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The Basij (Persian: بسيج) (literally "Mobilization"; also Basij-e Mostaz'afin, literally "Mobilization of the Oppressed"; officially Nirou-ye Moqavemat-e Basij, literally "Mobilisation Resistance Force")[1][2] is a paramilitary volunteer militia founded by the order of the Ayatollah Khomeini in November 1979. The Basij are (at least in theory)[3] subordinate to, and receive their orders from, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. However they have also been described as "a loosely allied group of organizations" including "many groups controlled by local clerics."[3]

Consisting of young Iranians who volunteer to join this force, often in exchange for official benefits, the Basij are most notable for their loyalty to the supreme leader Khamenei. Currently Basij serve as an auxiliary force engaged in activities such as internal security as well as law enforcement auxiliary, the providing of social service, organizing of public religious ceremonies, and more famously morals policing and the suppression of dissident gatherings.[4][5] They have a local organization in almost every city in Iran.[6] They have a record of involvement in many cases of human rights abuses.

As of October 2009 Mohammad Reza Naqdi is the commander of the Basij, replacing Hossein Taeb[7][8] The force has often been present and reacting against the widespread protests which occurred following the 2009 Iranian presidential election and in the months following.[9]

Contents

History

Origins

Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a decree founding the Basij as "a large people's militia", in November 1979. He is reported to have stated 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." [1] At least originally the Basij was open to those below the age of 18 and above the age of 45, and all women.

During the Iran–Iraq War tens of thousands of young Basij were killed on the battlefield. Believing that they were holy martyrs and chanting songs about the Battle of Karbala, in which the Imam Hussein, died a heroic death, the basij cleared minefields as “human waves” so that more experienced soldiers could advance against the enemy.[10] The Basij reportedly marched into battle marking their expected entry to heaven by wearing plastic "keys to paradise" around their necks similar to soldier's dog tags.[11] 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.[12]

Duties after the war

After the war, the Basij was reorganized and gradually developed into one of the Islamic regime's "primary guarantors of domestic security." By 1988 the number of Basij checkpoints dramatically decreased, but the Basij were still active in monitoring the activities of citizens.[13] They enforce hijab, arresting women for violating the dress code, arrest youths for attending mixed gender parties or being in public with unrelated members of the opposite sex,[14] seized 'indecent' material and satellite dish antennae.[1]

In 1988 college Basiji organizations were established on college campuses to fight "Westoxification" and potential student agitation against the government.[14]

Basij also act as an emergency management service, being mobilized in case of earthquakes or other natural or human-made disasters. It may supplement law enforcement by setting up street inspection posts in urban areas to intercept drug smuggling and potential insurgency.

The Ashura Brigades are reported to have been created in 1993 after anti-government riots erupted in various Iranian cities. These Islamic brigades were made up of both Revolutionary Guards and the Basij and by 1998 numbered 17,000.[1]

Revival

According to the New York Times, after the spontaneous celebrations following Iran winning of a spot in the World Cup soccer championship in 1998, and the student protests in July 1999, the Islamic government felt that it had lost control of the streets, and "reinvented" the Basij to correct this problem.[3] Giving a slightly different timeline, GlobalSecurity.org reports that it was under the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (elected in 2005) that the Basij appeared "to be undergoing something of a revival."[13]

In late September 2005, the Basij staged a series of urban defense exercises across the country. Its first deputy commander announced the creation of 2,000 "Ashura battalions" within the Basij that will have "riot-control responsibilities." Some speculated the "revival" of the Basij was connected "with preparations for possible civil unrest." [1]

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). Fars News Agency reported. "Among the most important tasks of the Basij are boosting everlasting security, strengthening development infrastructures, equipping resistance bases, [and] increasing employment," Hejazi added. He described the prohibition of vice and the promotion of virtue in society as the "divine policy" of the Basij." [13]

Along with the Iranian riot police and the Ansar-e-Hezbollah, the Basij have been active in recent years 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.[15] Other sources describe the Ansar-e-Hezbollah as part of the "loosely allied group of organizations" that make up the basij.[3]

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. According to an unnamed "seasoned analyst" quoted by csmonitor.com, "You define yourself by your enemies, and those were the superpowers back then. ... But now they are fighting young people who put gel in their hair. That's the enemy. So it's demeaning, and not at all elevating for their self-image."[16]

