The Revolutionary Guards: An Introduction
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s most important institution. The military-security institution commands huge influence in every aspect of Iranian public life, from culture and the environment to the economy, politics and judicial process. Whatever the field or area, the IRGC is not required to report to anybody and is answerable to no one.
The IRGC was created early after the 1979 Islamic Revolution by the order of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Its declared mission was to safeguard the revolution and its accomplishments. As the years have gone by, it has expanded its sphere of activities. The entities under its control have multiplied to such a degree that it now operates effectively as a parallel government. It interferes in all current affairs of the country and it aims to have control over every aspect of the way Iran is run.
In a series of reports, IranWire presents a detailed portrait of this powerful and mysterious institution and, for the first time, identifies and explains all bodies, institutions and other entities operating under the umbrella of the Revolutionary Guards, at the same time outlining its activities through an infographic and an interactive diagram.
The infographic is a visual representation of the Guards’ organizational structure and presents all institutions under the control of IRGC in one map. It resembles a family tree, a portrait of the IRGC with all its children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — a dramatic picture of power in Iran today.
In the interactive diagram, the viewer is able to use the mouse to see how various entities under the control of the Guards emerged, and how they are connected — exactly like a family tree.
IranWire has aimed for this series and the overall project to be informative and a solid research tool. But it is not perfect, and there will always be room for updates, enhancements and further information. We welcome your views, ideas and knowledge, so please do get in touch via email, Twitter or Facebook.
The Chief Commander of the IRGC (Farmandeh Kol-eh Sepah)
The chief commander of the IRGC is appointed by the Supreme Leader (according to Article 110 of the Constitution). He has a wide variety of responsibilities and duties, such as hiring personnel, military training, ideological education, promotion and publications, support and logistics, planning and operations, and Basij-related issues (Article 15 of the IRGC statute). He executes his duties through two offices: the first a commanding office, which consists of the office, a secretary, and a public relations team, and the second, a research and investigation office (Article 26). The chief commander of the IRGC is the highest-ranking executive officer in the organization and only reports back to the Supreme Leader (Article 29), while everyone else reports to him. He is also in charge of the implementation of the IRGC statute and will appoint or remove IRGC generals. He used to consult with the IRGC Supreme Council to make decisions about the low- or mid-level unit commanders, but this council was dissolved in 1989. Since then the chief commander hires and fires the commanders after consultation with the leader’s representative and head of the Intelligence Protection Organization, but the chief commander consults with the Supreme Leader to make a decision about high-ranking commanders. Because of the secretive nature of the IRGC Supreme Council, its mechanism and activities are not very clear.
In the organizational structure of the IRGC there are four main branches: ground, navy, aerospace and the Quds Force. There are four major organizations: the Basij, IRGC Intelligence, IRGC Intelligence Protection, and Protection and Security, plus dozens of active organizations in social and cultural fields and a few economic and financial entities like Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters and the IRGC Cooperative Foundation. There are also dozens of educational and cultural centers and more than 20 divisions.
Since its establishment, the IRGC has had seven chief commanders: Javad Mansouri (April 1979-March 1980), Abbas Duzduzani (April 1980-June 1980), Abbas Agha-Zamani (May 23, 1980-June 17, 1980), Morteza Rezaei (July 1980-September 1981), Mohsen Rezaei (September 1981-September 1997), Yahya Rahim Safavi (September 1997-September 2007), and Mohammad Ali Jafari (September 2007-present). The current chief commander of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari (born in 1957), is the only chief commander of the IRGC who is too young to have taken part in anti-Shah pre-1979 Revolution activities.
The Deputy Commander of the IRGC (Janeshin-e Farmandeh Kol-e Sepah)
According to Article 32 of the statute, “the deputy commander of the IRGC is in charge of all the chief commander’s duties in his absence and is his right hand in his presence.” The deputy commander is appointed and dismissed by the chief commander after approval from the Supreme Leader or his representative (Article 31). In the past four decades, the following individuals have been the deputy commanders of the IRGC: Abbas Agha-Zamani (1979), Yosef Kolahduz (1980), Ali Shamkhani (1981-1989), Yahya Rahim Safavi (1989-1997), Mohammad-Bagher Zolqadr (1997-2006), Morteza Rezaei (2006-2008), Mohammad-Hussein Hejazizadeh (2008-2009), Hussein Salami (2009-present ).
