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Iran - Military Conscription

Compulsory conscription has been in effect since 1926, when Reza Shah's Military Service Act was passed by the Majlis. As of 2019, the Iranian armed forces number about 525,000 troops, of whom about 250,000 [mostly in the Army] were conscripts. Every year about 580,000 men reach conscription age of 18 years for compulsory military service; 16 years of age for volunteers; 17 years of age for Law Enforcement Forces; 15 years of age for Basij Forces (Popular Mobilization Army). The conscript military service obligation is 18-24 months. Women may volunteer but are exempt from military service (as of 2019). The total period of service is twenty-five years, divided as follows: two years of active military service, six years in standby military service for draftees, then eight years in first-stage reserve and nine years in second-stage reserve.

Iran's 1986 population of approximately 48.2 million (including approximately 2.6 million refugees) gave the armed forces a large pool from which to fill its manpower needs, despite the existence of rival irregular forces. Of about 8 million males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, nearly 6 million were considered physically and mentally fit for military service. Revolutionary leaders repeatedly declared that Iran could establish an army of 20 million to defend the country against foreign aggression. Since the beginning of 1986, women had also been en couraged to receive military training, and women were actually serving in special Pasdaran units as of late 1987. The decision to encourage women to join in the military effort may indicate an increasing demand for personnel or an effort to gain increased popu lar support for the Revolution. It could also have meant that conscription was not replacing war losses or retirements.

Unfit soldiers do not make good battle buddies in intense combat. In the United States by the year 2018, obesity was among other shortcomings such as physical fitness deficiencies and lack of a high school diploma that disqualified about 70% of 17-to-24-year-olds from serving. In the United States, enlistments for the Union Army totalled 2,672,341 [2,489,836 white, 178,975 African American, and 3,530 Native American troops], while estimates of enlistment strength for the Confederate Army ranges from 750,000 to 1,227,890. Somewhat less than half of white males, aged 20-39, enlisted in the Union Army, while almost all military age Confederate males served.

After the United States entered the World War, a large Army was needed immediately. About 3,800,000 men entered the Army during 1942, through inductions and enlistments. Physical standards had to be lowered to get the number of men needed. Out of the manpower pool of registrants about 17,000,000 available at that time, over 10,000,000 were drafted [the total number who served was over 16,000,000, as younger men became of draft age]. About 3,000,000 were rejected for physical reasons But it became the rule in many induction centers that if there were any doubt at all as to whether a registrant would perform satisfactorily, he should be rejected. If the candidate gave any suggestive evidence of emotional instability, such as nervousness at the time of examination, sweaty hands, or expressed fears, he was usually rejected. During the Vietnam War (1964-1973) 8,744,000 served, but by the time conscription ended in 1973, only a quarter of elligible males were actually being conscripted.

Iranian males 18 to 49 years of age are legally eligible for conscription, for an active service term of 18 months followed by voluntary reserve service. Individuals may volunteer for active duty at age 16. About 80 percent of army personnel are conscripts, as are 60 percent of the Revolutionary Guards; navy and air force personnel are mainly volunteers.

In 1984 the Majlis passed a new Military Act that amended conscription laws to reduce the high number of draft dodgers. Newspapers had carried reports of people caught trying to buy their way out of military service, at an unofficial figure of about US$8,000 for forged exemption documents. Under the pre-revolutionary law, temporary or permanent exemptions were provided for the physically disabled, hardship cases, convicted felons, students, and certain professions. Draft evaders were subject to arrest, trial before a military court, and imprisonment for a maximum of two years after serving the required two years of active duty. Few draft dodgers, if any, were sent to jail; the normal procedure was to fine them the equivalent of US$75 (1986 exchange rate).

Under the 1984 law, draft evaders were subject to restrictions for a period of up to ten years. They could be prevented from holding a driver's license, running for elective office, registering property ownership, being put on the government payroll, or receiving a passport, in addition to being forced to pay fines and/or receive jail sentences. Exemptions were given only to solve family problems. Moreover, all exemptions, except for physical disabilities, were only for five years. Those seeking relief for medical reasons had to serve but were not sent on combat duty. Under the amended law, men of draft age were subject to conscription, whether in war or peace, for a minimum period of two years and could be recalled as needed.

In the past, a consistent weakness of the armed forces had been the high illiteracy rate among conscripts and volunteers. This reflected the country-wide illiteracy rate, which stood at 60 percent in 1979. Compounding this dilemma, many conscripts came from those areas where Persian was not spoken. Thus, the military first had to teach the conscripts Persian by instituting extensive literacy training programs. By 1986 the country's overall literacy rate was estimated at 50 percent, a dramatic improvement. This gain was also reflected in the regular armed forces.

