|Army of the Guardians of
the Islamic Revolution
|Supreme Leader of Iran|
|Intelligence Protection Organization|
|Imam Hossein University|
The Basij (Persian: بسيج (lit. "The Mobilization"), Niruyeh Moghavemat Basij ("Mobilisation Resistance Force"), full name Sāzmān-e Basij-e Mostaz'afin (Persian: سازمان بسیج مستضعفین, "The Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed") is a paramilitary volunteer militia established in Iran in 1979 by order of Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution. The organization originally consisted of civilian volunteers who were urged by Khomeini to fight in the Iran–Iraq war. Today the force consists of young Iranians who volunteer, often in exchange for official benefits. Basij serve as an auxiliary force engaged in activities such as internal security, law enforcement auxiliary, providing social services, organizing public religious ceremonies, policing morals, and suppression of dissident gatherings. The force is named Basij; an individual member is called basiji.
The Basij are subordinate to and receive their orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Khomeini, to whom they are known for their loyalty.<REF name="english.khamenei.ir"/> They have a local organization in almost every city in Iran.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for the foundation of a youth militia in November 1979, during the Iranian Revolution. The was Basij established on 30 April 1980. It was open to those above the age of 18 and below the age of 45, including all women in that age category.
During the Iran–Iraq War hundreds of thousands volunteered for the Basij, including children as young as 12 and unemployed old men, some in their eighties. These volunteers were swept up in Shi'i love of martyrdom and the atmosphere of patriotism of the war mobilization. They were encouraged through visits to the schools and an intensive media campaign. The Basij may best be known for their employment human wave attacks which cleared minefields or draw the enemy's fire. It is estimated that tens of thousands were killed in the process.
The typical human wave tactic was for Basijis (often very lightly armed and unsupported by artillery or air power) to march forward in straight rows. While casualties were high, the tactic often worked.
According to Dilip Hiro, by the spring of 1983 the Basij had trained 2.4 million Iranians in the use of arms and sent 450,000 to the front. In 1985 the IRNA put the number of Basijis at 3 million, quoting from Hojjatoleslam Rahmani. Tehran Bureau estimates the peak number of Basijis at the front at 100,000 by December 1986.
According to the New York Times, after the spontaneous celebrations following Iran winning a spot in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and the student protests in July 1999, the Islamic government felt that it had lost control of the streets, and reactivated the Basij. Giving a slightly different timeline, GlobalSecurity.org reports that it was revived around 2005.
The Iranian Government has drawn up a number of different plans to keep the Basij alive. Among these plans is the emphasis on ideas such as Development Basij (Basij-e-Sazandegi). Along with the Iranian riot police and the Ansar-e-Hezbollah, the Basij have been active in suppressing student demonstrations in Iran. The Basij are sometimes differentiated from the Ansar in being more "disciplined" and not beating, or at least not being as quick to beat demonstrators. Other sources describe the Ansar-e-Hezbollah as part of the Basij.
Some believe the change in focus of the Basij from its original mission of fighting to defend Iran in the Iran-Iraq War to its current internal security concerns has led to a loss in its prestige and morale.
2009 election protests
Mir Hussein Moussavi, opposition presidential candidate in 2009, decried violent attacks by the Basij during the 2009 Iranian election protests. There have also been reports of poor performance by Basij after the 2009 election. This was thought to be a reason for the replacement of commander Hossein Taeb and the Basij's formal integration into the Revolutionary Guards ground forces in October 2009. Following the protests, Hojjatoleslam Hossein Taeb, commander of the Basij, stated that eight people were killed and 300 wounded in the violence.
Syrian Civil War, 2011–present
A Western analyst believed thousands of Iranian paramilitary Basij fighters were stationed in Syria as of December 2013. Syria's geopolitical importance to Iran and its role as one of Iran's crucial allies prompted the involvement of Basij militiamen in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The Basij militia, similar to Hizballah fighters, work with the Syrian army against rebel forces. Such involvement poses new foreign policy challenges for a number of countries across the region, particularly Israel and Turkey as Iran's influence becomes more than just ideological and monetary on the ground in the Syrian conflict. The Basij involvement in the Syrian Civil War reflects previous uses of the militia as a proxy force for Iranian foreign policy in an effort to assert Iranian dominance in the region and frightens Salim Idriss, head of the Free Syrian Army.
Organization and membership
Basij form the fifth branch of the Army of the Revolutionary Guard. It is organized into the Imam Hossein Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades (which deal with security threats). Subgroupings of the Basij include the Pupil Basij [Basij-e Danesh-Amouzi], the Student Basij [Basij-e Daneshjouyi], the University Basij, the Public Service Basij (Basij-e Edarii), and the Tribal Basij. Tehran Bureau also lists a "Basij of the Guilds" (Basij-e Asnaf), and a "Labor Basij" (Basij-e Karegaran). Estimates of the number of Basij vary, with its leadership giving higher figures than outside commentators. Official estimates are as high as 23.8 million.
The first deputy commander General Mirahmadi was formally installed on 4 September 2005. The Tehran commander is Seyyed Mohammad Haj Aqamir. The deputy Basij commander for Tehran, General Ahmad Zolqadr, was formally installed on 5 September 2005; the new Basij commander in Tabrizi, Brigadier General Mohammad Yusef Shakeri, on 29 September 2005.
Duties and activities
According to Radio Liberty, by the end of the war, most of the Basijis left the service and were reintegrated back into their lives, often after years of being in the front. By 1988 the number of Basij checkpoints dramatically decreased, but the Basij were still enforcing the hijab, arresting women for violating the dress code, and arresting youths for attending mixed gender parties or being in public with unrelated members of the opposite sex.
Duties vary by province. Basij are deployed against drug traffickers in the eastern border regions and smugglers in Hormuzgan and Bushehr, and on the border with Iraq.
The Ashura Brigades were created in 1993. These Islamic brigades were made up of both Revolutionary Guards and the Basij and by 1998 numbered 17,000.
Benefits and profile of members
Benefits for members of the Basij reportedly include exemption from the 21 months of military service required for Iranian men, reserved spots in universities, and a small stipend. Members of Basij are more likely than non-members to obtain government positions, especially security related positions within government controlled institutions. Many Iranians reportedly join Basij only to take advantage of the benefits membership and to get admission to university or as a tool to get promotion in government jobs.
As the Basij is a volunteer paramilitary organisation, most Basiji are not permitted to carry a firearm except for special requirements. This means that only about 25% of Basij carry firearms, usually an AK-47. However, there is no rule saying that they cannot use any other weaponry, an issue which has brought major controversy.
In theory the Basij are banned from involvement in politics by the Iranian constitution, but its leadership is considered active, particularly during and after the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Supreme Leader Khomeini described Basij as "the greatest hope of the Iranian nation" and "an immaculate tree".
In past elections militia members have voted for both hardliners and reformists. President Ahmadinejad enjoys significant support from militia members, many of whom have benefited from his policies.
- List of armed groups in the Syrian Civil War
- Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution
- Hezbollah of Iran
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