St. Petersburg Times: As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed students in Doha this week, it appeared that President Barack Obama's administration had finally realized that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has taken on a controlling — not subservient — role among the Iranian leadership. St. Petersburg Times
By Lord Tarsem King, Special to the Times
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed students in Doha this week, it appeared that President Barack Obama's administration had finally realized that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has taken on a controlling — not subservient — role among the Iranian leadership. "Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship," she said.
Highlighting the Guards' role in both Tehran's nuclear and military development and proposing to target the group in coming sanctions, U.S. authorities feel they can damage the regime without harming ordinary Iranians. Tactically, the policy seems sound if implemented with stringent controls.
Although set up by Ayatollah Khomeini after the 1979 revolution to defend the rule of the clerics, the Revolutionary Guards is now a far cry from its days of subservience toward Iran's clerics. Former and current members of the Guards are now littered among Tehran's leadership. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and current Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar are just three of a large number of individuals who have spent many days among the Guards' ranks as they rose to become leaders of the group's militant core.
However, the Guards is no longer simply the militant beast that has entered Iran's political spectrum. Rather, it now controls much of Iran's economy, including 30 percent of Iran's nonoil exports and more than half the country's imports, in addition to vast contracts to develop Iran's oil and gas fields.
In the current climate, with Iran's leadership weakened by mass internal unrest that has exploded in recent months into unprecedented nationwide protests, the Obama administration sees the Guards as potentially replacing many centers of power in Tehran. In truth, the group answers only to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Targeting the Guards is a politically sound method of not only slowing Iran's nuclear progress but hurting this regime where it hurts most, its pocket.
In November, the group famed for exposing Tehran's nuclear program in 2002 announced that the Guards had taken on a new, advanced role among Iran's leadership. The president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi, announced that authorities had set up the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which became the regime's main security force. Headed by the IRGC's top commander, the organization marked another step toward the Guards being in direct control of the regime.
The targeting of the Guards has two clear benefits for an Obama administration that has been labeled as weak in dealing with Iran's nuclear threat and weak in supporting Iran's democratic opposition movement. The Guards is now the financial and tactical backbone to Iran's nuclear program as well as its support for terrorism; but further, and potentially of greater significance, it is the force that has been used to suppress the Iranian opposition movement.
Just last week, during the regime's attempts to celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, it was the Guards that was there to silence the protests by the opposition. Although the Guards succeeded in keeping the protesters away from the core of the event, even as Ahmadinejad spoke defiantly about Tehran's nuclear program, chants of "Death to the dictator" could clearly be heard in the distance.
Iranians now see the Guards as the source of their suppression, while the West sees it as the source of Tehran's nuclear defiance. As the West's aims in stopping Tehran's nuclear program converge with those of the Iranian people in bringing democratic change, it is time to target the Guards with comprehensive sanctions that are stringently implemented.
Support for the Iranian people's democratic movement now seems to be greatest tool in dealing with the threat posed by Iran's nuclear defiance. Sanction the Guards, and while cutting finance to Tehran's nuclear program we also cut the finance behind Iran's suppression, allowing Iran's democratic opposition to prosper.
Lord King, who was raised to the peerage as Baron King of West Bromwich, is a member of the United Kingdom's House of Lords from the Labor Party and is also a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.