Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards

Article excerpt

Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards. By Afshon Ostovar. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 306 pp. $34.95.

One of the biggest holes in scholarship about Iran has been a deep, detailed analysis of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) since the 1993 study, Warriors of Islam by Kenneth Katzman,1 a Library of Congress specialist. That has now changed, first with Danish scholar Ali Alfoneh's 2013 Iran Unveiled2 and then with Vanguard of the Imam by Ostrovar, a long-time Iran analyst, now at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Ostovar traces the growth of the IRGC from its origins as a rag-tag militia, through its role in the Iran-Iraq war (198088), to its current position as perhaps Iran's major internal power center. He also explores the organization's "export of revolution" and its sponsorship of groups such as Hezbollah and various Iraqi militias. For Ostovar, the IRGC is not just an ideological military; its contours are the product of "pro-clerical, coercive activism," devotion to the Iranian supreme leader, and the outgrowth of military conflict during its formative years.

Still, the book is not without faults. The author sometimes sacrifices detail to fluidity of narrative. He pays only passing attention to the IRGC's considerable economic empire, something that effectively gives it autonomy from political control. …

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