The IRGC Divisions
Currently, the IRGC is made up of the following divisions: human resources, strategic information, political, executive, legal, health and medicare, cultural and social, investigation, preservation of heritage, financial, operations, support and logistics, fitness and physical training, public relations and publications, safety, training, engineering, and the coordination division. Among these, the political, public relations and publications, and political and ideological training divisions are directly controlled by the Supreme Leader’s representative in the IRGC.
The Joint Staff of the IRGC - the Coordination Division (Setad-eh Moshtarak-e Sepah - Moavenat-e Hamahang Konand-e)
This division aims to coordinate the military branches of the IRGC and provide them with planning, support and monitoring. It is responsible for paving the way for the correct and precise implementation of the chief commander’s orders and maintaining an efficient chain of command in the body of the IRGC (Article 24 of the IRGC statute). The official name of this entity in the statute was the “Central Staff of the IRGC,” but it was commonly known as the General Staff of the IRGC. On February 24, 1992, Ayatollah Khamenei ordered the name to be changed to the Joint Staff of the IRGC. In February 2008, the name was changed again to the Coordination Division.
The original task of this division was to coordinate the IRGC’s four military branches (ground, navy, aerospace and Quds) and Basij, but, as time passed, the division gained more power and influence. According to the statute, this division has its own subunits, including: personnel affairs, military training, ideological and political training, publications, intelligence, planning and operations, the Basij, and engineering. The heads of each unit are the chief commander’s deputies, who have expertise in each field.
According to the 2018 budget, the Joint Staff of the IRGC will pursue its mission statement through centralized programs such as “the development plan of Kowsar” (defense operations), “Nasim-e Rahmat” (operations support), “Qaem” (defense operations), “Velayat” (defense operations), “Shahid Shushtari 1” (the ground forces operations at borders), “Nur-e Rabi” (defense operations in the provinces), “the development plan of Shahid Hasan Tehrani-Moqadam” (defense operations, specifically ballistic missiles), “Shahid Rudaki” (defense operations of the IRGC Navy), “Shahid Kazemi” (operations of the IRGC Navy), “Shahid Brunesi” (cultural, safety, and security operations in suburban areas), “Shahid Bagheri” (defense operations), and “Nur-e Hedayat” (cultural programs and mobilizing Basiji elites).
There is also a unit called the “the poverty alleviation headquarters of Kowsar,” which among other activities renovates mosques across Iran. A similar program called the “progress and development plan of Hazrat Rasul 1” also aims to fight poverty in villages and small towns in different parts of the country. Because of the military/security nature of these operations, not much detail about them is available to the public. Other subunits of the Joint Staff of the IRGC are: investigation, disciplinary and judiciary, cultural, political, operational, and training and human resources.
The following individuals are the former chiefs of the Joint Staff: Brigadier General Jamaluddin Aberumand (2008-July 2018), Brigadier General Mohammad-Hussein Hejazizadeh (September 2008-March 2009), Ali-Akbar Ahmadian (July 2000-September 2008), Hussein Alaei (April 1997-July 2000), and Mohammad-Bagher Zolqadr (August 1989-March 1997). Currently, Brigadier General Hussein Salami is the chief of the Joint Staff of the IRGC.
The Supreme Leader’s Representative in the IRGC (Namayand-eh Vali-eh Faqih dar Sepah)
Based on the organizational structure of the IRGC, and according to the statute ratified on September 6, 1982, the Supreme Leader’s representative is recognized as one of the seventeen divisions of the IRGC, but, in practice, this office is an independent organization that is directly controlled by the Supreme Leader. Although the organization is not part of the chain of command in the IRGC, it plays an important role in the decision-making of high-ranking commanders. The program designed by this organization was ratified by the Supreme Council of the IRGC (which was dissolved in 1989) and by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic. The representative is also a member of the Central Selection Committee and the Supreme Disciplinary Assembly of the IRGC. According to Article 33 of the statute, the Supreme Leader’s representative can monitor all activities and the commanders’ orders in the IRGC to check their compatibility with Sharia law and the Supreme Leader’s policies. If the representative objects to an order, the commanders in charge need to take that objection into account and rectify their decisions.