2009 election protests

Mir Hussein Moussavi, opposition presidential candidate in 2009, has "decried the violence carried out by the Basij" during protests following the disputed presidential election, complaining that the basij attack the demonstrations "with hoses, clubs, iron bars, truncheons and sometimes firearms," `just before the police show up.` [3] The tactics used by the Basij against election demonstrators have been described as involving choosing "targets at the edges of the crowds, going for the vulnerable and unwary stragglers," attacking "surreptitiously ... jumping demonstrators as they return home on darkened streets at night,"[10] and also wielding "tiny knives or razor blades to use against protestors from behind their backs."[17]

Following the protests, Hojjatoleslam Hossein Taeb, commander of the Basij, "cautioned" Iranians that the US was "hiring agents and mercenaries in an effort to continue its plots for a soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic," according to the Iranian Fars news agency.[18] Taeb has also stated that the anti-government riots "killed eight members of the Basij and wounded 300 others."[19][20]

Organization

A policeman (L) and a Basiji (R) arresting a young man in front of Iranian parliament, 24.6.2009

The Basij has a quasi-decentralised network with branches in almost every Iranian mosque.[21 ] These mosques have rooms marked Paygah-e-Basij or Basij base, "which serves as a kind of Islamic club where students study the Koran, organize sports teams and plan field trips."[3]

Subgroupings of the Basij include the University Basij, Student Basij, and the former tribal levies incorporated into the Basij (aka Tribal Basij). In the Student Basij, Middle-school-aged members are called Seekers (Puyandegan), and high-school members are called the Vanguard (Pishgaman).[13]

The current commander of the Basij is Mohammad Reza Naqdi, who replaced Hossein Taeb in October 2009.[22] Hossein Taeb was appointed commander of the Basij in July 14, 2008.[7][23]

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.[13]

According to Radio Free Europe, the "backbone" of the Basij comprises 2,500 Al-Zahra battalions (all women) and Ashura battalions (male), numbering 300–350 personnel each. The IRGC aims to arm 30 percent of these battalions with semi-heavy and heavy weapons. However, all members of the battalions are trained to use light arms and rifles.[22] In addition, since 2007 the Basij have established "30,000 new combat cells, each of them 15-20 members strong, named Karbala and Zolfaqar". The cells "cooperate closely" or in emergency situations are "controlled by" the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Also known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRGC).[22][24 ]

Personnel number

According to GlobalSecurity.org, "the precise size of the Basij is an open question." While Iranian officials "frequently cite a figure of 20 million", this appears to be based on what Ayatollah Khomeini's November 1979 decree indicating what should be the size of a people's militia.[1]

According to IRNA, there are currently 12.5 million members of Basij, of which 5 million are women.[25] Basij commanders have given figures of 11 million [13] and 13.6 million.[26] (An earlier 1985 IRNA report put the number at 3 million.[27])

However independent estimates put the force variously as 400,000.[1] A 2005 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., estimates 90,000 full-time, uniformed, active-duty Basij members, 300,000 reservists, and a total of one million men that can be mobilized if need be.[1]

Member profile and benefits

According to a 2006 report from Globalsecurity.org Basij membership is thought to comprise "mainly boys, old men, and those who recently finished their military service," [1] while in 2009 the New York Times describes them as "ranging in age from high school to about 30 years old."[3]

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.[3] Members of Basij are more likely than non-members to obtain government positions, especially security related positions within government controlled institutions.

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.[28]

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.

