The Revolutionary Guards: An Introduction
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s most important institution. The military-security institution commands huge influence in every aspect of Iranian public life, from culture and the environment to the economy, politics and judicial process. Whatever the field or area, the IRGC is not required to report to anybody and is answerable to no one.
The IRGC was created early after the 1979 Islamic Revolution by the order of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Its declared mission was to safeguard the revolution and its accomplishments. As the years have gone by, it has expanded its sphere of activities. The entities under its control have multiplied to such a degree that it now operates effectively as a parallel government. It interferes in all current affairs of the country and it aims to have control over every aspect of the way Iran is run.
In a series of reports, IranWire presents a detailed portrait of this powerful and mysterious institution and, for the first time, identifies and explains all bodies, institutions and other entities operating under the umbrella of the Revolutionary Guards, at the same time outlining its activities through an infographic and an interactive diagram.
The infographic is a visual representation of the Guards’ organizational structure and presents all institutions under the control of IRGC in one map. It resembles a family tree, a portrait of the IRGC with all its children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — a dramatic picture of power in Iran today.
In the interactive diagram, the viewer is able to use the mouse to see how various entities under the control of the Guards emerged, and how they are connected — exactly like a family tree.
IranWire has aimed for this series and the overall project to be informative and a solid research tool. But it is not perfect, and there will always be room for updates, enhancements and further information. We welcome your views, ideas and knowledge, so please do get in touch.
Fars News Agency
Established in 2002, Fars News Agency is one of the largest media agencies in Iran. The agency covers the news 24/7 in Persian, English, Turkish and Arabic. It has 31 sites that cover the 31 provinces of Iran and 17 offices across the country. It also runs an office that focuses on Afghan news. Fars News managers describe their agency as being on the “frontline of the soft war,” meaning fighting western influence and dissidents. During the last decade, Fars News Agency has played an important role in projects targeting media, political and civil activists. It has also acted as a propaganda agency for the IRGC Intelligence Unit. In 2008, Fars started a journalism workshop to train reporters and it later changed its name to the Tavaana Club. This club was tasked with the recruitment and basic training of the agency’s employees. It is also active in producing content for social media and conducts online courses.
Daneshjoo News Agency
Daneshjoo (Student) News Agency was established in 2003 and is run by the University Students’ Basij Organization. They have offices in all 31 provinces of Iran. Student Basij members work as the agency’s honorary reporters in each university.
Basij News Agency
Established in 2012, the Basij News Agency is considered to be the Basij’s main media organization. In 2014, the Basij Reporters’ Club became a subsidiary of the agency. The members of the club regularly produce news for the agency.
Basij Information Services Network
Established in 2011, the Basij Information Services Network, or SHABAB, is the internal network of the Basij Organization. This network is an intranet that enables members to communicate with each other about unclassified information. The network claims that it has 44,000 access points for the Basij members. The network has also designed its own internal video chat application called the SAMT Center.
Revayat-e Fath Foundation
The Revayat-e-Fath (Tales of Victory) Foundation’s main mandate is to preserve audio and visual documents regarding the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. It has a number of subsidiaries including, the Cinema Association of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy War, the Cinema Complex of the Islamic Revolution and the Holy War, the Revayat-e Fath and Saqi Publications. Revayat-e-Fath produces documentaries, feature films, animations and organizes its own film festivals and training courses and field trips to the Iran-Iraq War combat zones. Its organizes the Resistance Film, Resistance Theatre, and Resistance Art Festivals. The manager of each festival is recommended by Revayat-e-Fath foundation’s director.
Righteousness Circles (Halegheh-hayeh Salehin)
The circles began forming in early 2008. After the 2009 Iranian Green Movement protests, the establishment of these circles became the Basij's most important task and the circles were regarded as “the foundation to prepare Shia society for the apocalyptic world when the savior, Imam Mahdi (the 12th Imam of Shia) returns.” Structurally, the circles are composed of eight categories: general, regular, active, trainer, assistant instructor, instructor, leader, and the Center for Producing Islamic Content. The leaders’ seasonal conferences welcome IRGC commanders, and sometimes the Supreme Leader, to set guidelines and policies for the circles.
