Discussion Paper - International Security Program, Belfer Center

Perceptions and Narratives of Security: The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iran-Iraq War

| May 2012


This paper explores the importance of the Iran-Iraq War for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by analyzing how the Guards have used the war to present their positions on Iran's national security. It examines how the Revolutionary Guards have constructed a particular history or narrative of the war based on their experiences in and understandings of the conflict. Drawing on IRGC publications and statements by Revolutionary Guards commanders, it argues that the IRGC narrative emphasizes key features about Iran's experience in the war and presents a set of lessons to guide Iran's national security policies.

In both the IRGC narrative and in the public discourse of the Islamic Republic, the war is given two specific appellations: the Imposed War, because it was imposed on Iran by Iraq; and the Holy or Sacred Defense, because Iran was defending not just the country but the Islamic regime and even Islam itself. The IRGC narrative is shaped by several key features that shed light on how the Revolutionary Guards view Iran's security. These features include the role of the West in the war, the continuation of the Holy Defense after the formal end of the Iran-Iraq War, and the expansion of Iranian power as a result of the war.

According to IRGC leaders, the experience and results of the Iran-Iraq War hold important lessons for Iran's security. Together, the lessons form a national security doctrine that combines ideological and military components. These components include a culture of Holy Defense, the idea that religious devotion and ideological cohesion play an essential role in guaranteeing Iran's security; unity under the Supreme Leader; independent deterrence, which is meant to ensure that Iran can independently maintain a deterrent capability to prevent future attacks; faith and firepower, which represents the interconnectedness of the religious and military aspects of Holy Defense; aggressive defense, which is the idea that Iran must pursue its enemies to ensure their defeat; and the exportation of the Holy Defense to other nations in the hope that those outside Iran will understand the Iranian experience in the Iran-Iraq War.

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For Academic Citation: Samuel, Annie Tracy. “Perceptions and Narratives of Security: The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Iran-Iraq War.” Discussion Paper, 2012-06, International Security Program, Belfer Center, May 2012.

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