Human rights controversies

Motorcycle Basiji usually wielding battons, clubs, chains, or guns chase a crowd of protestors in during the 2009 Iranian election protests
  • The Basij have been criticised as belonging to the paramilitary forces using child soldiers because of their underage recruitment practices and for having relied extensively on "human wave" attacks during the Iran-Iraq War, particularly around Basra.[21 ][29] Many were used as cannon fodder and for mine-clearing. [1]
  • According to the UNHCR "tens of thousands of Basijis had been ordered to prowl about every factory, office and school to ensure that everyone adhered to the Islamic code. [...] After the summer 1999 riots Basij units were revived, rearmed and sent out into the streets to help enforce Islamic law. The Basijis are reportedly under the control of local mosques. It was further said that the Basijis set up checkpoints around the cities and stopped cars to sniff their occupant's breath for alcohol and check for women wearing make-up or travelling with a man not their close relative or husband. It was reported that the Law of Judicial Support for the Basijis, published in the Official Gazette No. 13946 of 8.10.1371 (December 1992), provided no redress against arbitrary detention by the Basijis." Iran's permanent representative to the U.N. denied these charges.[30]
  • Amnesty International claims that "investigations by Parliament and the National Security Council indicated that actions by Revolutionary Guard officials and Basij (Mobilization) forces, among others, precipitated the unrest and injuries following the July 1999 students demonstrations".[31]
  • Human Rights Watch has reported that the Basij belong to the "Parallel institutions" (nahad-e movazi), "the quasi-official organs of repression that have become increasingly open in crushing student protests, detaining activists, writers, and journalists in secret prisons, and threatening pro-democracy speakers and audiences at public events." Under the control of the Office of the Supreme Leader these groups set up arbitrary checkpoints around Tehran, uniformed police often refraining from directly confronting these plainclothes agents. "Illegal prisons, which are outside of the oversight of the National Prisons Office, are sites where political prisoners are abused, intimidated, and tortured with impunity." [32]
  • On 13 November 2006, Tohid Ghaffarzadeh, a student at Sabzevar University was reportedly killed by a Basij member at the University while Ghaffarzadeh was talking to his girlfriend. The killer reportedly approached Ghaffarzadeh and stabbed him with a knife explaining that what he did was according to his religious beliefs.[33]
  • On 15 June 2009, reports linked the Basij militia to murder of civilians in Azadi Square, Tehran, during the 2009 Iranian election protests.[34][35] News agencies reported 7 dead and over 50 wounded.[36]
  • On 27 June 2009, Human Rights Watch said the Basij were raiding homes at night, destroying property, beating people, and confiscating satellite dishes. They said the raids were to stop anti-government chanting and to prevent people from watching foreign news broadcasts.[37]
  • During this same period, several Basij members have been filmed breaking into houses and shooting into crowds. [38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45]
  • During the 2009 election protests, the IRG and the Basij also attacked Universities and students' dorms at night,[46] and destroyed property[47][48]. They were also accused of raping male and female protestors whom they arrested after beating[49].

See also

Sunni systems:

