The Evolution of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard

RENEE MONTAGNE: Before announcing the release of the British marines and sailors yesterday, Iran’s president pinned a metal of bravery to the chest of the Revolutionary Guard commander who oversaw their capture. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself emerged from the Revolutionary Guard. To learn more about this elite and powerful force, we turn to two men who have known the Guard since it began.

Mr. BRUCE RIEDEL (Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution): The Iranian Revolutionary Guard was formed in May 1979, so almost immediately after the revolution. It was set up by the then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini to be the guardian of the revolution.

MONTAGNE: That’s Bruce Riedel, now at The Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Back in 1979, he was a CIA officer with the hostage task force, as he puts it, for the 444 days Americans were held in Tehran. Bruce Riedel says, the Ayatollah wanted protection against threats by Iran’s regular Army—loyal to the deposed shah—and against foreign intelligence agencies, like the CIA.

RIEDEL: The Iranians had a vivid memory of 1953, when a coup had been launched against a much-less revolutionary government in which it toppled that government and put the shah back in power. I think you can effectively characterize them as the hardliners within the Islamic Republic.

Listen to the full interview