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Troops of the Pasdaran in Qasr-e Shirin
Copyright Lehtikuva/PHOTRI

A primacy of state interest over revolutionary ideology was reflected in the Khomeini regime's treatment of the military. Reports to the contrary notwithstanding, the Khomeini regime never eliminated imperial Iran's regular armed forces. Certainly, key military personnel identified with the deposed shah were arrested, tried, and executed. But the purges were limited to high-profile military and political figures and had a clear purpose: to eliminate Pahlavi loyalists. As a means of countering the threat posed by either the leftist guerrillas or the officers suspected of continued loyalty to the shah, however, Khomeini created the Pasdaran, designated as the guardians of the Revolution. The Constitution of the new republic entrusts the defense of Iran's territorial integrity and political independence to the military, while it gives the Pasdaran the responsibility of preserving the Revolution itself.

Days after Khomeini's return to Tehran, the Bazargan interim administration established the Pasdaran under a decree issued by Khomeini on May 5, 1979. The Pasdaran was intended to protect the Revolution and to assist the ruling clerics in the day-to-day enforcement of the new government's Islamic codes and morality. There were other, perhaps more important, reasons for establishing the Pasdaran. The Revolution needed to rely on a force of its own rather than borrowing the previous regime's tainted units. As one of the first revolutionary institutions, the Pasdaran helped legitimize the Revolution and gave the new regime an armed basis of support. Moreover, the establishment of the Pasdaran served notice to both the population and the regular armed forces that the Khomeini regime was quickly developing its own enforcement body. Thus, the Pasdaran, along with its political counterpart, Crusade for Reconstruction, brought a new order to Iran. In time, the Pasdaran would rival the police and the judiciary in terms of its functions. It would even challenge the performance of the regular armed forces on the battlefield.

Since 1979 the Pasdaran has undergone fundamental changes in mission and function. Some of these changes reflected the control of the IRP (until its abolition in 1987) over both the Pasdaran and the Crusade for Reconstruction. Others reflected the IRP's exclusive reliance on the Pasdaran to carry out certain sensitive missions. Still others reflected personal ambitions of Pasdaran leaders. The Pasdaran, with its own separate ministry, has evolved into one of the most powerful organizations in Iran. Not only did it function as an intelligence organization, both within and outside the country, but it also exerted considerable influence on government policies. In addition to its initial political strength, in the course of several years the Pasdaran also became a powerful military instrument for defending the Revolution and Islamic Iran.

Data as of December 1987