Intelligence


Niruyeh Moghavemat Basij
Mobilisation Resistance Force

The Pasdaran was given the mandate of organizing a large people's militia, the Basij, in 1980. Islamic Revolution Guards (Vezarat-e Sepah Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Islamic) is in charge of the paramilitary national Mobilization of the Oppressed (Baseej-e Mostazafan) Organisation. It is from Basij ranks that volunteers were drawn to launch "human wave" attacks against the Iraqis, particularly around Basra.

The precise size of the Basij is an open question. Basij membership comprises mainly boys, old men, and those who recently finished their military service. Article 151 of the Constitution says the government is obligated to provide military-training facilities for everyone in the country, in accordance with the precepts of Islam under which all individuals should have the ability to take up arms in defense of their country

Iranian officials frequently cite a figure of 20 million, but this appears to be an exaggeration based on revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's November 1979 decree creating the Basij. Khomeini said at the time that "a country with 20 million youths must have 20 million riflemen or a military with 20 million soldiers; such a country will never be destroyed." In a 1985 Iranian News Agency report, Hojjatoleslam Rahmani, head of the Basij forces of the Pasdaran, was quoted as stating that there were close to 3 million volunteers in the paramilitary force receiving training in some 11,000 centers.

General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the commander of the IRGC, predicted that in the Third Five-Year Development Plan (2000-04) the number of Basijis will expand to 15 million (9 million men, 6 million women) to better counter potential domestic and foreign threats. While apparently falling short of the goal outlined in the plan, Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi estimated the number of Basij personnel at 10.3 million in March 2004 and 11 million in March 2005. Basij commander General Mohammad Hejazi said on 14 September 2005 that the Basij has more than 11 million members across the country.

Other estimates place the force at 400,000. There are about 90,000 active-duty Basij members who are full-time uniformed personnel; they are joined by up to 300,000 reservists. The Basij can mobilize up to 1 million men. This includes members of the University Basij, Student Basij, and the former tribal levies incorporated into the Basij (aka Tribal Basij). Middle-school-aged members of the Student Basij are called Seekers (Puyandegan), and high-school members are called the Vanguard (Pishgaman).

The Niruyeh Moghavemat Basij - the Mobilisation Resistance Force - was the strong right arm of Ayatollah Khomeini. Its volunteers were martyred in their tens of thousands in the Iran-Iraq war, and were given the role of moral police at home. The supreme leader's equally conservative successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been careful not to let any of Iran's overlapping security forces fall under the control of his elected rival.

Ashura Brigades were reportedly created in 1993 after anti-government riots erupted in various Iranian cities. In 1998 they consisted of 17,000 Islamic militia men and women, and were composed of elements of the Revolutionary Guards and the Baseej volunteer militia.

The Basij, or Baseej paramilitary volunteer forces, come under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. They have been active in monitoring the activities of citizens, enforcing the hijab and arresting women for violating the dress code, and seizing 'indecent' material and satellite dish antennae. In May 1999 the Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance stated in public remarks that the Government might support an easing of the satellite ban. However, Supreme Leader Khamenei, who makes the ultimate determination on issues that involve radio and television broadcasting, quickly criticised any potential change as amounting to "surrender" to Western culture, effectively ending any further debate of the idea. The "Special Basijis" are not permitted to participate in political parties or groups, although other members of the Basij can belong to political associations if they are not on a Basij mission and do not use the name or resources of the Basij for the association. Basijis can participate in specialist or trade associations.

Hezbollahi "partisans of God" consist of religious zealots who consider themselves as preservers of the Revolution. They have been active in harassing government critics and intellectuals, have firebombed bookstores and disrupted meetings. They are said to gather at the invitation of the state-affiliated media and generally act without meaningful police restraint or fear of persecution.

President Mohammad Khatami told the cabinet on 22 November 2000 that "the Basij is a progressive force which seeks to play a better role in maintaining religious faith among its allies, and acquiring greater knowledge and skills." The deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Brigadier-General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, made comments in a similar vein at the annual Basij Supreme Association for Political Studies and Analysis gathering. He told the audience that the Basij pursued military activities in the first decade after the revolution because the main threat facing Iran at the time was a military one. Now, Zolqadr explained, the Basij will become "involved anywhere if the country's security, goals, or national interests are threatened." A statement issued by the Basij Center at the Science and Technology University on 23 November 2000 explained how this will be accomplished : "The Basij Resistance Force is equipped with the most modern and up-to-date weapons and is undergoing the most advanced training. It is making such achievements that if the enemy finds out it will tremble and have a heart attack." The Basij demonstrated what it would do in case that faile during 23 November 2000 civil defense exercises, when armed Basijis took up positions in the streets and along strategic locations.

The Basij Resistance Force appeared to be undergoing something of a revival under the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. This could be connected with the organization's alleged role in securing votes for Ahmadinejad during the presidential campaign and on election day. Ahmadinejad appointed Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, the supreme leader's representative to the Basij, as an adviser in mid-August 2005. But the revival -- along with changes in the paramilitary organization's senior leadership -- could also be connected with preparations for possible civil unrest. In late September 2005, the Basij staged a series of urban defense exercises across the country. General Mirahmadi, the first deputy commander of the Basij, announced in Tehran that the creation of 2,000 Ashura battalions within the Basij will enhance Iran's defensive capabilities. Ashura units have riot-control responsibilities.




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