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IRGC Coup d'Etat In Iran

Every four years, Iranians go to the polls to elect the members of the Mejlis - the Iranian parliament. And while a democratic process on its face, the fact that all candidates are vetted by the clerical leadership - and those objectionable eliminated - assures that the Iranian people can only choose between candidates the regime approves of and candidates who approve of the regime. Not exactly the definition of popular representation.

But as Iranians head to the polls this year, something is distinctly different - something that began three years ago with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election as president. It is the rise of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp in halls of power beyond military. The mullah regime has grown increasingly reliant on the IRGC in order to maintain power. And now this manifests itself in the candidate lists for the 2008 parliamentary elections - with predictable electoral results that will signify the 'mission creep' of the IRGC. Ali Alfoneh explains in greater detail in an AEI Middle Eastern Outlook column, IRGC coup d'etat In Iran. He concludes below.

Unable or unwilling to satisfy internal demands for reform and fearful of external pressure, the leadership of the Islamic Republic has handed over executive, and now legislative, power to the military. Commanders may retire, but they do not become civilians. They maintain informal networks and command structures honed at the frontlines with Iraq.

The Iran-Iraq war was their formative experience. United Nations sanctions and European Union admonishing simply do not compare to the horrors of trench warfare, Iraqi mustard gas, and wartime deprivation. International pressure may be a nuisance, but it is not serious coercion to a hardened generation of political elites used to the daily bombardment of civilian targets and the food rationing that occurred in Iran in the 1980s. Such a generation of leaders is not as sensitive to economic sanctions.

At the same time, the IRGC is changing the nature of the Islamic Republic. While still ruled by the clergy, in practice the Islamic Republic has begun to resemble other third world military regimes, with a military-industrial complex running the state machinery and controlling civil society.

The Islamic Republic's militarization, however, follows a different pattern from other military regimes. Rather than power being seized by force, the transformation in Iran will be gradual. Nevertheless, the March parliamentary elections are bound to mark a milestone in this creeping coup d'etat.

As Ali Alfoneh explains in the column (read it in its entirety), the clerical regime's power and longevity is now inextricably tacked to the level of loyalty of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Understanding the loyalties of the key IRGC leadership will be essential to reading future tea leaves in Iran.