Iran's Revolutionary Guards ARE the Regime

When President Bush recently answered a reporter's question about Iranian shipments to Iraq of lethal explosive devices, he was very careful to avoid assigning direct responsibility to the highest levels of the clerical regime. He needn't have been.

Asked what made him so certain that "the highest levels of Tehran's government" are responsible for supplying the deadly IEDs called Explosively Formed Penetrators to Iraq, the president answered, "We don't know...whether the head leaders of Iran ordered" the shipment of lethal explosive devices to Iraq for use against American troops. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns also tip-toed tentatively around the question in a 14 Feb 07 appearance at the Brookings Institute, where he, too, declined to charge the Iranian regime with direct responsibility for the presence of these weapons in the hands of Iraqi terrorist militias.

This kind of misplaced deference to a regime dedicated to the defeat of democracy in Iraq serves only to embolden the aggressive, repressive, and extremist Shi'ite clerics who run Iran today. Let us be very clear about what is really happening: the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and secure Iraq on its western border poses a direct and unbearable threat to the totalitarian theocratic police state that Iran has become since its 1979 Revolution. While its clerical leadership does not want Iraq to descend into complete chaos, neither is it prepared to permit it to develop peacefully into a modern democracy allied with the United States.

That is why its policy since the initiation of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 has been to flood the country with agents from its Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS, otherwise known by its Farsi acronym, VEVAK) and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The task of Iran's VEVAK and IRGC operatives is to infiltrate the Iraqi government at every level and manage the liaison relationship with terrorist militias wreaking havoc across Iraq.

Iran seeks to export its Islamic Revolution and ideology, known as the Velayat-e Faqih (Rule of the Jurisprudent), to Iraq and other regional neighbors, such as Lebanon. Iran wants to create Islamic regimes ruled by Shari'a (Islamic law) and headed by Shi'ite clergy in as many places as it can; this is the menacing vision that Jordan's King Abdullah referred to as the spreading "Shi'ite crescent". It does not include concepts of democracy, civil society, equal opportunity for all, or rule of man-made law.

Iran really has a dual objective: the ideological leadership of the radical Islamist movement and regional geo-strategic expansion. To achieve this, it deploys its assets, including the IRGC, irregular Bassij forces, and VEVAK. Each of these is an integral element of the Iranian regime and comes under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The current IRGC commander, Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, does not report to Iran's Minister of Defense, but rather to the Supreme Leader.

The IRGC was formed in the early days of the Iranian Revolution specifically to guard and preserve the Revolution at home and export it abroad; the national armed forces were assigned the defense of the country's borders and sovereignty, but the IRGC was to ensure the survival of the Revolution itself. It was the threat of just such action in Iraq that helped precipitate Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in September 1980. The Marine Barracks were blown up in Lebanon in 1983 under the command of IRGC Brigadier General Hussein Moslehi, commander of the Lebanon Brigade. Another IRGC commander, Brigadier General Muhammad-Ja'afar Sahraroudi, was the field commander assigned to the 1989 assassination of Kurdish Democratic Party leader, Abdul-Rahman Qassemlou, in Vienna, Austria. Today, the IRGC is assigned responsibility for both Iran's Shahab missile program and its nuclear weapons program.

The Qods Force (Jerusalem Force) is an integral unit of the IRGC. Formed in 1990, the secretive Qods force is responsible for commanding, planning, and executing the extra-territorial operations of the IRGC. Its commander and General Staff report directly to the Supreme Leader. In effect, this makes the Qods Force the terrorist wing of the Iranian regime. The Qods Force deploys its terrorist operatives across the world to equip, train, and support terrorist operations and cells in Bosnia, Chechnya, Lebanon, North and South America, Europe, Northern Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. The Qods Force is the unit charged with liaison with Al-Qa'eda; it is under their "supervision" that Usama bin Laden's two sons and military operations chief have enjoyed safe haven inside Iran for the last five years. In addition to its military mission, the Qods force also deploys a political staff charged with export of the Iranian regime's radical ideology to neighboring regions, such as Iraq.

In Iraq, the IRGC Qods Force has been heavily involved for over three years to build, arm, finance, and train an extensive network of terrorist groups, including both Sunnis and Shi'ites, to ensure the perpetration of vicious sectarian violence and a never-ending situation of instability that will bleed American forces and prevent the emergence of a secure democracy there. The IRGC Qods Force was the principal sponsor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and continues to provide the same kind of support to Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shi'ite rabble rouser. Brigadier General Abtahi is the Qods Force theatre commander in Iraq and operates from a tactical command center called the Fajr Base, located in southwestern Iran in the city of Ahwaz. Within Iraq itself, the Qods Force base of operations is centered in Najaf. A chain of factories strung out along the Iranian side of the border with Iraq, and under the sole control of the IRGC Qods Force, is the verified source of those deadly IEDs, about which President Bush spoke so carefully; markings on fragments of Explosively Formed Penetrators used against American troops in Iraq identify them irrefutably as of Iranian manufacture.

When U.S. forces raided Iran's "consulate" in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil in January 2007, one of those detained there was the Qods Force operations chief, Hassan Abasi, who is a ranking strategic advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (himself a former IRGC commander). In early February 2007, it became known that hundreds of Austrian Steyr H550 sniper rifles exported legally to Iran in 2006 have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists.

It is time to state clearly to the American people what our military commanders in Iraq have known for years now: the Iranian regime directly deploys its IRGC Qods Force operatives inside Iraq to support terrorist attacks that kill American soldiers. There is no question that they are there-our forces have been capturing, killing, and deporting them back to Iran by the dozens. There is also no question that these forces operate under the direct command and control of the Iranian regime. There is zero possibility that IRGC Qods Force "rogue" elements either exist or operate outside of the strict control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the clerical clique that forms the top echelon of the Iranian regime. In this hierarchy, the "democratic" administration of President Ahmadinejad wields only incidental authority and is used primarily as the mouthpiece and public "face" of the regime where real power resides with the unelected clergy.

We must face facts squarely: the Iranian regime is at war with the United States. Stating the obvious doesn't make it any more or less so, but recognizing and dealing with reality is the only way to defend American national security and the only way to achieve a victory for democratic civilization in Iraq.

Clare Lopez is the former Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee who served 20 years as a CIA operations officer. Currently she is a private consultant who speaks and publishes widely on Middle East and WMD issues.