Amid the rising calls by the Iranian people for the disbanding of the Iranian regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and as the role of this terrorist organization in spreading chaos across the world and oppressing dissidents inside Iran becomes clearer, it is important to know what this force is.
Shortly after the 1979 revolution in Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, the mullahs’ Supreme Leader ordered the creation of the IRGC. The regime described the mandate of this military force as preserving the revolution and its values. However, the real mandate of the IRGC is to preserve the mullahs’ regime at any cost. Khomeini once said, “if the IRGC is gone, the whole country will be lost”. Of course, by country, he meant his regime.
Since its creation, the IRGC has been actively engaged both in oppressing dissidents inside Iran and spreading terrorism abroad. The IRGC funds and supports terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.
For funding its illicit activities, the IRGC has monopolized Iran’s economy and industry, and plundered country’s national wealth and resources, thus forcing the people into deeper poverty. While the people of Iran grapple with poverty, and now the COVID-19 crisis, the IRGC continues using all of Iran’s revenues to pursue its terrorist activities. While Iran has an army, the IRGC has an official budget, because it is part of the armed forces.
The IRGC played a key role during the Iran-Iraq war. Having control over all military personnel and logistics, the IRGC took every possible action to continue this antipatriotic war for eight years. The IRGC commanders sent thousands of Iranian children into minefields, using them as what was called “one time soldiers,” to sweep the minefields by setting off the bombs themselves. The regime’s Ministry of Education announced on January 5, 1989, that during the war, it had sent 440,000 students to minefields on the front lines.
However, the IRGC’s priority is to oppress any voice of dissent inside the country and protect the regime from downfall in the face of people’s uprisings. During the nationwide Iran protests in November 2019, the IRGC forces, at the direct order of the regime’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, killed over 1,500 protesters. Amnesty International, in a new shocking report, revealed that IRGC forces have continued torturing and killing detained protesters.
The commanding hierarchy of the IRGC starts with the Commander-in-Chief at its top. After the IRGC Commander-in-Chief is the Deputy Chief of Staff, followed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff or (Deputy Coordinator) who is related to the Commander-in-Chief at the top and the Commanders of the Five Forces at the bottom. The IRGC has 5 different forces:
- Ground Forces
- Air Forces
- Basij Militias
- Quds Forces
In addition to these five forces, there are two other structures in the IRGC, namely the Supreme Leader Representative office, and the IRGC Information Protection Organization. The office of the Supreme Leader Representative is completely independent of the IRGC commanding structure and is directly under Khamenei’s control. The commander of the IRGC Information Protection Organization, reports directly to the General Office of Information Protection in the Office of the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader himself.
The IRGC is under the direct control and supervision of the regime’s Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader appoints the IRGC’s Commander-in-Chief. On April 22, 2019, Khamenei promoted IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Salami to the rank of General and appointed him to replace Mohammad Ali Jafari as commander of the IRGC.
Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC
The Deputy Commander of the IRGC is appointed by the IRGC Commander-in-Chief and approved by the Supreme Leader. IRGC Brigadier General Ali Fadavi was appointed as the deputy commander of the IRGC on May 16, 2019. Fadavi was previously head of the IRGC navy.
IRGC Deputy Commanders
Currently, in the organizational structure of the IRGC, there are Deputies of Manpower, Strategic, Political, Executive Information, Legal, Relief, Health and Medical, Cultural and Social Education, Inspection, Preservation, Finance, Operations, Support and Logistics, Physical Training, Public Relations and Publishing, Safety, Ideological-Political Education, Information and Communication Technology, Industrial Research, Strategic Planning, Engineering, and Coordination.
Among the IRGC deputies, the deputies for Public Relations and Publishing, Ideological-Political Education, and Political are appointed and controlled by the representative of the Supreme Leader in the IRGC.
