Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is involved in training recruits to believe that jihad can be an offensive ideology and that thousands of young Shi’ites across the Middle East should answer Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei’s calls for military strikes, a new report shows.
Titled ‘Beyond Borders: The Expansionist Ideology of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ and published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the report looks deeply at Iran’s training of IRGC members. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Tuesday about the key findings.
Kasra Aarabi, who authored the report, concludes that for over four decades “the Iranian regime has worked tirelessly to impose a totalitarian state-sanctioned Shia Islamist ideology, both inside and outside Iran. Nowhere is the engine of this ideology more visible than the IRGC.” The way that Iran’s regime indoctrinates people including recruits to the IRGC is to present itself and Shi’ites as victims and claim it is “resisting.”
This may have been true in the 1970s and 1980s, but today Iran is more often the aggressor in places like Syria and its allies are often involved in suppressing protests in Iraq and Lebanon.
Iran’s IRGC pushes a sectarian message arguing, according to the report, that Shi’ites are under attack from a “[Sunni] Arab-Zionist-Western axis.” Images circulated on Telegram accounts and social media show how they push claims that the US and the West created ISIS, or that Jews and Israelis created Saudi Wahhabist Islam.
The report documents how Iran’s IRGC has presented its role as part of a religious war. This is an all-encompassing ideology that embraces not only concepts like “jihad” but also instructs volunteers on how to organize their family life and pushes a chauvinist line of thinking.
The author compares the documents to the Salafist-Jihadi worldview of groups like ISIS, and argues that both the IRGC and its extremist opponents on the other fringe manipulate scripture. Imagery is important here too. The IRGC symbol, used by its proxies and allies, is a first holding a rifle which denotes “the supposed religious legitimacy of violence.”
The end goal now is to expand the IRGC’s role, through billions sent to the Syrian war for instance. It also involves support for groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, various Shi’ite militias and groups in Iraq such as the Badr Organization and Kataib Hezbollah, and groups in Afghanistan and Yemen. Iran’s expansion via the IRGC is now at its highest point historically. It is aiming for a kind of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.
In Blair’s speech he outlined Iran’s challenge and current policies that the US and other countries are using. He noted that the IRGC’s role is critical to Iran’s responses. The recent killing of Qasem Soleimani could change the IRGC’s behavior. “If it continues as under [Qasem] Soleimani, it will make impossible any such discussion with Iran. The Iranian regime there has a fundamental choice. The West should be united in making it choose wisely.”
IRGC is critical to this. If it continues as under Soleimani, it will make impossible any such discussion with Iran. The Iranian regime therefore has a fundamental choice. The West should be united in making it choose wisely. The Tony Blair Institute has recommended that policymakers limit the activity and reach of the IRGC. That means designating it as a foreign terrorist organization, as the US has done. It should also be viewed through the “countering violent extremism” lens. IRGC propaganda should be confronted online using technology. Understanding its training manual and worldview is key to this as well.
At the same time that the IRGC’s training has been revealed, other reports emerged at Al-Hurra that Iran has paid up to 32,000 agents in Iraq over the years. This is important because Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, many of them affiliated with the paramilitary elements of the security forces, have been accused of killing more than 500 people in recent protests.
This fits the Iranian regime model of killing protesters last November. Groups implicated include Saraya Khorasani, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and the Badr Organization. All of these are linked to the IRGC, with some of their leaders having trained in Iran in the 1980s. Hadi al-Amiri of Badr trained in Iraq. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis of Kataib also did. He was killed by the US on January 3 alongside Soleimani.
In November last year The Intercept and New York Times revealed leaked Iranian intelligence files showing how Iran has sought to dominate Iraq and create a network of agents, informers and loyal politicians throughout the country. The recent study adds to our knowledge of the overall Iranian IRGC octopus and its role in Iraq and the region.