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i GlobalSecurity.org Intelligence: Mobilisation Resistance Force
  2. ^ AEI Outlook Series: What Do Structural Changes in the Revolutionary Guards Mean?
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Basij Militia. NYT.com June 19, 2009
  4. ^ Molavi, Afshin, The Soul of Iran, W.W. Norton, (2005), p.88, 316-318
  5. ^ Neil MacFarquhar. "Shadowy Iranian Vigilantes Vow Bolder Action". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/19/world/middleeast/19basij.html?_r=1&ref=global-home. Retrieved 19 June 2009.  
  6. ^ Molavi, Afshin, The Soul of Iran, W.W. Norton, (2005), p.88
  7. ^ a b Hosein Taeb Iran Rises. August 30th, 2009. accessed 23-September-2009
  8. ^ Iran’s unfinished crisis. Nazenin Ansari, 16 - 09 - 2009
  9. ^ "Amnesty urges Iran to stop using Basij militia". The Gazette. June 23, 2009. http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Amnesty+urges+Iran+stop+using+Basij+militia/1723947/story.html. Retrieved 2009-09-23.  
  10. ^ a b Jon Lee Anderson: "Understanding The Basij". June 19, 2009
  11. ^ Feared Basij militia has deep history in Iranian conflict. June 22, 2009
  12. ^ Hiro, Dilip, Iran under the Ataytollahs, Routledge and Kegan, 1985, p.237
  13. ^ a b c d e f Iran: Paramilitary Force Prepares For Urban Unrest, September 2005 GlobalSecurity.org
  14. ^ a b Molavi, The Soul of Iran (2005), p.89
  15. ^ Molavi, The Soul of Iran (2005), p.318
  16. ^ Iran's angry young adults erupt in political protest 16.6.2003
  17. ^ Will Iran's Basij stay loyal? By Jon Leyne 13 August 2009
  18. ^ Basij Commander: US Hiring Agents for Soft Overthrow of Islamic Republic
  19. ^ Police, Basij 'imposters' arrested in Iran PressTV, 29 Jun 2009
  20. ^ Iran opposition says 72 died in post-poll unrest Reuters. Sep 3, 2009
  21. ^ a b The Use of Children as Soldiers in the Middle East and North Africa Region, Jordan Institute of Diplomacy, August 2001 - Internet Archive
  22. ^ a b c Iran's Basij Force -- The Mainstay Of Domestic Security. January 15, 2009
  23. ^ Iran’s unfinished crisis. Nazenin Ansari, 16 - 09 - 2009
  24. ^ Abrahamian, Ervand, History of Modern Iran, Columbia University Press, 2008 p.175-6
  25. ^ Supreme Leader inspects Basij units
  26. ^ "The current commander of the Basij, Hasan Taeb, told the semi-official Fars news agency on November 25 that the force now numbers 13.6 million." Iran's Basij Force -- The Mainstay Of Domestic Security
  27. ^ by Hojjatoleslam Rahmani in a 1985 Iranian News Agency report, quoted in Niruyeh Moghavemat Basij Mobilisation Resistance Force
  28. ^ "Profile: Basij militia force". BBC. 2009-06-18. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8106699.stm. Retrieved 2009-06-27.  
  29. ^ Coalition to stop the use of child soldiers, Amnesty International, April 7 2001
  30. ^ Final report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, UNHCR, (E/CN.4/1994/50)
  31. ^ Report 2001, Islamic Republic of Iran, Amnesty International
  32. ^ Human Rights Watch, Overview of human rights issues in Iran, December 31, 2004
  33. ^ Advarnews.com (Persian)
  34. ^ Iran protester slain after huge pro-reform rally (AP)
  35. ^ Protestors shot in Tehran (Channel4.com)
  36. ^ AP Top News at 2:05 a.m. EDT (AP)
  37. ^ "Iran militia raids 'target homes'". BBC. 2009-06-27. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8122263.stm. Retrieved 2009-06-27.  
  38. ^ "Tehran Police Gunshot 20 June 2009" (in Persian). Youtube. 22 July 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69_nSangE40. Retrieved 22 July 2009.  
  39. ^ "Tehran-Iran Police Gunshot 20 June 2009" (in Persian]). Youtube. 22 July 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJBd2e2SLik. Retrieved 22 July 2009.  
  40. ^ "Police shoot to people in Iran - Tehran" (in Persian]). Youtube. 22 July 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-07-28. http://www.webcitation.org/5ic3ZHf1K. Retrieved 22 July 2009.  
  41. ^ "IRAN: Shooting at the crowd" (in english). Youtube. 17 June 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCku1qt_gtQ. Retrieved 17 June 2009.  
  42. ^ "Iran Police Forces Shoot Into Pro-Mousavi Crowd" (in english). Youtube. 17 June 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-07-28. http://www.webcitation.org/5ibzNka07. Retrieved 17 June 2009.  
  43. ^ "Iran riots latest news about Basij shooting showing dead body of young boy". YouTube. 17 June 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBab8HwACZY. Retrieved 17 June 2009.  
  44. ^ "Basij/Anti Riot Police Open Fire on Iranian Protesters". YouTube. 17 June 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ygfEStDDqw. Retrieved 17 June 2009.  
  45. ^ "Basij Attacking People's Condo at Night". YouTube. 17 June 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6Cx6XvrrPc. Retrieved 17 June 2009.  
  46. ^ "Kooye daneshgah - کوی دانشگاه" (in Persian). YouTube. 18 June 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-07-28. http://www.webcitation.org/5ic0OeWIV. Retrieved 18 June 2009.  
  47. ^ "Tehran University Dorms, Ravaged by pro government armed militia. June 15th" (in Persian). Youtube. 18 June 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9K4LIeSWTCI. Retrieved 18 June 2009.  
  48. ^ "حمله به كوي دانشگاه 24 خرداد 88" (in Persian). YouTube]. 18 June 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T3lGXDP4VA. Retrieved 18 June 2009.  
  49. ^ {{cite news|language=english|publisher=YouTube|title=Basij Confession on CNN|url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXDAUj3lt6Y

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