Cover: The Rise of the Pasdaran

The Rise of the Pasdaran

Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps

Published 2009

by Frederic Wehrey, Jerrold D. Green, Brian Nichiporuk, Alireza Nader, Lydia Hansell, Rasool Nafisi, S. R. Bohandy


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Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — also known as the Pasdaran (Persian for “guards”) — was initially created by Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1978–1979 Islamic Revolution as an ideological guard for the nascent regime. Since then, it has evolved into an expansive socio-political-economic conglomerate whose influence extends into virtually every corner of Iranian political life and society. In the political sphere, many high-ranking officials are former Pasdaran. As a force in Iranian culture and society, the IRGC controls media outlets and conducts training and education programs that are designed not only to bolster loyalty to the regime and train citizens in homeland defense, but also to improve the IRGC's own institutional credibility. And on the economic front, the IRGC controls a wide variety of commercial enterprises, including both government contracting and illicit smuggling and black-market enterprises. In this monograph, Wehrey et al. assess the IRGC less as a traditional military entity and more as a domestic actor, emphasizing its multidimensional nature and the variety of roles it plays in Iran's political culture, economy, and society.

"The rise of the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) in Iran's political system in recent years has been much commented on but seldom analysed thoroughly. This welcome study puts the Pasdaran's role as a political and economic actor, and the consequences for the political system as well as for the institution itself, in context, and draws the relevant policy conclusions therefrom."

- Shahram Chubin, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

"This is an excellent study, the most thorough and objective of its kind I've seen on the Revolutionary Guards. It is well organized, highly nuanced, and very readable — an elusive combination. The use of Persian-language sources enriches the paper immensely, setting it apart from similar studies on Iran"

- Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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