Sunday, October 18, 2009

Revolutionary Guards Could Shift I.R. Iran's Power Base

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Deutsche Welle English

Largely behind the scenes, Iran's Revolutionary Guards have steadily increased their influence within the country. Their growing power may well transform the Islamic Republic as we know it today. A few weeks ago, Iran's biggest privatisation deal ever was closed. On Sept. 27, Etemad Mobin Development, a consortium consisting of three companies bought a controlling stake in the Telecommunication Company of Iran for eight billion dollars. Soon after the sale was made public, alleged links between members of the consortium and Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were discussed in the media and on the internet. On Oct. 10, according to Iranian newspaper reports, the government's inspection office announced it was investigating the deal. Whether or not a clear connection between the consortium and the Revolutionary Guards can ultimately be established, the incident highlights the stature the military organisation has gained beyond its original purpose. It is widely accepted that the Guards do possess the financial and managerial capabilities to shoulder the biggest transaction made in the history of Iran's stock market. In fact, according to various estimates, the Guards today control up to 20 to 30 percent of the Iranian economy. That is a far cry from the organisation's roots - as its name proclaims - as protector of the Islamic Revolution. Founded in 1979, the Guards are independent of Iran's regular military and accountable only to the country's supreme leader. Because they operate independently of Iran's army, very little is known about their inner workings and outside networks.

They have their own army, navy and air force units and their size is estimated at around 130,000 troops. In addition, they are in charge of the Basij, the militia that was instrumental in quelling the protests following the country's presidential elections last summer. "I think it's probably stronger than it has ever been before," is how Rouzbeh Parsi, an Iran analyst with the EU's Institute for Security Studies, characterises the Guards' position in Iranian society. "That does not mean they can decide things on their own, but it does mean that as a variable in the bewildering Iranian equation we have to allot them much greater weight than we had to before." What's more, say experts, while ordinary Iranians could feel the pinch of possible tougher international sanctions against Tehran, the Guards' could ultimately even profit from such a move. "They have been created under sanctions, they have been created under pressure and indeed they would be the ones who would benefit in one way or another from sanctions," argues Walter Posch, an Iran expert with Austria's National Defence Academy. Because of the organisation's role in border security, it is assumed that it plays a large role in the country's booming black market. It also controls a large construction company and has interests in various other sectors. "It's sizable," says Posch of the Revolutionary Guards economic influence and adds: "The Guards play an increasing role in many key industries." (Read more...)