Despite the constitutional prohibition against political activity by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Iran, the organization has sought to increase its power and influence by occupying strategic positions within the government, parliament, and police force. This article will examine the extent of this influence.
In the early days of the IRGC, prior to the rise of the Velayat al-Faqih, the organization worked to establish itself, eliminate its rivals, and defend the regime.
When the Islamic Republic of Iran entered the war with Iraq and took control of the conflict from the official army, it marked a turning point, like the Velayat Faqih’s seizure of power in 1981.
This period was characterized by the removal of President Abolghassem Bani Sadr from office and the violent suppression of mass demonstrations held by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (POMI/MEK). The regime’s then-supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini effectively shut the last windows of hope for democracy in Iran.
During the war imposed by Khomeini on the Iranian people, the IRGC marginalized the army’s hegemony and suppressed regime opponents throughout the country. This trend continued until the war’s end, resulting in thousands of executions.
Following the war, with the assistance of then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the IRGC expanded its control over the country’s economy. As the regime had stabilized itself and faced no immediate threats internally or externally, the IRGC welcomed the expansion of its role from military to economic. Ali Khamenei, the regime’s supreme leader, supported this move, who decided to increase the IRGC’s political influence to ensure the regime’s survival.
In the first and second governments, former IRGC commander Abbas Duzduzani was appointed as the Minister of National Guidance. During the third and fourth governments under Mir Hossein Mousavi, IRGC founders Mohsen Rafiqdoost and Ali Shamkhani were appointed as IRGC ministers to the government.
In the fifth and sixth governments, Ali Larijani served as the Minister of Culture and Guidance. However, during the seventh and eighth governments, presided by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there was a notable increase in the number of IRGC members appointed to government positions.
During Ahmadinejad’s tenure, several IRGC members, including Parviz Fattah, Sadegh Mahsouli, Mostafa Mohammad Najar, Esfandiar Rahim Masha’i, Hamid Beqaei, Rostam Ghasemi, Lotfollah Furuzandeh, and Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, were appointed to various positions in the government.
The trend of IRGC members being appointed to government positions continued during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency, despite his promises of a more moderate government. One particularly controversial example is the appointment of Alireza Razmhosseini, who has been implicated in money laundering and smuggling for the IRGC abroad, as the head of the Ministry of Industry, Mine, and Trade.
The IRGC also gradually infiltrated the parliament. While they did not have a significant direct influence in the first four parliaments, they were able to gain a foothold in the fifth parliament by presenting a list called ‘Ansar-e Hezbollah’. They used their influence to impeach and dismiss two of Mohammad Khatami’s ministers, Attaollah Mohajerani and Abdollah Nouri.
In a letter, the then-commander of the IRGC, Yahya Rahim Safavi, threatened the sixth parliament and called for increased IRGC participation in the country’s political power under the pretext of ‘fighting saboteurs and those who take action against the revolution’. This represented a significant escalation in the IRGC’s efforts to expand its political influence.
The Iranian regime’s sidelining of its so-called reformist faction during the suppression of the July 1999 student protests was consistent with its past behavior. As the protests became more intense, the IRGC effectively took control of the government. Prominent IRGC figures such as Qassem Soleimani and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (the current speaker of the parliament) led the brutal crackdown against the students.
In the 7th parliament, the IRGC and Basij sub-committee consolidated their power by imposing their commanders in the parliament and taking control of most of the commissions through the “Basir Plan.” President Khatami was unable to resist the IRGC’s growing influence, as seen in their thwarting of the opening of Khomeini Airport and the partial takeover of the ownership of Iran’s telecommunications companies.
The IRGC’s hegemony during Khatami’s time extended to capturing a Romanian company’s oil rig in the Persian Gulf and building unauthorized docks for smuggling. These actions were not subject to customs control and demonstrated the IRGC’s complete control over such activities.
After gaining control of the parliament, the IRGC began exerting its influence on the Iranian government. In 2004, senior IRGC commanders such as Ghalibaf, Ali Larijani, Ahmadinejad, and Mohsen Rezaei were included in the list of presidential candidates to enable the IRGC’s takeover of the government.
Although Rezaei resigned in the last days of the election, Khamenei manipulated the process to eliminate his rival Rafsanjani and install Ahmadinejad as the first IRGC figure becoming president.
As soon as Ahmadinejad assumed power, he appointed Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, the Basij commander of the IRGC, as the head of the police force. Ahmadi Moghadam was instrumental in suppressing protesters in Iran in the following years, including in 2009.
Furthermore, six of Ahmadinejad’s ministers and 30 of his provincial governors were also senior IRGC commanders. The IRGC’s takeover paved the way for its electoral coup in 2009 to keep the Revolutionary Guards at the helm of the regime.
During this period, the IRGC’s control over the oil and gas industry expanded rapidly and has continued to this day. Additionally, the IRGC has consistently held the position of parliament speaker since then.
On the eve of the inauguration of the new parliament, Khamenei and the IRGC further solidified their preferred policy by disqualifying members of rival factions. This move completed the IRGC’s infiltration into all parts of the regime.
During Ebrahim Raisi’s presidency, the IRGC expanded its influence even further, with many affairs now under its direct or tacit control. As a result, the IRGC’s grip on the Iranian regime has become more vital than ever before.