The IRGC, an Organization with 80 Million Shareholders
Its mission has been defined to be “protecting the Islamic Revolution.” Imam Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic Republic, believed, “The Revolution will thrive on its own, and the movement will find its path. The forces and organizations affiliated with the Revolution should merely rely on God and carry out their duties well. They should be just with the people and render services to them.” In other words, he considered reliance on God, the fulfilment of one’s duties and assisting the people to be manifestations of protecting the Revolution.
These words of advice were used as a motto by a force which was military by definition, but which has proven to be a social organization rather than a military force. It is a force, which considers protecting the people and eliminating the problems that are before them to be protecting the Revolution.
With this brief introduction, and on the occasion of the anniversary of the establishment of the IRGC, this article endeavors to answer the following questions by taking into account the IRGC’s identity and performance, not as a military force but as an organization from the people. The first question is, “How successful has the IRGC been during the four decades that is has been functioning.” The second question is, “How is its presence in the areas of construction, public services and eliminating deprivation related to its goal and mission?”
The Necessity of Establishing the IRGC
In the first months after the victory of the Revolution, the need to establish a force from among the revolutionary activists was quickly felt. Inside Iran, the groups hired by foreign powers had caused unrest in several areas. The physical elimination of the Revolution’s prominent personalities had become the main mission of such groups. Simultaneously, the extensive goals that the revolutionaries had promised to the main owners of the Revolution – i.e. the people – regarding the elimination of deprivation, showed the need to create a group in order to pursue these goals.
Moreover, from the first days after the victory of the Revolution, messages were sent to the newly-formed Islamic Republic from popular anti-colonialist and anti-dictatorial movements in the region with the intention of gaining the help and support of the Islamic Republic. They wished to benefit from the experience of the revolutionaries in overthrowing the strongest ally of the US in the region. This was in particular due to the international reputation that the Islamic Revolution had acquired, and its commitment to support oppressed nations as a part of its main goal. Now that the Revolution had achieved victory, there needed to be a force or a nucleus for pursuing all these goals as well as confronting military or non-military threats.
Saddam’s imposed war on Iran, which had the direct support of western countries, caused the IRGC to have a special presence in the area of the military. Only one year after the formation of the IRGC in May of 1979, the eight-year war against Iran broke out in 1980.
Because of heavy sanctions imposed by eastern and western blocs against Iran during the war, the IRGC sought to satisfy the military needs of the country as well as participate in the frontlines as well. This is an issue that has been continued with strength up to the present time.
But even in the most difficult days of the war, the IRGC did not forget about its activities in social areas at the same time. These included combating poverty, helping the underprivileged, and furthering the literacy movement. The necessity to stress its identity as being from the people and coordinating this with its military nature led to the birth of un unprecedented model of commandership and management of forces. This model did not resemble the established military conventions in the world in any way.
It is on the basis of this model that military ranks merely show the decision-making hierarchy in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. When it comes to battle, commanders fight ahead of their soldiers and forces in the frontlines. Whenever the IRGC is present in a battle, commanders fight alongside their soldiers.
It was these values that presented a role model for the people’s forces in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria in the subsequent decades. It has also encouraged people from various groups to join them in recent years. This is a quality that has preserved its attraction and is unique among classic armies in the region and in the world. It is thanks to this quality that in the IRGC being one of the Basij is the highest rank one can envisage.
The Second Phase, the Post-War Era and Focusing on Construction
With the end of the eight-year war against Iran, two major phenomena could be seen and felt in the country. First of all, substantial damages were incurred in southern and western parts of Iran. The second phenomenon was the existence of a force that had acquired enormous capacities, capabilities, experiences and skills for building and repairing the damages caused by the war. Moreover, a series of matters and issues, which were a source of concern before the war and could be dealt with after the war due to simply having more time to attend to them, caused the IRGC to activate its construction, engineering and economic branch known as the “Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters.”
Another reason why the IRGC felt the need to become involved in this area was that foreign enemies had changed their method of enmity from military confrontation to economic confrontation against the country and people of Iran. The mission of the IRGC in this area was not merely to carry out construction projects, rather its goal was to eliminate the hurdles that the private and governmental sectors could not surmount due to the sanctions and problems that foreigners had imposed and created. It worked to do this by relying on its own forces, resources and skills.
The oil refineries had been completely destroyed during the war – it is worth noting that due to the sanctions, foreign contractors were not willing to cooperate with Iran to reactivate them. The increasing needs of a country and nation, which had just recently been liberated from the scourge of war and was in dire need of construction, pushed the IRGC into having an active presence in such areas. This culminated in accomplishing more than 1,800 infrastructural and macro projects, thus registering a glorious achievement in its performance sheet.
