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Formation26 November 1979; 43 years ago (1979-11-26) (decreed)[1]
30 April 1980; 43 years ago (1980-04-30) (founded)[1]
FounderRuhollah Khomeini[1]
TypeParamilitary volunteer militia[1]
Methods"To create the necessary capabilities in all individuals believing in the constitution and goals of the Islamic revolution to defend the country, the regime of the Islamic Republic, and aid people in cases of disasters and unexpected events"[1]
FieldsInternal security, law enforcement, moral policing, military reserves[1]
Over 11 million reserves[2]
600,000 available for immediate call-up[3]
Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Soleimani


Unoffically Mojtaba Khamenei (alleged)
Parent organization
None (1980–81)
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (since 1981)
Budget (1395 SH)
Increase $357.08 million[4]
Staff (2005)
90,000 (CSIS estimate)[1]

The Basij (Persian: بسيج, lit. "The Mobilization"), Niru-ye Moghāvemat-e Basij (Persian: نیروی مقاومت بسیج, "Resistance Mobilization Force"), full name Sâzmân-e Basij-e Mostaz'afin (Persian: سازمان بسیج مستضعفین, "The Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed"),[5][6] is one of the five forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).[7] The force is named Basij; an individual member is called basiji in the Persian language.[8] As of July 2019, Gholamreza Soleimani is the commander of the Basij.

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, often from poor, rural backgrounds,[9] who were urged by Khomeini to fight in the Iran–Iraq War.[10] It was an independent organization until 17 February 1981, when it was officially incorporated into the Revolutionary Guards organization structure by the Iranian Parliament[11] in order to end the interservice rivalry between the two, according to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.[1]

Today, the force consists of young Iranians, usually drawn from the traditionally religious and politically loyalist parts of Iran's society,[9] who volunteer, often in exchange for official benefits. They serve as an auxiliary force engaged in enforcing state control over society,[12] acting as a morality police at checkpoints and parks, and suppressing dissident gathering,[9] as well as serving as law enforcement auxiliary, providing social services, organizing public religious ceremonies.[13][14] The force was often present and reacting to the widespread 2009 Iranian election protests and 2017–18 Iranian protests.[15] The Basij are subordinate to and receive their orders from the IRGC and the Supreme Leader of Iran,[16][17] who "routinely" praises them.[18]They are said to be "tightly affiliated" with the Islamic Republic's "hardline" political faction.[9] They have a local organization in almost every city in Iran.[19]

Basij, being part of the IRGC, is designated as a terrorist organization by the governments of the United States, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.[20]


Basij (Persian: بسيج) is a Persian word defined variously as mobilization, public preparation, nation will and popular determination, and the unity and preparation of the people to do important works.[21]


Iran–Iraq War[edit]

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for the foundation of a youth militia in November 1979, during the Iranian Revolution.[5] The Basij was established on 30 April 1980.[8] It was open to those above the age of 18 and below the age of 45.

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'a love of martyrdom and the atmosphere of patriotism of the war mobilization; most often they came from poor, peasant backgrounds. They were encouraged through visits to schools and an intensive media campaign. During the war, the Revolutionary Guard Corps used Basiji members as a pool from which to draw manpower.[22] The Basij may best be known for their employment of human wave attacks which cleared minefields or drew the enemy's fire.[23] It is estimated that tens of thousands were killed through the use of this tactic.

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 when employed against poorly trained members of the Iraqi regular army.[24][25]

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.[26] In 1985 the IRNA put the number of Basijis at 3 million, quoting from Hojjatoleslam Rahmani.[5] Tehran Bureau estimates the peak number of Basijis at the front at 100,000 by December 1986.[8]

According to Radio Liberty, by the end of the Iran-Iraq war, most of the Basijis left the service and were reintegrated back into their lives, often after years of being in the front.[27] By 1988, the number of Basij checkpoints dramatically decreased,[28] 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.[29]

In 1988, college Basiji organizations were established on college campuses to fight "Westoxification" and potential student agitation against the government.[29]