IRGC Coordination Body
The primary responsibility of this institution is to coordinate between the four forces of the IRGC (Ground, Naval, Air, and the extraterritorial Quds Force) and the Basij organization, but gradually its influence has expanded. The headquarters includes personnel affairs units, military training, ideological-political training, publications and propaganda, information, planning and operations, the Basij militias, and engineering.
Ongoing campaigns of this headquarters are the Kosar Development Plan (defence missions), Nasim Rahmat Plan (support for IRGC missions), Ghaem Plan (defence missions), Velayat Plan (defence missions), Shushtari One plan (IRGC ground missions in border areas), Noor Rabi project (defence missions in the provincial corps), Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam Development Plan (specialized defence plan in the field of missiles), Roudaki Plan (IRGC naval defence missions), Kazemi Plan (naval missions), Brunsi Plan (control and security missions on the outskirts of metropolitan areas), Bagheri Plan (defence missions), and Noor Hedayat plan (organizing the Basij’s elites).
This joint headquarters is also involved in the construction of mosques through the Kowsar base. Most of these plans have military and security dimensions and no specific information is available about them.
IRGC Ground Forces
At present, the IRGC ground force has 10 combat divisions, artillery, armour, ranger, airborne, special forces, and 17 military ranks. The IRGC ground force has 200,000 active forces and constitutes the main body of the Revolutionary Guards. The commander of the IRGC ground force is currently Mohammad Pakpour.
IRGC Intelligence Organization
The IRGC’s Intelligence Organization was created in June 2009, four months after the start of the uprisings, as a result of the amalgamation of IRGC intelligence and several other intelligence-related bodies in the IRGC. The head of the Organization is Hossein Taeb. The Organization has direct contacts with Khamenei’s office. The IRGC’s Intelligence Organization plays a role both in domestic suppression and in the regime’s terrorist activities abroad. The Organization uses the Bassij Organization to gather intelligence and conduct surveillance against all sectors of Iranian society.
IRGC Quds Force
The IRGC formed the extraterritorial Quds Force to meddle in the affairs of other countries. The Quds Force is the IRGC’s arm for terrorist operations and warmongering in other countries.
On July 1, 2020, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) shed light on the Quds Force, as well as its history and activities. The following paragraphs are from that report but the full article can be found here.
“The Quds Force (Quds Corps) officially operates outside of Iran, although in times of crisis, such as the November 2019 popular uprisings, they are brought in to suppress uprisings and attack the Iranian people. With the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, and the extensive participation of the Quds Force under the command of Qassem Soleimani in supporting the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, the name of the Quds Force and Soleimani was published more than ever in the international media.
Soleimani, carrying the rank of major general, was Khamenei’s hatchet man and a hated figure. During uprisings in Iran in 2018 and 2019, protesters tore up and torched his posters in different cities.
Although the Quds Force is better known under the command of Soleimani, he created a particular system of decision-making in the Quds Force. Unlike other armed or unarmed forces and organizations in the regime, in which deputies are usually defined and then subordinate to lower-level commanders, the basis of the decision-making system in the Quds Force is based on its performance in various countries where terrorist activity has taken place. According to the “one country, one case, one commander” system, this means that the responsibility of managing and deciding each of the countries in which the Quds Force has terrorist activities is assigned to a specific commander. He has extraordinary powers to control the activities of the regime in that country and will be responsible for all issues in that country.
The IRGC Quds Force has conducted many terrorist operations, particularly after 2009, in various countries in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. It has created a separate unit for terrorist operations called Unit 400. Head of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, also known as the regime’s terror mastermind, was killed in January 2020 during a U.S. drone attack.”
IRGC’s Financial Empire
In a detailed report in 2017, the NCRI U.S. Representative Office shed light on how the IRGC has dominated Iran’s economy and destroyed Iran’s economic infrastructure. The following paragraphs are some excerpts of this book:
“International sanctions were never the cause of Iran’s economic ills, which is why their lifting has not provided the cure. There are systemic, entrenched forces at play that have to do with the nature and sociopolitical roots of the political system in power today. Iran’s current chronic recession is primarily an outcome of a despotic regime’s dogged attempts to survive despite a hostile domestic environment. Its rule is constantly challenged by a population largely excluded from legitimate political representation or material economic benefits. [Two nationwide Iran protests in 2018 and 2019 are testaments to this fact.]
