution days. Furthermore, in the first Constitution (ratified December 3, 1979) and then reaffirmed in the second Constitution it was very clearly and precisely stipulated that:
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps which was formed during the first days of the Revolution, is to be maintained so that it may continue in its role of guarding the revolution and its achievements. The scope of the duties of this corps and its areas of responsibility, in relation to the duties and areas of responsibility of the other armed forces, are to be determined by law with emphasis on brotherly cooperation and harmony among them.”(Article 150)
At the beginning, the Revolutionary Council designated a council called “The Revolutionary Guards Leadership Council” to manage the Revolutionary Guard’s tasks. This council included people like Ali Khamenei, Mohsen Rezaee, Mohsen Sazagara, Abbas Agha Zamani (Abu Sharif), Javad Mansouri, Abbas Doozdoozani, Mohammad Montazeri, Yousef Kolahdouz, Mohammad Kazem Mousavi Bojnourdi, Mortaza Alwiri, Mohammad Borojerdi, Mohsen Rafighdoost, and Ali Danesh. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was introduced to the Revolutionary Guards as mediator and representative from the Revolutionary Council.
In the very first days of the Revolution, when the Revolutionary Guards and its supporters became responsible for annexing places belonging to the Pahlavi regime, the Guards gradually formed itself on the sidelines of Islamic Revolutionary Committees (also armed Islamic Revolutionary bodies) as a city disciplinary force responsible for protecting the Revolution. The Guards paid close attention to Iranian society’s conditions in the post-Revolution days and to schisms within the country’s armed forces.
Little by little as the Guards found conflicts in head councils and over the appointments of members in those councils, it became involved in other crackdowns, and it was agreed that Ayatollah Khomeini choose the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guards.
The first Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Guards was Javad Mansour who used to be an old member of the National Islamic Party and the Hezbollah group; later he left the Guards to be Foreign Minister of Iran and then served as Iran’s ambassador to China. After him came Abbas Agha Zamani (famously known as “Abu Sharif”) who also used to be a member of the National Islamic Party, and was one of the founding members of the Hezbollah group in Iran years before the victory of the Revolution. For many years he served as operator for the armed intelligence combatants against the Pahlavi regime inside and outside Iran. He took the responsibility for commanding the Guards and directing its missions. He later was appointed Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan. After his return from Pakistan, he acquired some training in the hawzas in Qom and then abandoned politics, and in Pakistan earned money through free labor. For a few months also Seyed Ali Khamenei (the acting Supreme Leader of Iran) acted as Commander-in-Chief of the Guards. Mohsen Rezaee succeeded him, a young man of 28 who used to be a member of an armed combatant group that terrorized many Pahlavi police forces before the victory of the Islamic Revolution (his stay jail in is listed in his records). He served as Commander-in-Chief for eighteen years, and these eighteen years of course were the most difficult for the Islamic Republic, full of discouragements and declivities such as many foiled coup d’etats, ethnic/tribal struggles, and rebellious ideologies in different provinces of Iran, the curbing and removal of several underground/active opposition groups like the Mujahedeen Khalq Organization. The matter which truly defined the Guards was when it harbored a master plan during the Iran-Iraq war to slowly infiltrate the opposition groups’ levels of management and operations (with Guards’ members pretending to be part of an outlawed armed force), and because of its success the Guards consequently became known as a critical player in the Islamic Republic.
At the end of Mohsen Rezaee’s famous tenure as “Mohsen Nezami”, his successor Rahim Yahya Safavi was Commander-in-Chief for a period of ten years; and then Ayatollah Khamenei designated brigadier general Mohammad Ali Ja’fari (then the Guard’s ground commander) to a higher commanding position, promoting him to the rank of major general as Commander-in-Chief of the Guards.
The Guard’s current power hierarchy is that the Supreme Leader at the top controls all the forces in the Islamic Republic, and below him is the Guards’ Commander-in-Chief, followed by his substitute (or the successor) who acts as Secretary and Mediator of the Guard, and finally the Main Assistant critical for directly communicating with the Head Commander at the top and the lower commanders of the five forces. The Supreme Leader directly appoints the Head Commander of the Guards; the Head Commander presents his preferred candidates for the substitute (and successor), the assistant commanders and forces which must be approved by the Supreme Leader.
Two other important and key structures also exist within the Guards: representation of the Vali Faqih (the Supreme Leader), and the Sazemān Hefāzat Ettelā’āt (“Bureau of Reservation of Information”, exists in parallel with and is quite influential within the Ministry of Intelligence).
The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic directly oversees representation of the Vali Faqih which is the foundation of the Guard’s command structure. Its mission is to create channels of control and ideology in all divisions of the Guards, and to carry out this task there are representatives of the Supreme Leader in all the Guard’s divisions and in the Bureau connected to the Guard’s leadership. The Guard’s Commander-in-Chief presents his preferred candidate for director and the Supreme Leader approves him. The Bureau’s director is in close contact with the Bureau’s public office in the Supreme Leader’s office and with the Leader’s personnel, providing security assessments and intelligence about inside and outside the places where the Guards operate.
The Revolutionary Guards, in addition to the offices head commander and main assistant who mediates between the forces, consists of five divisions who share similar duties:
The IRGC Ground Forces
The IRGC Air Forces
The IRGC Navy
The Basij Resistance Force
The Quds Force