According to Reuters, the Basij were not disbanded after the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, but continued as a loyalist and religious paramilitary group that provides the regime "with manpower and a heavy presence during pro-government rallies".[9] But according to The New York Times, the Basij were reactivated in the late 1990s when the spontaneous celebrations following Iran winning a spot in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and the student protests in July 1999, gave the Islamic government the feeling that it had lost control of the streets.[16] (Giving a slightly different timeline, reports that it was revived around 2005.)[28]

Part of the Basij revival was an emphasis on concepts such as Development Basij (Basij-e-Sazandegi),[28] but protecting the regime from unrest was a high priority. 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.[30] Other sources describe the Ansar-e-Hezbollah as part of the Basij.[16]

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.[31]

2009 election protests[edit]

Mir Hussein Moussavi, opposition presidential candidate in 2009, decried violent attacks by the Basij during the 2009 Iranian election protests.[16] There have also been reports of poor performance by Basij after the 2009 election.[8] 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.[8] Following the protests, Hojjatoleslam Hossein Taeb, commander of the Basij, stated that eight people were killed and 300 wounded in the violence.[32]

In 2010, an anonymous Norwegian student doing research in Iran claims he witnessed gruesome atrocities inside a Basij camp after being abducted by the unit while riding on a bus. According to the account the student gave to Norwegian embassy officials, he witnessed detained political dissidents being 'disemboweled', burned to death, and deliberately crushed by a riot control truck.[33]

During the protests, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei created the Haydaryan, a new paramilitary force specifically dedicated to preserving his position; several of the founding Haydaryan members came from the Basij.[34]

Syrian Civil War, 2011–2021[edit]

A Western analyst believed thousands of Iranian paramilitary Basij fighters were stationed in Syria as of December 2013.[35] 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 Hezbollah 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.[clarification needed][36] 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[37] and frightens Salim Idriss, head of the Free Syrian Army.[38]

Mahsa Amini protests (2022-2023)[edit]

According to Reuters, Basij were at the "forefront" of the Islamic Republic's efforts to stamp out the protests over the death of Mahsa Amini and related lack of political and social freedoms the country. The protests, starting in September 2022 and dying out the following spring, led to over 500 deaths, including the deaths of 68 of 15 September 2023. [note 1]. The Iranian state media reports that security forces such as the Basij were targeted by "rioters and gangs"[9] in their efforts to restore order and stop the destruction of public property by protesters,[9] and that by 6 January 2023, 68 security force members were killed in the unrest.[40] (However, according to BBC Persian service, these figures may not be reliable as some of those reported by state media to be loyalist Basij militiamen killed by the "rioters", were actually protesters killed by security forces, whose families were pressured by security forces to go along with the false reporting, threating them with death if they failed to cooperate.)[41]

Organization, membership, duties, activities[edit]

Basij form the fifth branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It is organized into the Imam Hossein Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades (which deal with security threats).[8] Its security apparatus includes armed brigades, anti-riot police and an extensive network of informers.[18]

Subgroupings of the Basij include the

  • Primary Pupils Basij [Basij-e Danesh-Amouzi],
  • the Students Basij [Basij-e Daneshjouyi],
  • the University Basij,
  • the Public Service Basij (Basij-e Edarii), and
  • the Tribal Basij.[27]

Tehran Bureau also lists a "Basij of the Guilds" (Basij-e Asnaf), and a "Labor Basij" (Basij-e Karegaran).[8] Australian Broadcasting Corporation lists them as having branches across the country, as well as "student organisations, trade guilds, and medical faculties".[18] according to the US Treasury, the Basij have a multi-billion-dollar "covert network" of businesses.[18]

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.[42] A scholar of the Basij, Saeid Golkar, estimates their total membership at approximately one million, and their security forces in the tens of thousands.[18] As of 2020 there were reportedly 54000 bases around Iran.[43]

Duties and activities[edit]

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.[44]

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.[5]

According to Golkar,[12] the Basij are used to spread the state's ideology, serve as propaganda machine in political campaigns, justify clerical rule, protect politicians, and enforce Islamic morality and rules. They are part of the Islamic Republic's of Iran's overall avowed plan to have millions of informers. The Basiji also undermine dissent; for instance, they play a key role in suppressing uprisings and demonstrations.[12]

