Iran's Revolutionary Guards: Feared Unit Firing on Protesters Revealed

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been accused of opening fire on protesters, in the latest claim of brutality against the country's military force which is playing a key role in curbing unprecedented unrest.

Footage purportedly filmed in Javanrud, a Kurdish town in the west of the country shows bystanders accusing IRGC members on Monday of using Soviet-era machine guns to target demonstrators, leaving at least five people dead, activists said.

Meanwhile, the Norway-based Hengaw rights group said that on Saturday, IRGC members fired on family members who were mourning a slain protester in Bukan whose body was seized and buried "secretly."

Hengaw said on Monday that at least 30 anti-government protesters have been killed by security forces in Kurdish-populated cities in western Iran in the past week, the BBC reported, as accusations of brutality against the IRGC mount.

Iranians mourn Izeh in Iran's Khuzestan province
People mourn in front of the coffins of people killed in a shooting attack, during their funeral in the city of Izeh in Iran's Khuzestan province, on November 18, 2022. Unrest has swept through the country for more than 10 weeks, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) accused of carrying out a crackdown on protesters. ALIREZA MOHAMMADI/Getty Images

Iranian authorities have described the protests as "riots" while activists have warned that Tehran will use capital punishment to quell the protest movement after the judiciary confirmed six death sentences.

Demonstrations across the country were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, after the 22-year-old Kurdish woman was arrested three days earlier by the country's morality police, accused of improperly wearing a hijab.

Initially exercised by the status of women's rights in Iran, protesters have expressed anger at the clerical leadership under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei which faces its biggest challenge since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which ousted the dynasty of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

What is the IRCG?

The IRGC was founded following the revolution as a counterweight to inherited state institutions. At the top of the country's security architecture, it operates beyond the bounds of the law and the judiciary and answers to the supreme leader, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

It has used brute force to quell previous challenges to the ruling regime, such as student protests in 1999 and demonstrations that followed the 2009 presidential election, making them the main obstacle for the current protests which are in their third month.

"Their mission is stated in the Constitution to safeguard the revolution and to expand it," Nazenin Ansari, editor of the publications for the global Iranian community Kayhan London and KayhanLife.com, told Newsweek. "It is also tasked with exporting the revolution and defending the Islamic Republic abroad, as well."

The IRGC has become one of the most powerful paramilitary organizations in the Middle East and has assisted militant groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Syria.

The Basij paramilitary force

Since the privatization of most state industries under the presidency of Akbar Rafsanjani, which lasted from 1989 to 1997, the IRGC also exerts control of a large chunk of the Iranian economy including in the information technology and communications sectors.

"They've created an architecture in which all the networks are controlled by them," Ansari said.

However, "this is not working anymore for them," she said, as protesters have managed to organize using social media despite the restricted media environment.

The IRGC has also become a central player in Iran's domestic politics with former Revolutionary Guard commanders appointed to top political posts, and former guardsmen in parliament pushing a hard-line foreign policy.

Key to tackling the latest protests is the Basij paramilitary force. It can mobilize up to 600,000 volunteers who work often in exchange for official benefits and act as an auxiliary force to help enforce internal security and state control over society.

The CFR said that it was brought under the direct command of the IRGC in 2007 in what is believed to combat perceived internal threats to the regime and can infiltrate demonstrations and act as informers.

Ansari said members are often sent to parts of the country they are not from. "It's usually done so that they don't have any connections to the communities they want to crack down on," she said.