Iran General NewsPressure on Iran increases from U.S.

Pressure on Iran increases from U.S.

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ImageWall Street Journal: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's accusation this week that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship run by elements of the militant Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the public expression of conclusions privately drawn by U.S. officials and administration advisers for months. The Wall Street Journal

By PETER SPIEGEL And CHIP CUMMINS

ImageWASHINGTON—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's accusation this week that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship run by elements of the militant Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the public expression of conclusions privately drawn by U.S. officials and administration advisers for months.

By going public with those findings at a high-profile event in the Persian Gulf, however, senior U.S. officials and Iran analysts said the administration may be able to rally world opinion against the elite military group in a way it has yet to manage against the religious leaders who sit atop the regime.

Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman, continued to press the administration's case against the Revolutionary Guards on Tuesday, saying the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, is "currently in control" of nine of 22 cabinet ministries, "an unprecedented level since the Islamic Republic was established" in 1979.

U.S. officials acknowledge that focusing on the Revolutionary Guards also allows Washington to target an organization that is—through its paramilitary militia, the Basij—primarily responsible for the violent crackdown against demonstrators in the wake of June's presidential elections.

The U.S. administration has faced months of criticism from human-rights advocates for not backing Iranian dissidents more vociferously.

"The IRGC is a convenient target because it's the entity that manages Iran's nuclear program, it's the entity that liaises with extremist groups throughout the Middle East, and it's the entity which is overseeing the brutal crackdown on the Iranian people," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Iran's president and foreign minister both criticized Mrs. Clinton's remarks on Tuesday and vowed to continue efforts to enrich uranium to a higher grade than before. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki took on Mrs. Clinton directly, saying it was the U.S. that has been acting like a military dictatorship in the Middle East, citing civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We recommend Clinton and other U.S. statesmen open their eyes to realities in the region, even one time," Mr. Mottaki said, according to Iran's Press TV. Later Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Western powers would "regret" any sanctions move against the country.

Senior U.S. officials from agencies ranging from the Treasury Department to the Pentagon have increasingly argued that, while the IRGC has grown in influence in Tehran for decades, the large-scale public protests following last year's disputed presidential elections has forced Iranian leaders to lean more heavily on the elite security forces to maintain their hold on power.

Just last month, in an address to the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Gen. David Petraeus, argued that Iran has transformed from a "theocracy" into a "thugocracy," as the IRGC and its subordinate elements – including the Basij domestically and Qods Force abroad – have used their influence to burrow even deeper into Iran's power structures.

"Because of the unrest in the wake of the hijacked elections this past year, the security apparatus has been able to grip even more of the power because the Supreme Leader has had to turn to the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the siege militia, and to the Qods Force far greater than before," Gen. Petraeus said.

That sentiment was echoed last week by Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's point man on terrorist financing, who accused the Revolutionary Guards of consolidating control over "broad swaths of the Iranian economy" and announced sanctions against four subsidiaries of a Revolutionary Guard-owned engineering firm, Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters.

A senior administration official involved in Iran policy said that the accusations against the Revolutionary Guards is not a reflection of any new intelligence about their involvement, but rather a decision to go public with what the administration sees as a growing trend within the regime.

Suzanne Maloney, a former Iran analyst at the State Department now at the Brookings Institution, said the decision to talk more openly about the Revolutionary Guard's role appeared to be part of a growing realization within the administration that its effort to engage with Iran had been firmly rebuffed and that a new tack – one which may be able to help cause fissures within the top levels of the regime – was needed.

"When the dominant explanation for what was happening was a mass revolution, the instinct was to keep U.S. policy out of it," Ms. Maloney said. "The alternative of depicting Iran as enmeshed in a power struggle in which many of its leaders disagree is an interesting one, because it could pit elements of the political elite against the Revolutionary Guard. It certainly makes U.S. policy more relevant."

—Farnaz Fassihi contributed to this article.

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