Every circle consists of 15 to 20 members of the Basij who discuss the actions of Prophet Muhammad and his followers during the early years of Islam. The circles also have different ranks: the regular circles meet for up to two hours a week, active circles meet for up to four hours, and special circles meet for up to six hours. The members are also ranked based on their age groups into five levels: ages 7–11, 12–17, 18–29, 30–50, and over 50. In the meetings, which usually take place before or after night prayers, members are tasked with monitoring the Supreme Leader’s speeches and commands regarding current political affairs. The trainer of every circle is tasked with surveillance of the members and their communications, reminding them of their religious duties. The trainer is also in contact with the members’ schools or workplaces, and holds meetings in their home when possible.
In order to expand rapidly, the circles have adopted a pyramid system, in which every new member introduces three to five new members to the circle. The members are tasked to “constantly listen and follow the Supreme Leader’s wishes and guidelines,” “participate in elections and pro-government gatherings,” and “participate in IRGC programs, such as jihadi field trips, security checkpoints and patrols.” Every new member has to pass three levels of training. If they fail the first time, they have to pass an extra course in which they learn more about religious and ideological views. Training includes books written by Morteza Motahari, Mohsen Qera’ati, Naser Makarem-Shirazi, Tabatabayi and Mohammad Rayshahri. The online resources available for the members are the websites that have been specifically designed for the circles, the Supreme Leader’s official website, and Javan newspaper website.
Other projects undertaken by the circles include: establishing internet bases, developing centers to teach appropriate lifestyle, discourse clubs on appropriate lifestyle, reporters’ clubs, internet radios, and online Q&As. The circles other programs are English language courses, climbing and hiking trips, and sports programs. Some of the members of the circles can join the Beit-al-Moqadas (Jerusalem) Battalion and are tasked with patrolling neighborhoods and maintaining their safety and security. In 2014, the Basij Chief, Mohammad-Reza Naqdi, claimed that there were over 150,000 circles for men and over 100,000 circles for women all over the country.
Jihadi Field Trips
Jihadi field trips mainly take place during summer. It is one of the most popular Basij programs and is run by the Basij Organization of University Students. These field trips cover various areas such as construction projects, as well as economic, cultural, educational and social programs. Its members are usually chosen from Basij student members at universities or high schools. The Center for Studying and Directing the Strategies of Jihadi Movements, run by the Basij Construction Organization, supervises the field trips. It also chooses destinations and activities. In early 2018, the number of jihadi groups was estimated to be 3,000, but the Basij claims that it plans to reach 8,000 by the end of the year.
Basij think-tanks started to formed in 2016, by order of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei insisted on the establishment of these think-tanks at all levels of the Basij hierarchy and tasked them with designing operations for hard and soft war as well as development and construction projects. Khamenei also asked for the establishment of “Surveillance Centers” to protect the organization from “outside viruses.” Think-tanks are used as debate centers for Basij members to discuss current affairs and issues. High-ranking Basij commanders or IRGC officers are regularly invited as guest speakers.
Basij Resistance Bases
According to the IRGC statute, “resistance nuclei are the smallest units of Basij.” But, a few years after its establishment, the nuclei were turned into bases. A resistance district consists of 10-15 bases, and a resistance region consists of 10 to15 districts. According to the statute, depending on the population and the size of each city, the areas divide into regions. Currently, there are 38,000 active resistance bases across the country and, according to the statute, base commanders are chosen from “special Basij members” at each base. No definition of what makes a member “special” is given in the statute.
At every base, there is a commander, a deputy commander, an intelligence protection office, and other members of the Basij. They are tasked with monitoring and gathering information, promoting virtue and prevention of vice, promoting the culture of the Basij and the Holy War (the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War), and participating in the rescue and patrol operations in neighborhoods. Most of these bases operate next to community mosques and have regular contact with the staff of those mosques. The base members are ranked as “regular” Basij members who have to spend at least three hours a week at the base and participate in training courses. After graduating from these courses, they are promoted to higher ranks, such as “warrior” and “mujahid,” which helps them to get more benefits and higher positions. Some of the Basij members are, at the same time, members of the Al-Zahra or Ashoura Battalions.
Some of the benefits for Basij members include priority in terms of employment, housing loan privileges, educational benefits and grants, and a reduced military service period. After the Iran-Iraq War, the government provided veterans and their families with special help and benefits to enroll in universities. According to the IRGC statute, Basij members with more than four years of active service can claim benefits.