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Iran - Military Personnel

The Iranian armed forces under the Shah were divided between two-year conscripts and volunteers. An estimated 70 percent of ground forces personnel were conscripts, but they constituted only 10 to 20 percent of the military personnel in the air force and navy. The rest were cadre volunteers. The bulk of the conscripts and the NCOs came from the lowest strata of the population and were susceptible to the same religious and political influences that produced the anti-Shah crowds in 1978. In contrast, the officer corps was drawn largely from the middle class.

Armed forces manpower increased substantially throughout the 1970s as the Shah implemented Iran's "guardian" role in the Gulf. With the departure of the Shah from Iran on January 16, 1979, "for a short vacation abroad," the armed forces became disoriented. As far as the armed forces were concerned, almost all revolutionary factions agreed on several points. They wanted to end the military's political influence, reduce its size, and do away with privileges accorded to senior officers. As early as May 1979 the government announced its intention to cut the armed forces in half. Simultaneously the length of service for conscripts was reduced from 24 to 12 months, and conscription was not enforced.

Following the outbreak of the Revolution, there was a sharp drop in the number of military personnel, which in 1982 stood at 235,000, including the Pasdaran but excluding reserves. In contrast, total military personnel, including the Pasdaran but excluding reserves, stood at 704,500 in 1986. In addition to active-duty personnel, some 400,000 veterans, organized in reserve units after the outbreak of the war, were subject to recall to duty. Two-thirds of army per sonnel were conscripts; in the air force and navy, the majority were volunteers.

The National Military Academy was the largest single source of commissioned officers in the 1970s, but since 1980 a significant number of commissions have been awarded for wartime heroism and leadership at the front. Although air force and navy officers had attended military academies or participated in cadet programs in the United States, Britain, or Italy before 1979, few foreign con tacts have been recorded since the Revolution. In the few instances in which contact was established, it was with Asian states, namely China and North Korea. Unlike the army, the air force and navy have experienced high attrition, and it must be assumed that opera tions have been streamlined to be effective with fewer personnel.

Class differences in the armed forces remained virtually undis turbed by the Revolution. Commissioned officers came from upper class families, career noncommissioned and warrant officers from the urban middle class, and conscripts from lower class back grounds. By 1986, an increasing segment of the officer corps came from the educated middle class, and a significant number of lower middle-class personnel were commissioned by Khomeini for leader ship on the battlefield.

The purges had an enormous effect on the professional inilitary. As to its extent, there is little doubt that most, if not all, of the Shah's flag officers - some 500 people - were executed, imprisoned, forcibly retired, or escaped abroad. Altogether, over 10,000 military personnel of all ranks were purged in one way or other during the first year after the revolution; by September 1980 it was officially announced that the number of purged military personnel had gone over 12,000. RAND estimated that by early 1986 the total number of purged military personnel topped 23,000. The purges had a largely negative effect on the professional military's ability to conduct combat operations, especially in the more technically oriented services-the air force, the navy, and the army aviation command.

The value of the professional military, and a competent one, was forcibly brought home to senior clerics in late 1979 and early 1980. In November 1979, the American hostages were seized, bringing the threat of a possible U.S. attack to free them. After this point, more attention was paid to the professional military. Khomeyni called for restoration of strict discipline and ordered an increase in the size of the armed forces. Conscription, which was already reintroduced, was increased to eighteen months and enforced more seriously.

Under the Shah, conscripts were technically in the reserve until the age of 44, but reservists remained unorganized, unarmed, and untrained. The active component of the professional military generally viewed reservists only as a "last recourse"-old men to be armed for the final defense. Indeed, reservists considered themselves not even as "weekend warriors" and were thus denied adequate resources and management attention.

In the first post-Revolutionary years, the mobilization of former conscripts continued to be a moot point for the professional military: it was simply not in a position to do anything effective in this field. After the outbreak of the war with Iraq, Islamic authorities were quick to recognize the need for military mobilization of the population. However, when attempts were made to deal with many problems associated with the management of this effort, it was decided to leave the professional military entirely out of the task. instead, the newly established IRGC was charged with directing, organizing, training, and deployment of hundreds of thousands of volunteer civilians.16 Since then, the power and authority for mobilizing Iran's manpower resources against Iraq have continued to be concentrated in the IRGC. In the meantime, regular ex-conscripts had never been called up for active duty.

Since the Islamic revolution the Iranian officer corps witnessed the emergence of an increasing number of junior level officers who accepted the regime's ideology ar-i political directives. In the 1980s, this type of officer constituted the most dynamic, fastest growing, and most powerful group within the regular armed forces. Many of these officers had great authority among the conscripts; and unlike many of their colleagues, they enjoyed some freedom of action.

At the conclusion of the IranIraq War, the government faced the need to reintegrate hundreds of thousands of young Basij volunteers into Iranian society. One solution was to use the Basij for reconstruction work, particularly under Irans first postrevolutionary five-year economic development plan implemented by the Rafsanjani administration. This provided Basij members, who were mostly from the lower class, with an income and a role serving the Revolution. The second solution was to assign the Basij the duty of upholding Islamic values.

The Basij force was recruited mainly among young people, including many who drop out of high school to join. Young volunteers receive significant incentives to join the Basij. Senior political leaders often have praised the Basij for its contributions to various civilian projects such as earthquake relief work. The force is available for any situation deemed an emergency or a threat to national security. In case of war, the regular armed forces would engage the enemy first, followed by the IRGC and then the Basij. Among the Basijs domestic missions have been encouraging and enforcing the Islamization of society, nighttime patrolling of urban streets and intersections, and policing of areas where young people gather, such as universities and the sites of weekend and summer youth activities.

Involvement in Basiij provides poor youth, especially young male students, with both short and long-term economic and academic incentives. In helping to monitor internal security in Iran by engaging in various activities such as religious ceremonies and the policing of the morals of peers in their schools or communities, poor young Basiijis are able to accumulate a variety of official benefits including gym discounts, special consideration for college enrollment (thereby increasing their chances of university acceptance) and army conscription waivers. Like networks of mutual aid, these diverse and generous incentives helped poor youth to keep expenses to a minimum. Unlike other accumulation strategies, however, Basiij benefits particularly the reduced army conscription time period and college enrollment benefits had the added advantage of enabling the young person to enter college and/or join the labor force much earlier than they would have been able to otherwise.

Military service in the Islamic Republic, while still an avenue of social mobility, does not provide officers with the means to cross into a higher economic class as quickly as before. Moreover, allegations of officers' abusing military funds and resources, so prevalent under the Shah, have become all but nonexistent.

Most of the personnel who gained combat experience in the IranIraq War had left military service by the mid-1990s. Experts do not rate Irans military training highly, so the potential combat performance of the ground forces is unknown.

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Page last modified: 20-07-2019 12:07:29 ZULU