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 via email, Twitter or Facebook.
1. Economic Jihad Headquarters
The Economic Jihad Headquarters was established in 2013, with the mission of playing an important role in Iran’s resistance economy. The “resistance economy” is a concept that was coined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to solve the financial struggles of Iranian citizens during the period of American and international sanctions. Khamenei’s main guidelines for his strategic plan are “trying to achieve complete self-sufficiency” and “supporting Iranian products and reducing imports.” The Economic Jihad Headquarters is a subunit of the Basij Construction Organization and executes short-term projects in villages, remote areas, and border towns, with a focus on food safety, interchangeable industries, etc. The motto of the organization is: “Turning every home into a manufacturing workshop.” According to its managers, from 2013 to 2015, the center received 20 trillion Iranian rials for its ongoing projects and has turned into a formidable financial and construction organization. They claim that, during this period, the center has established more than 134,000 small workshops in people’s homes.
2. Javad-al-Aeme Headquarters
The Javad-al-Aeme Headquarters (named after the 9th Imam of Shias) was established in 2017 and focuses on social activities. Its mission includes planning for the “Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” scheme across Iran, solving the issues related to poor areas on the margins of Iranian cities, decreasing the divorce rate, and establishing therapy clinics. The main focus of this headquarters has become fighting the drug epidemic in Iran. It works with other law enforcement agencies to arrest drug dealers and sends drug addicts to rehabilitation camps.
3. Imam Hadi Headquarters
The Imam Hadi Headquarters (named after the 10th Imam of Shias) was established in the summer of 2012, by order of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is tasked with “holding regular military training for Basijis,” “designing and controlling military training,” “organizing regular Toward Beit-all-Moqadas (March towards Jerusalem) military exercises,” and “improving the efficiency of its subunits.” The headquarters has a number of branches across the country, which organize “Toward Beit-al-Moqadas” (March towards Jerusalem) military exercises. The purpose of these military exercises is to boost preparation, defense and military capability of the Basij forces to confront “the enemy” (the United States and Israel). To this end, classes are provided by instructors on the first day of the exercise to train the Basij forces in an array of operations. These operations include mosaic defense, ambush and anti-ambush, moving units, transportation and deployment of these units in a defensive position, practical training in surprise operations to confront the enemy, creating alternative routes in case the main routes are closed off or occupied, and training in the principle of “passive defense.” Beit-al-Moqadas (Jerusalem) Rapid Response Battalion and the Kowsar Battalion participate as rapid response forces and the Al-Zahra and Ashura Battalions (comprised of men and women) act as support units.
A. Ashura Battalion
The Ashura Battalion operates in each province under the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the provinces and is considered the main organization for recruiting Basij forces among male citizens above the age of 15. Its mission is “to protect and guard communities” and “to provide help in case of emergencies.” In recent years, the battalion has expanded its operations and carries out social, political and cultural projects. It has also become involved in soft war tactics, especially trying to hack and combat online activists. However, its main task is to combat riots and street protests. The battalion started its suppression of dissident protests in the early 1990s. Civil unrest in the cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, and Qazvin led to the formation of Ashura Battalions in those cities. They played a significant role in suppressing the student protests of 1999 and the Green Movement in 2009. Since 2011, the Ashura Battalion has changed its structure, and now every Basij base could be transformed into an Ashura Battalion. In 2015, the number of these battalions was estimated to be around 4,200 across the country. The Ashura Battalion recruits and trains high-ranking members of the Basij for more specialized tasks, and trains them to join Imam Ali and Imam Hussein Battalions.
B. Al-Zahra Battalion
The Al-Zahra Battalion is the main Basij organization to recruit female citizens above the age of 15. In 2015, it was estimated that the corps consisted of 1,800 battalions. The focus is on social, cultural, political activities and the soft war. The Al-Zahra Battalion is also involved in the support and logistics of Basij military exercises.
C. Beit-al-Moqadas Battalion
The Beit-al-Moqadas (Jerusalem) battalion is in charge of suppressing civil protests across the country and provides counter-measures in case of public protests. Its military unit is tasked with maintaining the safety of the cities and villages and engages in anti-riot exercises. According to Saeid Golkar, an expert and scholar on the Basij, the Beit-al-Moqadas Battalion forces are “more ideologically devoted to the Islamic Republic than the Ashura Battalion members.” In 2015, it was stated that the corps consisted of 1500 Beit-al-Moqadas Battalions along with 500 Imam Hussein Battalions across all provinces in the country.
D. Community Patrols
Since 2008, Basij patrols began forming in cities across the country. Their mission is “to improve the safety of neighborhoods and manage checkpoints.” Since 2017, the IRGC has restricted the involvement of these patrols at checkpoints and involved them more in patrolling neighborhoods. Their training is done at the Imam Hadi Command Center. A neighborhood patrol usually consists of three to five Basij members on foot or motorcycles.
4. The Soft War Headquarters: This headquarters is under the control of the Cultural Affairs Division of the Basij and was established in 2012. The headquarters is responsible for organizing the activities of the Basijis in the field of cyberspace and is active in the development of websites, weblogs, arts, and media.
Basij Military Organizations
1. Imam Ali Battalion
Established in April 2011, the main mission of this battalion is stated as fighting against security threats and is considered the most important Basij unit in anti-riot operations. In emergencies, it has full autonomy in decision-making. The battalion’s responsibility also includes protection of strategic buildings and offices. As of January 2017, the battalion was estimated to have 180 squads under the command of the IRGC corps in different provinces.
2. Imam Hussein Battalion
This battalion is tasked with “combatting foreign invasions” and “fighting against security threats.” In 2015, it was estimated to consist of 500 squads. It has an independent structure and chain of command and carries out military exercises. The units act under the supervision of the IRGC Ground Forces units in different provinces. The members of the battalion are professionally trained soldiers and have to go through regular monthly training. Many volunteer Iranian forces in Syria have been registered and deployed through this battalion.
3. Kowsar Battalion
Kowsar Battalion is a female-only unit and acts as a support structure tasked with maintaining the safety and security of cities. It also engages in anti-riot operations. The structure of the battalion is similar to the Beit-al-Moqadas (Jerusalem) Rapid Response Battalion. In 2016, according to most reports, the battalion had 24 squads.