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Revolutionary Guard at center of Iran's elusive sanctions

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard is now in the crosshairs of United Nations penalties over Tehran's nuclear program, and it's an elusive target, a master at the sanctions-busting strategies long used by the Islamic Republic.

Iran has used a combination of third-party companies, deals with deep-pocket allies such as China, and the financial cushion of its oil exports to get around sanctions. The Guard is the muscle behind the clerical rulers and has its hand in every level of the country's economic, military, foreign policy and nuclear planning.

It also is at the center of evasive strategies.

Even with two of Iran's lifelines, Russia and China, backing the latest Security Council measures, Iran denied being boxed in. Commerce Minister Mahdi Ghazanfari said yesterday in Beijing that Iran would find "new ways" to overcome the UN action.

These could include simply setting up new companies to funnel equipment to Iran's nuclear and defense programs or leaning more on friendly states such as Venezuela and perhaps even Turkey to keep money channels open, experts said.

Mustafa Alani, head of security studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said he did not see the Guard suffering a lot: "The Revolutionary Guard has developed an elaborate system to circumvent the embargo, maneuver illegal trade, bypass restrictions."

The Revolutionary Guard, as a pillar of Iran's Islamic ruling clerics, has been caught up in previous sanctions. But the latest steps take particular aim at the Guard, whose reach would be like bringing the CIA, Pentagon and Homeland Security under one roof.

The Guard also has overseen the withering attacks on opposition groups after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who dismissed Wednesday's sanctions as "annoying flies." The Guard and its paramilitary allies are expected to stage a significant show of force Saturday on the first anniversary of the vote.

Just that seemed enough to rattle the opposition. Protest leaders Mahdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi said they were calling off plans for a rally Saturday because of fears of violence.

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