This transformation is enabled by the regime’s constitution, adopted in December 1979, all of the principles and articles of which regarding property ownership either deny or subvert respect for private property. Article 44 constitutionally splits the entire economy into three sectors: state, cooperative, and private. The regime is granted legal justification to seize property by claiming “adherence to Islamic law”, protection of “public interests”, and “social justice”.
Article 49, for example, grants the regime “the responsibility of confiscating all wealth” that the state considers to be obtained through illegitimate means. As such, regime officials are unleashed in their large-scale and lucrative confiscation campaign.
Starting in 2005, ownership of property in various spheres of the economy gradually shifted from the population writ large towards a minority ruling elite comprised of the Supreme Leader’s office and the IRGC.
Over the past decade, this has been billed as “privatization,” and is how a significant portion of Iran’s economic institutions have been handed off to the office of the Supreme Leader and the security, military, and economic apparatus under his auspices. This so-called privatization campaign, which must be viewed as a decisive turning point, began in earnest in 2005 when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the IRGC succeeded in closing ranks and stacking the executive with people who completely – at least initially – towed their line and shared Khamenei’s strategic vision for the regime.
At this point, Khamenei began to implement a profound restructuring of Iran’s economy, in particular the ownership of a wide range of industries and institutions.
Over the ensuing eight years, the driving force behind all major economic developments would be the expansion of the influence of Khamenei’s office and the IRGC over the country’s economic resources, in order to intensify suppression, expand the reach of their adventurist policies, and advance the nuclear program. This was at the heart of the regime’s attempts to ensure the continuation of its tenuous hold on power. Both the scale and pace of the expropriations – dubbed “privatization” – have been mindboggling.
The entire process was clearly rushed and chaotic, bringing with it the crippling, and even destruction, of many institutions. Khamenei pursued three main policies: seizing state-owned firms and corporations, meddling in the financial markets, and eliminating public subsidies.
The first took the form of an official directive issued by Khamenei in May 2005. The government was instructed to transfer 80 per cent of its economic enterprises to “non-government public, private, and cooperative sectors” by the end of 2009. Among these were large mines, primary industries (including downstream oil and gas), foreign commerce, banks, insurance, power generation, post, roads, railroads, airlines, and shipping companies. By some estimates, close to $12B in shares were transferred over just three years, from 2005 to 2008. This compares to less than $1B from 1991 to 2004, a staggering 12-fold increase in a quarter of the time.
The beneficiaries of the bulk of these transfers were the Supreme Leader’s office and its various tentacles, including the dominant Setad, the armed services, and the infamous bonyads (foundations). The implications of this stunning power-grab are better grasped because these institutions exercise virtually absolute control of all decision-making processes, legislative mechanisms, intelligence gathering, and access to significant budgetary commitments. As a result, major powerhouses have arisen, which now act as the main players and consequently the gatekeepers for western companies into the Iranian economy.
The consequent economic configuration is defined by at least 14 major economic powerhouses either directly or indirectly controlled by Khamenei, the IRGC or a combination of their affiliates. Setad’s holdings alone, including real estate, corporate stakes, and other assets, total about $95 billion, according to a recent Reuters calculation.
The second policy can perhaps most aptly be described as “devouring” the financial markets. When it comes to banks, financial and credit institutions, insurance, the stock market, domestic and foreign commerce, real estate, and the financial instruments market, Khamenei’s office has taken control of virtually everything that matters. This has been done through the so-called cooperatives (ta’avoni), some of the most important of which are among the 14 economic blocks. In July 2006, Khamenei issued another order clarifying “the general policies of developing various nongovernmental sectors”, and organizing the country’s economy around the IRGC and Bassij cooperatives, and the foundations controlled by the Supreme Leader, especially Setad. Notably, the directive identifies the purposes for which the resultant revenues should be used, including committing 30 per cent to the cooperatives and providing incentives to strengthen them.
