A major expansion in the role played by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is giving the elite force new economic and political clout, but it could also complicate efforts by the United States and its allies to put pressure on the Iranian regime, according to U.S. officials and outside analysts.
Commanders of the Revolutionary Guard say its growth represents a logical expansion for an organization that is not a military force but a popular movement that protects the ideals of the 1979 Islamic revolution and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard’s expanded economic role is mirrored by a greater role in politics and security since the disputed presidential election in June, which the government says was won by incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a landslide but which the opposition says was stolen.
U.S. officials consider the Guard a ripe target for sanctions over Iran’s controversial nuclear program because of the group’s central role in repressing post-election opposition protests. The officials are also concerned that broader-based sanctions risk alienating the Iranian public at a time when the government here faces protests from an energized opposition. But they also know that because of the Guard’s growing economic influence, sanctions on it could pinch the broader Iranian public as well.
Supporters and opponents alike say the Guard has dramatically expanded its reach into Iran’s economy, with vast investments in thousands of companies across a range of sectors. Working through its private-sector arm, the group operates Tehran’s international airport, builds the nation’s highways and constructs communications systems. It also manages Iran’s weapons manufacturing business, including its controversial missile program. [continued…]