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The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps

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


Never solely a military organization in the traditional sense, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)—also known as the Pasdaran (Persian for "guards")—has seen a significant expansion and diversification of its domestic roles since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.

The purpose of this research is to assess the broad-ranging domestic roles of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), also known as the Pasdaran (Persian for "Guards"), to determine the full scope of its influence over Iran's political culture, economy, and society. The study analyzed the institution's ideological outreach to the Iranian populace through education, training, and media; its ascendancy in Iran's strategic business sectors; and its role in Iran's factionalized political landscape.

The research team paid particular attention to instances in which the IRGC's ascendancy has provoked dissent from certain population segments, as well as cases in which it has mobilized and broadened its circle of constituents. This monograph concludes by offering potential trajectories for the IRGC's involvement in Iranian politics, as well as its own institutional evolution, which appears to be increasingly beset by factionalism. In addition, the document outlines a future research agenda for the study of the IRGC that draws comparative insights from analyses of the Pakistani and Chinese militaries. This research should be of interest to analysts and policymakers concerned with Iranian domestic politics and strategic behavior, as well as those interested, more broadly, in comparative studies of civil-military relations.

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