The Pasdaran, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, have extended their influence in the country dramatically in the past few years. DW spoke to publicist Bahman Nirumand about their role in Iranian politics and society.
Deutsche Welle: Mr. Nirumand, the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, known as "Sepah Pasdaran," were founded in 1979. They function separately from the regular army, and their mission - at least officially - is "to protect the values of the Islamic revolution on the basis of the Islamic state." But since then their missions and powers have extended enormously. Can the Pasdaran be described as the true rulers or Iran?
Bahman Nirumand: Yes. In fact, such a concentration of power has never occurred in Iran's entire recent history. Today the "Sepah Pasdaran" is the most powerful authority in Iran - politically, economically, and militarily. The regular army plays a very secondary role compared to the Pasdaran. They are armed with the most modern weapons, and they are very powerful. They decide on all military questions, while the regular army has receded completely into the background.
So the Pasdaran are well-armed. Are they also prepared for a potential military strike by Israel? There were after all plenty of verbal threats in the past few years.
I think they are prepared. Iran has a number of ways of defending itself. It's obvious which targets might be attacked. They have modern rockets and warships and they are very capable of inflicting damage on the US or any other state.
The Pasdaran have always had a military presence, but how has their economic power changed?
They are currently considered the biggest economic power in the country. For one thing, the Pasdaran receive concessions for all large infrastructure projects in Iran. Whether its dams, or road-building, or the construction of ports or airports - the Pasdaran is involved in all major projects. On top of that, they control the ports and airports, and so the whole market, imports and exports, and above all the black market. They can bring goods into the country take them out without paying duties or taxes. The Pasdaran is also involved in oil projects. It's gigantic, what the Pasdaran have brought under their economic control.
What role do the Pasdaran play in the conflict with the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions?
The Pasdaran are directly involved in decision-making on the nuclear power conflict as with every other important political affair. They are very deeply involved in the nuclear program, and I think no decision is taken on it without their agreement. They also determine the Iranians' negotiating policy. The Iranian negotiating delegation officially takes instructions from the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but behind him are the Pasdaran, and they really make the decisions.
Is there any area at all where the Pasdaran don't wield any influence?
No. After all, they are also the most powerful political force in the country. Their former commanders sit at the levers of power. In 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president for the first time, he put Pasdaran commanders in most of the government positions, and all the key ones.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could also count on the support of the Pasdaran in the highly controversial election of 2009, but now their relationship seems very strained. Why is that?
That's down to the difficulties between the revolutionary leader and Ahmadinejad. Khamenei has actually supported Ahmadinejad a lot, not just during his first tenure, but also during the 2009 election, and even all the electoral fraud that took place then must have happened with Khamenei consent. So Khamenei got the feeling that Ahmadinejad would simply receive his instructions and do everything that the revolutionary leader wanted.
But since 2009, the president has become defiant and started to strike new paths - particularly against the conservative spiritual leaders in Iran. The friction between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad is continuing unabated, especially in view of the election, and the Pasdaran seem to have taken Khamenei's side, at least their leading generals have. They've made that very clear. They say they want to ensure "healthy and correct" elections, which means that they want to be directly involved and aim to get Khamenei's candidate elected. How the Pasdaran's grass-roots feel about this is hard to say. I'm sure Ahmadinejad still has his supporters there.
Bahman Nirumand is an Iranian publicist, political analyst, and author of several books. He lives in Berlin.