The Representative’s Office has priority in taking political and ideological training and propaganda decisions (according to Article 31). Some of the organization’s duties in the IRGC include: Koran and morality training, assisting the clergy with scientific education, promoting the IRGC and publicizing its achievements, supporting religious missionaries, organizing religious events, reviewing and approval of all cultural content produced by the IRGC, holding religious and spiritual events, checking the compatibility of IRGC policies and regulations with Sharia law, making sure that staff are loyal to the regime and the Supreme Leader, training political and ideological instructors, assisting clergy in combat zones, expanding the information technology capabilities of the organization, training staff ideologically and politically, and conducting research and studies.
The organization has its own subsidiaries: the deputy representative’s office and the following divisions:
The Ideological Training Division: promotes religious ideological training and is responsible for organizing committed forces of the IRGC. The activities of this division include launching training courses for Koranic instructors. The division is also engaged in dispatching moral guides to different levels of the IRGC. These guides are involved in activities such as the provision of introductory combat training for elite and faculty members of the IRGC in Qom, and formation of think-tanks and production of guidance containing instructions on Islamic laws.
The Coordination Division: is tasked with training and coordinating the IRGC and Basij forces. In the words of its deputy in 2014, this division had the capacity to train 220,000 people that year and constituted the most powerful network of instructors and professors with seven thousand organizational, non-organizational and invited instructors
The Culture and Propaganda Division: works in the field of cultural promotion of the Revolutionary Guards. Activities of this division include holding Koran classes and competitions for the employees of the IRGC, including women employees. Among its most recent activities is the production of video clips for various cultural issues and of audio books for promotion of reading among IRGC members.
The Clergy’s Affairs Division: appears to serve as a venue for control of the clerics of the Elmie seminary in Qom and its coordination with Ayatollah Khamenei. To this end, it aims to strengthen clerics insights and ensure they are committed to the principle of Velayate Faqih (The Mandate of the Jurists) and are complying with Khamenei.
The Human Resources Division: is responsible for providing and strengthening the IRGC’s manpower.
The Planning and Budget Division: is in charge of budget and planning for the IRGC and its preparation in cultural arenas and the threat that the IRGC is supposedly facing on the cultural front. In the words of the deputy of this division in 2015, these threats are divided into soft, hard and semi-hard threats. Accordingly, the command of the IRGC is in charge of missions in the hard, semi-hard and soft arenas, and the representative is responsible for preparing the IRGC to confront soft threats.
Other divisions such as: Public Relations and Publications, the Ideological Political Division and the Political Division fall under the IRGC’s organizational chart, but are controlled by the representative’s office.
The political division has several subsidiaries, including the department of political study, department of information and communication, the departments of political managers and guides, and the department of study and analysis. The office also publishes public papers such as Javan (Youth) newspaper and the weekly journal, Sobh-e Sadegh (True Morning). Also, the Basirat (Insight) website is run by the office. The national network of Hadian-e Siasi-e Sepah (the IRGC Political Guides) is another subsidiary of the political division.
The Political Office of the IRGC was established in 1980. The office is controlled by the chief commander of the IRGC and is tasked with gathering and analyzing important news and events. However, after the internal structural changes, the office was assigned to the Supreme Leader’s representative. The Ruydad-ha va Tahlil-ha (News and Analysis) bulletin is an important IRGC internal magazine, published by this office. The bulletin has two different versions, a highly classified version for IRGC commanders, and a general version for everybody else in the force.
Also of importance is the Office of Supervison by the Supreme Leader’s representative, which is in charge of monitoring all activities and affairs in the IRGC in order to provide the representative with comprehensive scheduled reports. Yet “all activities and affairs” does not include the military, security or even the economic activities of the IRGC. In practice, the Office of Monitoring only controls ideological and political training. Another important body is the Office of Islamic Confirmation of Regulations and Plans. This office was formed in 2015 and is tasked with approving the compatibility of the IRGC’s regulations and plans with Shari’a laws.