Basij are presence at every Iranian university to monitor morality (primarily dress) and behaviour. (In part this is because Universities and other places of post-secondary education are where Iranian males and females "meet for the first time in a mixed educational environment").[9]


The Basij is currently commanded by Gholamreza Soleimani, who replaced Gholamhossein Gheybparvar in 2019.[45]

No. Portrait Commander Took office Left office Time in office Ref.
Amir Majd
Majd, AmirAmir MajdDecember 1979December 19811–2 years[46]
Ahmad Salek
Salek, AhmadAhmad Salek
(born c. 1946)
December 1981February 19842–3 years[46]
Mohammad-Ali Rahmani
Rahmani, Mohammad-AliMohammad-Ali Rahmani
(born 1943)
16 February 1984January 19905–6 years[46][47]
Alireza Afshar
Afshar, AlirezaBrigadier general
Alireza Afshar
(born c. 1951)
199019987–8 years
Mohammad Hejazi
Hejazi, MohammadBrigadier general
Mohammad Hejazi
199820078–9 years
Hossein Taeb
Taeb, HosseinHossein Taeb
(born 1963)
200720091–2 years
Mohammad Reza Naqdi
Naqdi, Mohammad RezaBrigadier general
Mohammad Reza Naqdi
(born c. 1952 or 1961)
200920166–7 years
Gholamhossein Gheybparvar
Gheybparvar, GholamhosseinBrigadier general
Gholamhossein Gheybparvar
201620192–3 years
Gholamreza Soleimani
Soleimani, GholamrezaBrigadier general
Gholamreza Soleimani
(born 1964)
2019Incumbent3–4 years

Benefits and profile of members[edit]

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.[16] Members of Basij are more likely than non-members to obtain government positions, especially security related positions within government-controlled institutions. While some joined the Basij because of genuine religious convictions, others reportedly join Basij only to take advantage of the benefits of membership and to get admission to university or as a tool to get promotion in government jobs.[12][48]


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.[8] In past elections militia members have voted for both hardliners and reformists. President Ahmadinejad enjoyed significant support from militia members, many of whom have benefited from his policies during his presidency.[49] Supreme Leader Khamenei described Basij as "the greatest hope of the Iranian nation" and "an immaculate tree".[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ according to the non-profit organization Iran Human Rights[39]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Robin B. Wright, ed. (2010), The Iran Primer: Power, Politics, and U.S. Policy, US Institute of Peace Press, pp. 62–65, ISBN 978-1601270849
  2. ^ "تعداد اعضای بسیج بیش از 25 میلیون نفر".
  3. ^ Kenneth Katzman (6 February 2017), "Iran's Foreign and Defense Policies" (PDF), Congressional Research Service, Federation of American Scientists, p. 24, archived (PDF) from the original on 8 March 2017, retrieved 1 March 2017
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  13. ^ Molavi, Afshin, The Soul of Iran, W. W. Norton, (2005), p. 88, 316–318
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  21. ^ بسیج
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  31. ^ Scott Peterson (16 June 2003). "Iran's angry young adults erupt in political protest 16.6.2003". The Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  32. ^ Iran opposition says 72 died in post-poll unrest Reuters. 3 September 2009
  33. ^ "FroM AMErican EMBASSY OSLO. TO RUEHC/SECretary of STATE WASHington DC 0021 INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IRAN COLLECTIVE ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE C O N F I D E N T I A L" (PDF). 2020/02/09. Retrieved 29 September 2023. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  42. ^ سردار نقدی در برنامه تلویزیونی «متن – حاشیه»:23 میلیون و 800 هزار نفر عضو بسیج هستند/ از کسی تا کنون شکایت نکرده ایم/ رابطه بسیج با این دولت مانند دولت قبل است Archived 23 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Fars news agency, 23 November 2015
  43. ^ سردار سپهر: ۵۴ هزار پایگاه بسیج برای رزمایش کمک مومنانه فعالیت می کنند
  44. ^ Iran's Basij Force – The Mainstay Of Domestic Security Archived 10 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine, By Hossein Aryan, RFERL, 7 December 2008
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  47. ^ Golkar, Saeid (2015). Captive Society: The Basij Militia and Social Control in Iran. Washington D.C.: Columbia University Press. pp. 15, 18.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]