The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), or Sepah for short in Farsi, is widely believed to have played a large role in orchestrating the crackdown on political dissidents and protesters following the disputed presidential election. Its political influence within the regime has always far exceeded the actual army’s and has increased exponentially since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to office in 2005. But the speculation among Iranian opposition sources is that, these days, the IRGC’s powerful patron, whose second term began officially last week, has now become its puppet, falling under the influence of a gang of security chiefs (the so-called “New Right”) that harbors schemes to further radicalize the regime, or to topple it in a military takeover…

Meanwhile, the IRGC has been cleaning house. According to an opposition adviser who maintains close ties to the Guard leadership, at least five commanders sympathetic to the reformists were put under house arrest in the aftermath of the election. These purges within Iran’s security apparatus consolidated power in the hands of the top Guard commanders, who form a united hardliner bloc opposed to reconciliation with the opposition or the West. The IRGC then is the most effective power bloc in the country, certainly more cohesive in its top leadership than the conservative political faction, which has seen spats between the Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. The Revolutionary Guard leadership has a vested financial interest in maintaining the regime’s radical platform and in further isolating the Islamic Republic from the West. According to an in-depth study by the RAND Corporation, the IRGC reaps $12 billion a year from smuggling operations alone.