Other organizations controlled by the representative are:
The Imam Sadegh Research Institute of Islamic Sciences: was established in 1981 as the Islamic Research Center with the goal of producing ideological and educational text books and research material for the IRGC. In 1994, it was registered as a research center by the Ministry of Science. In 1997, the research center was inaugurated with three research groups in politics, theology and social sciences. In 2013, it was transformed into the Research Institute and in 2014, following a decree by Ayatollah Khamenei, was upgraded to the Imam Sadegh Research Institute of Islamic Sciences. In addition to research centers in politics, theology and sociology, this institute has the following centers: Center for Texts, Center for Training and Complementary Education, Information Technology Division, Digital Media Production and Publishing Center. It also has an office for scientific publications and one think-tank. The research centers have 12 scientific groups which are active in developmental, applied and fundamental research projects in the fields of humanity and Islamic Science. According to its website, the Zamzam Hedayat publisher is part of the Research Institute, and publishes more than 600 book titles.
Shahid Mahallati Higher Education Complex: is in the city of Qom, where Iran’s most important Shia seminary is located. The complex trains ideological and political teachers for schools and universities. It was established in 1982. Its first mission was to prepare ideological and political educators for the IRGC. In 1987, Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology officially recognized it and the IRGC expanded its operations to include cultural and social events as well as the training of clerics who are employed by different armed forces in Iran. The Supreme Leader’s representative in the IRGC is in charge of most major decisions in the college.
The complex has the following schools: theology and Islamic studies, culture and s, ideological and political studies, regular army draftees’ training, the Center for Training Clerics, and the Center for Applied Science and Learning. The Supreme Leader’s representative in the IRGC is in charge of approving the curricula and ensuring that they are in line with Islam and IRGC guidelines. In addition, the military training of all clerics who wish to serve in the armed forces takes place at the college. The complex admits candidates for associate and bachelor’s programs from the IRGC, as well as from the army and police personnel.
The details of the subsidiaries and centers of the Shahid Mahallati Higher Education Complex are as follows:
The School of Theology and Islamic Studies: This school is active in the field of theology and Islamic studies.
School of Culture and Communications: This center’s website is undergoing construction, but according to the pronouncements of the IRGC’s representative in 2006, the activities of this faculty appear to aim at adapting communication sciences with the culture and teaching of Islam.
School of Ideological and Political Studies: The school appears to train ideological and political guides of the IRGC. This school publishes the journal Religion and Politics.
Center for Training Clerics: The center was launched following Khamenei’s recommendation in 2011 to train clerics working at the service of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic. To this end, the IRGC formed the center in the holy city of Qom and under the control of the Shahid Mahallati Higher Education Complex. Since then the center is active as a school within the complex. In the words of the head of the complex in 2015, “In the past four years, more than 2,000 clerics from different sections of the armed forces have undergone 75 days to four month training courses under the direction of the center.” He also added that “ training in skills and familiarity on working in an organization has been beneficial for the clerics and the center is prioritizing other educational programs as well.”
Center for Applied Science and Learning: Established in 2006 after holding its first learning course in political promotion. According to its website, the center offers various courses in the that change according to the demands of society, and since its formation, has produced 2,000 men and women graduates with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. The center admits students for associate degrees in physical training, cultural affairs and public relations, management of administrative affairs, management of office affairs, promotion of Islamic thought and education, and Islamic missionary education. The center also provides a Bachelor's degree in public relations, cultural management, Koranic educator training (with a focus on political guidance).
The representative has offices in IRGC bases around Iran. During the past four decades the following individuals have been the Supreme Leader’s representative in the IRGC: Hasan Lahuti (September-December 1979), Fazlollah Mehdizadeh Mahallati (September1980-December1980), Mohammad-Reza Faker (December 1980-July 1983), Hasan Taheri-Khoramabadi (July 1983-December 1983), Fazlollah Mehdizadeh Mahallati (December 1983-March 1986), Mahmoud Mohammadi-Araqi (March 1986-March 1989, as the Deputy Representative), Abdollah Nuri (March 1989-July 1990), Mahmoud Mohammadi-Araqi (July 1990-February 1992), Mohammad-Ali Movahedi-Kermani (February 1992-January 2006), Ali Saedi (January 2006-March 2018), Abdollah Haj-Sadeghi (March 2018-present).