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Revolutionary Guard Leading Iran?

(AP Photo/ISNA, Ruhollah Vahdati)
Iran's elite military force, the Revolutionary Guard, has become the spine of a "military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system," according to an expert interviewed by The New York Times.

Rasool Nafisi, an Iran expert who recently co-authored a study on the Guard for the RAND Corporation, argues that the military wing has greatly extended its power in Iranian politics and society amid the chaos following the contested June 12 presidential elections.

At left: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accompanied by Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, right, and Chief of the Revolutionary Guard's general staff Ali Akbar Ahmadian, left, listen to the national anthem as he arrives for a meeting of Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran in a Sept. 11, 2007 file photo.

The Times article says the Guard is much more than a division of Iran's military — it has control over the country's missiles and at least some control over the nuclear program, but it also generates huge wealth through business enterprises ranging from laser-eye surgery to black market trading.

And the Guard is a great benefactor of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (a former member himself), who opposition leaders claim stole the election through massive, organized fraud.

Since he took office, according to The Times report, the Guard has won some 750 government contracts — none of which are subject to oversight by Iran's Parliament.

The Guard's fast-growing tentacles, which touch every aspect of Iranian life, combined with its lead role in the post-election crackdown on opposition voices, "has led many political analysts to describe the events surrounding the June 12 presidential election as a military coup," according to the paper.