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Analysts Say Iran's Revolutionary Guard Accumulating Broad Powers

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard subdue a protester
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard subdue a protester

Iran is reacting sharply to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks that the Persian state is becoming a military dictatorship. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accuses Clinton of spreading "lies" and the United States of turning the region into a so-called "arms depot." But several Washington-based analysts on Iran back Clinton's assertions.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard was formed in 1979 to protect the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution from the Shah's army.

Now U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Guard is leaving Iran vulnerable to proposed U.S. sanctions against Iran for pressing ahead with its uranium enrichment program. Clinton spoke to VOA during her recent visit to the Persian Gulf.

"It appears as though the space of decision making for the clerical and political leadership is shrinking and that for the Revolutionary Guard seems to be growing," said Secretary Clinton.

The Guard has accumulated considerable political and economic power in recent years. Most of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cabinet is made up of Revolutionary Guard members.

Some analysts on Iran in the United States say the Guard has gained more influence because of its recent role in suppressing protests against Mr. Ahmadinejad's reelection.

"Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps have been the winners of this post election violence," said Journalist Afshin Molavi of the New America Foundation in Washington. "In many ways the Revolutionary Guard Corps have been rising in power over the past ten years or so."

Secretary Clinton added this perspective.

"They are deeply involved in the commercial, business and investment activities of Iran," said Clinton. "They own major institutions like the airport for example. So there is a lot they are doing which is very troubling."

But Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service does not currently see the Guard as a serious threat. He says the Guard just follows the orders of the Ayatollah.

"They did everything the Supreme Leader wanted them to," said Katzman. "There was no evidence that they were going off the reservation and doing anything the Supreme Leader does not want done."

Afshin Molavi agrees. He says the Guard's current leadership is aligned with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. But he says possible cracks within the Guard will determine Iran's future.

"Will there be members of the Revolutionary Guard who will stand up to the current leadership?" asked Molavi. "That kind of institutional cleavage could be very important in a game-changing for the future of Iran."

Some analysts predict the Revolutionary Guard will consolidate its power, and the final showdown may be between the Guard and the millions of frustrated children of the 30-year old Islamic revolution, now 60 percent of the population of Iran.