Of the three services, the air force fared best in this respect, as it had always done. Yet even the air force, which had developed training facilities for support personnel and homafars, was short of its real requirements. With the 1979 with drawal of foreign military and civilian advisers, particularly from the United States and Pakistan, the operation, maintenance, and logistical functioning of armed forces' equipment was hampered by a critical shortage of skilled manpower.

The estimated force level of the regular army increased from 325,000 in 2001 to 350,000 in 2007, a level which continued throught 2019. Of that number, an estimated 220,000 were conscripts. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had an estimated 125,000 active personnel in 2007. In 2007 the Basij had about 300,000 personnel, including 40,000 active personnel; they were authorized to carry small arms only. The Baij total force had increased to about 600,000 by 2019. According to estimates, this force, mainly composed of youths, could expand to as many as 1 million members in the event of a national emergency.

Tehran's forces had more combat experience in mobile conventional warfare than their Gulf Arab rivals, but that experience was rapidly aging. The Iranians who fought on the frontlines during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 are retired. The majority of the population, moreover, is under 25 years of age and thus has no personal memory of the Iranian Revolution. In fact, the vast majority of the combat-trained labor power Iran developed during the Iran-Iraq War left military service by the mid-1990s. Iran now has a largely conscripted force with limited military training and little combat experience.

The duration of compulsory military service ranges from 18 to 24 months, depending on the geographical location of the conscript service. General Musa Kamali, the Vice Commander of the Headquarters for Human Resources of the Iranian Armed Forces, was quoted as saying that "the duration of military service is 18 months in combat and in insecure regions, 19 months in the regions which are deprived of facilities and have bad weather conditions, 21 months in other places, and 24 months in government offices" ( Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA), 26 December 2013). In general males are expected to serve for a period of 20 months and for service in impoverished areas, the duration can last 24 months while service in boundary areas can last 22 months.

In July 2009 the Iranian parliament (Majlis) passed a new bill to cut military service in the country by 2 to 10 months for conscripts with university degrees, Iranian Press TV reported on 30 June 2009. Presently, military service lasts generally 18 months, but there are shorter terms for college graduates. According to the latest Majlis ratification, military service for conscripts with a PHD falls 10 months. Master and bachelor graduates will serve 8 and 6 months lesser respectively.

In December 2013, media sources reported that, according to General Kamali, due to a shortage of personnel, Iran may increase the length of military service to 24 months. General Kamali, the chief conscription officer of the armed forces, stated 19 December 2013 that "many exemptions, deductions and options to pay to avoid military service will be removed" in the "following year". According to General Kamali, current conscripts and people who will be serving by the end of the year, which is 20 March 2014, will not be affected by the extension of service.

There are limited exemptions available but the option to ‘buy out’ of military service has been reintroduced for some people. Exemptions from compulsory military service are in case of:

  • being the only son of the family. This exemption is for “a man who is the only male in the family and his father is over 65 years old”. According to the website of the Iranian Embassy in the UK, the only male child must be over the age of 18 and his father must be over the age of 60;
  • being “the sole caretaker of a parent, a minor or ill sibling or ill grandparents” or, only children caring for parents;
  • being “a man who has demonstrated exceptional scholastic achievement”;
  • members of the Basij are exempt from military service, which is a “possibility” if they are active in the Basij for 5 years or more;
  • “those who work in industries vital to the government or military” may also be exempt.

After the post-election political turmoil in the summer of 2009 it appeared as if the Iranian Government has eased the requirements to allow people to leave the country in the sense that a young man wishing to leave the country before having completed his military service is able to deposit a bond of 12,000 USD and be allowed travel abroad for study. If the person does not return to Iran, the amount is taken by the authorities. It was commented that young dissatisfied individuals could be perceived as a potential source of unrest by the authorities. It was considered that by allowing them to leave, the authorities were thereby getting rid of dissent.

According to the most recent resolutions, foreign resident draftees who have left the country before the date 29/12/1382 [19 March 2004, and whom after entering their 13 years of age, have been living abroad for a minimum of 2 years (as substantiated through presentation of relevant exit and entry stamps as placed in the applicant's passport by Iranian border guards and officials), were eligible for buying themselves out of Military Duty and thereby obtaining an Exemption card, upon paying the sum of 100,000,000 Rials [US$3,000], rRegardless of academic documents, or period of absence from service. This regulation was expected to be in effect up to 04/11/1390 [24 January 2012.