Then, in 2008, “banking system reforms” transformed the country’s banks into conduits for simple and cheap cash grabs by enterprises controlled by the Supreme Leader. A large number of financial and credit institutions were created. Next, some of them were made into private banks. Still, officials of the Iranian regime have estimated that the number of large firms owned by these banks ranges anywhere from 600 to over 1,000.
A small number of IRGC affiliates and Khamenei aides — who primarily ran the foundations’ economic activities, as well as companies owned by Khamenei’s office and the armed forces — gained easy access to low-interest loans. According to the Central Bank, 29 per cent of bank deposits were loaned to just 173 applicants in the entire country. Each of these applicants received loans valued at over $16 million. The majority of these loans have never been paid back to the banks, resulting in a financial crisis in its own right.
The third policy, cutting subsidies, took effect in 2010 and marked arguably the biggest economic transformation in Iran since the Land Reforms of 1962. When the price of gasoline increased 21-fold and the price of natural gas increased seven-fold, manufacturing costs skyrocketed.
A large portion of production facilities, an estimated 60-70 per cent, were either shut down or had their capacity reduced to less than a third. Their market share is now dominated by the velayat-e faqih’s commercial enterprises which, after raising the required capital, are now flooding the market with imported products. The elimination of subsidies has, in effect, accelerated the monopolization of financial markets and broad-based economic activity. It has brought about the annihilation of a large segment of the manufacturing sector and hurtled the inflation rate out of control.
These three policies, namely seizure of public property creating economic powerhouses, near-absolute control over financial markets, and elimination of subsidies, are all means to a single end: the wholesale and sweeping confiscation of public wealth and assets for the benefit of Khamenei and the IRGC. But where do the astronomical profits go?
In an unprecedented admission, Heshmatullah Falahatpisheh, the former Chairman and the current member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in the regime’s parliament, said that the clerical regime had paid Syria up to $30 billion. Falahatipishe travelled to Syria in December 2018, when he was the Chairman and met with Assad.
In an interview published on the state-run website, E’temad Online, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, he said: “I went to Syria [and] some people said I made up some expenses, but I repeat, we may have given Syria $20 to $30 billion, and we have to take it back.”
The actual amount the clerical regime has stolen from the Iranian people’s pockets to keep Assad in power is far more significant. The money paid since 2018 should be added to this figure, so should the huge expenses of IRGC and its criminal proxy forces, numbering 100,000 in some instances, and their weapons in Syria during the last nine years. Added to these is the free or extremely-cheap oil that has been shipped from Iran to Syrian ports over the past 40 years.
Falahatpisheh also revealed that “The average revenue from raising gasoline prices and selling the surplus abroad is 200 billion Tomans; we can give 200 billion a day to different provinces to solve their own problems.”
Khamenei and 14 IRGC powerhouses
The 14 powerhouses and large economic institutions that control Iran’s economy are as follows:
- The Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam (Setad)
- The Mostazafan (Oppressed) Foundation
- Astan-e Qods-e Razavi
- Shahid (Martyr) Foundation
- Emdad (Aid) Committee
- The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Cooperative Foundation
- The Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters
- The Cooperative Foundation of the Bassij Force
- The Ghadir Investment Company
- The Armed Forces Social Welfare Investment Organization (SATA)
- Khatam al-Osia Construction Headquarters
- The Cooperative Foundation of the State Security Forces (NAJA)
- The Cooperative Foundation of the Army (BTAJA)
- The Cooperative Foundation of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff (VDJA)
In our next piece, we will publish the information of all the 14 powerhouses, which are under Khamenei and the IRGC’s control.