Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is like no other military in the world. In the wake of the Islamic Revolution, which brought him to power in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini chose not to disband the shah's armed forces--but he didn't trust them either, so he created an independent force: the IRGC. In the years since, it has grown from a few thousand lightly armed militiamen to a huge institution whose pervasive influence rivals that of the Supreme Leader himself.
The IRGC answers directly to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not to the government. Nevertheless, from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on down, THE COUNTRY'S MOST POWERFUL POLITICAL POSTS ARE DOMINATED BY FORMER IRGC COMMANDERS. Their ranks include the head of Parliament, the country's top nuclear negotiator, the secretary-general of the Expediency Council, the mayor of Tehran, and the ministers of defense and interior.
Fears grew after the Iran-Iraq War that unemployed veterans might pose serious trouble for the government. To provide paying jobs, the IRGC began investing heavily in civilian industry. TODAY ITS PORTFOLIO CONTAINS MOST OF THE IRANIAN ECONOMY'S PILLARS, from media to oil and natural gas. Holdings include multibillion-dollar construction firms; a fiercely ideological news Web site and newspaper; automotive ventures; mining; pharmaceuticals; and a controlling interest in TCI, the national telecommunications company, acquired last year in the Iranian stock exchange's biggest share purchase ever. …