In December 2013, General Kamali stated that "[b]ecause of its discriminatory nature, paying off military service was never desired by the armed forces, and that option has been closed" (19 Dec. 2013). General Kamali reportedly added that "for those who live outside of the country, the option of paying off military service had been cancelled earlier this year. For those who live in the country, paying to avoid military service has not always been offered".

Once an individual is deemed exempt, they are issued a military exemption card, which identifies the reasons for their exemption. These cards will include basic biographical information, such as name and date of birth. Some indicate why the cardholder was exempted from military service. There are many reasons a man could be exempted, including, but not limited to, payment in lieu of service, medical reasons, being the only son in his family, having elderly parents, and having a brother currently serving in the military. Men who were exempted before 1990 may not have been issued a card explaining why they were exempt.

Those dismissed from mandatory military service due to their sexual orientation received special exemption cards indicating the reason for their dismissal. Iranian law requires all male citizens over 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay and transgender men, who are classified as having mental disorders. New military ID cards list the subsection of the law dictating their exemption on their ID cards, which identifies them as gay or transgender and puts them at risk of physical danger and general discrimination.

Under Iranian law, a designation as a ‘homosexual’ or transsexual/transgender is considered to constitute a medical and psychological condition that warrants an exemption from compulsory military service. Evidence suggests that those wishing to obtain an exemption on the grounds of their sexuality/gender identity have to undergo numerous humiliating physical and psychological tests and exams and provide intimate information regarding their life.

A new regulation which was passed in 2014 and had been gradually implemented in the follwoing two years, had two new features. First, it separated homosexuality from transsexuality and no longer categorized transsexuality as a form of sexual perversion, and transsexuals were thus afforded the right to permanent military exemption. Meanwhile, the new categorization still identifies both homosexuality and transsexuality as a form of mental disorder.

The Main Representative to the UN for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), a Netherlands-based organization founded in 1914 that is "against war and its preparation" with "branches, affiliates and groups in more than 40 countries" who has been monitoring issues of military service and conscientious objection worldwide with a view to reporting [and] briefing treaty bodies and other UN mechanisms and procedures indicated that "there are no provisions for alternate service" in Iran. There are reports that the Mandean/Ahwaz minority in the South-West of the country are forced to perform military service despite their pacifist religious beliefs and are consequently fleeing the country in large numbers.

Persons who are unwilling to perform military service, for whatever reason, are either recruited against their will or seek to escape or evade recruitment. Men who refuse military service and do not have an exemption are ineligible for government jobs and are furthermore not hired for high-paying jobs. People who refuse military service cannot get a passport. Failing to serve without an exemption can also result in a ban on leaving the country without special permission. Refusing to serve in the army without an exemption can result in not being granted a driver's license,

Absence without leave for more than 15 days without a valid reason is punishable by six months' to two years' imprisonment and/or 12 months extension of military service. Desertion is punishable by two to 12 months' imprisonment in case the deserter surrenders himself to the authorities. Those who avoid call-up for military service are considered deserters.

According to art. 504 of the 1996 Tazi'rat (the Islamic criminal code): "Whoever manages to incite the armed forces, or who in one way or another assists the armed forces, to rebellion, desertion, surrender or non-performance of their military duties shall be considered a Muhaarib if he intended to overturn the government or to enable the defeat of own forces by the enemy; otherwise, if the actions taken by him have been effective he will be sentenced to from two to ten years' imprisonment, and if they are not, he will be sentenced to six months' to three years' imprisonment." (A Muhaarib is someone who takes up arms against the Islamic government).

The Iranian government may reinstitute the national military service buy-out scheme in 2019 to make up for the current deficit in the Iranian military budget, ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency) reported, quoting Kamal Dehghani, the deputy chair of the Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament.) “The government’s 2019/20 budget initially excluded the option for citizens to buy their way out of the draft. However, it is likely that the Majlis may reconsider the proposal to help the military meet its budgetary requirements for next year,” Mr. Dehghani said. “The Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy will look into the government’s reasons for excluding the proposal from its 2019/20 budget given the fact that the conscription buy-out was allowed in previous years.”

Dehghani explained: “Barring any objections from the government, the Majlis will include the proposal in next year’s budget. However, we won’t consider the plan if the government makes a strong case against it.”

Meanwhile, the director of the Human Resources Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Brigadier-General Mousa Kamali, has said that the “fee amnesty program” will not be renewed next year. Under the current amnesty plan, citizens who have not reported for compulsory military service for eight years after they first become eligible have until the end of the Iranian year (March 20, 2019) to pay a fine and avoid conscription. According to Commander Kamali, the eight-year rule also applies to military deserters and university students who were exempt from the national service while in school but had quit their studies without informing the draft registration office.

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Page last modified: 20-07-2019 12:07:30 ZULU