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World Spotlight: Iran’s Shadow Army

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DEPARTMENT

The damaging detail behind the seizure of 15 British Royal Marines and sailors is that the troops were captured by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Soaked with nationalist ideology, the IRGC is controlled by hard-line cleric Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate font of religious and political power in Iran, and exists in many ways apart from the rest of the Iranian government. The Guards’ activities are often a thorn in the side of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, which is forced to repair the ruptures in Tehran’s diplomatic relations. Nevertheless, the IRGC has been one of Iran’s main instruments in projecting power and influence over the past few decades. It has its own army, air force and navy. And it is known for actively supporting militant groups like Hizballah in Lebanon and is suspected of aiding Shi’ite militias within Iraq. Iran had indicated it would release the lone female sailor, Faye Turney, but first, its tactics with her began to look more like those of an Iraqi kidnap group than of a nation-state. On March 28, Iran broadcast footage of Turney wearing a black head scarf and smoking a cigarette. In a halting voice, she said, “Obviously we trespassed into their waters … They were very, very compassionate.”

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