Today, the Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters has extensive capabilities in the areas of the construction of roads and dams, the building of refineries, the construction of oil platforms, etc. The Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters has carried out the three main projects of expanding the Karkheh, North Azadegan and Timab-Changulah oil fields. Some of its other accomplishments include expanding Phases 2, 3, 4, 5, 15 and 16 of the South Pars Refineries, pumping crude oil from Rey to Tabriz, building the Mahshahr Oil Storage Center, designing, building and setting up storage tanks in Tabriz, Ahwaz and Yasuj, constructing 32,000 cubic meter fuel tanks in the Shahid Salimi Neka Power Plant, designing, building and setting up LNG and LPG tanks in the Tombak Port, designing, building and setting up 23 storage tanks for petroleum products with a capacity of 424 thousand cubic meters in 11 cities of the country, and designing, building and installing 6 storage tanks, which are able to store 100,000 barrels in the Isfahan Refinery. In the area of the construction of dams, the capacity of the dams constructed by the Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters is more than 15 billion cubic meters. 221 water transfer tunnels, more than 3,000 km of water transmission lines, more than 10 large port and coastal construction projects, and extensive activity in the area of the mining industry including setting up a sponge iron plant are only a part of the activities of the IRGC in the area of construction.
Eliminating Deprivation, the Perpetual Responsibility of the IRGC
In parallel with its macro construction and development projects throughout the country, eliminating deprivation has also been at the top of the agenda of the IRGC. If the IRGC has entered into construction projects due to the needs of the country, it has also played its part in eliminating deprivation in keeping with one of the main missions and goals of the Revolution and due to the needs of the main owners of this force – i.e. the people. According to existing figures, it has embarked on carrying out more than 296 water supply projects and 288 road construction projects up until today. It has also built 235 schools, 207 sports complexes, and 191 health centers.
Moreover, it has launched 159 housing projects for the underprivileged and 113 bridge construction projects. It has set up 3,000 cultural centers, libraries and mosques. Also, it has engaged in setting up more than 21 livestock and poultry breeding complexes, more than 28 water pumping stations, 435 km of power lines and 102 rural cooperatives. In addition, it has dug 602 water wells for activating agricultural lands and it has provided the necessary equipment for another 548 wells. It has built more than 500 km of irrigation canals and it has flattened more than 56 thousand square km of land, making it suitable for agricultural and construction projects. Furthermore, it has implemented 93 rural road construction projects with a length of 1,450 km, it has built more than 2,800 km of railway, and it has added 19,000 hospital beds to the capacity of the health sector of the country.
The above-mentioned projects only constitute a part of the activities of a force whose mission is to protect the Revolution.
The IRGC Is Pivotal to Coordinating Relief Work
The IRGC enters into every area which impacts the lives of the people, be that a flood, an earthquake, drought or disease. The IRGC has played an impressive role in reconstructing quake-stricken areas in the western and northwestern areas of the country, including its activities following the damages caused by the Azerbaijan and Kermanshah earthquakes in the last decade. In the year 2019, more than 15 provinces were afflicted by floods and the ensuing damages. From the first hours after these natural disasters, the units and divisions of the IRGC embarked on helping and rescuing the people – who are the main owners and commanders of the IRGC. Despite the passage of many years, the IRGC forces are still busy rendering services in certain areas. To cite just one example, in the quake-stricken areas of Kermanshah, the IRGC has provided and equipped several thousand temporary shelters for the earthquake-stricken families. It has also done similar work in the northern regions of the country – in particular in the Golestan province. An important point regarding IRGC relief work in areas afflicted by natural disasters is that they offer help to religious minorities, such as the Sunnis in Kermanshah and Golestan, and it has made this a priority in its relief work.
With the outbreak of Covid-19 and the spread of the Coronavirus in Iran, the IRGC has carried out several activities in the area of providing manpower and supplies such as setting up and equipping temporary hospitals, providing people – particularly the underprivileged– with medical supplies as well as entrusting its medical and health professionals with the task of assisting in hospitals and serving patients. Moreover, it has set out to disinfect public areas throughout the country and asked its security and intelligence units to confront the hoarding of medical supplies and goods.
The IRGC has correctly set itself the task of protecting the Revolution and its achievements and confronting every possible threat. To this end, the mission and sphere of its activities are boundless. The IRGC was established at a time when the threat facing the Revolution was that of domestic, armed forces, which were dependent on the outside. Only one year after its formation, it dispatched its forces, alongside the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the frontlines of a war which lasted eight years in order to defend the borders of the country. When the war against Iran extended to the area of economics, the IRGC showed its presence in that area too by protecting the borders and economic resources of the country. At the same time, it did not forget about its main goal to develop the country and help it to progress.
Therefore, despite the tremendous efforts made by the Domineering Powers to impose sanctions on the IRGC and to damage its reputation in the eyes of the people, all of the above-mentioned achievements have served to help the IRGC preserve its spiritual relationship with not only the people of Iran but also with all justice-seeking nations throughout the world. Thus, it has presented itself as a role model for these justice-seeking nations.