The principal stage managers of the sprawling Revolutionary Guards organization are its generals and commanders. Each plays a leading role in one of the affiliate entities in this endless labyrinth. What do we know about them? Where do they come from? What is their record? Where do they stand? What are their positions? What do we know about their personal lives?
In this series, we have tried to look into the lives of the most important Revolutionary Guards’ commanders — before they joined the Guards, when they did and where they stand now.
Among the famous families involved in the Iran-Iraq war, the Bakeri family remains the most active in Iranian politics. Iranian media tends to focus specifically on the two younger brothers, Mehdi and Hamid. But there was also Ali, a pioneer of the People's Mojahedin of Iran organization, also known as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which he joined immediately after it was founded. Ali was later famously executed alongside other prominent MEK figures.
In May 1971, Ali Bakeri traveled from Beirut to Paris, where he purchased a large quantity of weapons and ammunition. A few months later and with the help of his younger brother, Hamid, he smuggled machine guns, handguns, grenades, Spanish-made bombs, and ammunition into the country.
The Islamic Republic’s official narrative of the Bakeris does not feature Ali at all. Instead, the regime account states that Mehdi sent his younger brother to Syria in 1977 to meet with Yahya Rahim Safavi, who later became chief commander of the IRGC, in order to bring weapons and ammunition back to Iran through Turkey. According to former IRGC commander Hossein Alayi, Hamid and Mehdi Bakeri smuggled handguns during the last years of the Pahlavi monarchy, but there are few details available about whether they ever used them.
In addition, some claim that Mehdi Bakeri was a fan of Ali Shariati, an author and intellectual with whom many Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officers did not have good relations. Among those who disapproved of Shariati were Sadegh Mahsouli, the future interior minister for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration (2005-2013). Hamid Bakeri’s daughter, Asieh Bakeri, wrote after her father’s death that Mahsouli and his friends circulated a rumor that Hamid had not been killed in combat, but had instead taken refuge in Iraq.
Mohsen Rezaei writes in his memoir that when he wanted to appoint Mehdi Bakeri as the commander of the Fath-al-Mobin operation, some commanders advised him to reconsider his decision since Mehdi was not popular in Urmia. Rezaei pondered the advice for a day, but eventually resolved to give Mehdi command of the operation.
A Young Rebel
Mehdi Bakeri was born in 1954 in the city of Miandoab in Urmia province. As a young rebel, he partook in the protests against the Shah in Tabriz in 1975 and 1976. In 1977, he was drafted into the army and sent to Tehran, but when Ayatollah Khomeini ordered soldiers to leave their posts, he left his base and returned to his birthplace.
Before the revolution, Mehdi received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tabriz University. After the revolution, he went on to become the mayor of Urmia, as well as the IRGC Operations Commander in Western Azerbaijan. For a brief time he was in office as the prosecutor for Urmia and he also managed West Azerbaijan’s Agricultural Jihad.
According to their close friends, Mehdi had hoped to find a wife willing to engage in combat operations and who could “lift a projectile shell.” He eventually chose his desired wife among young girls who had volunteered for military training in Urmia — his brother Hamid was her firearms instructor. When Mehdi went to his future wife Safieh’s house to propose, he had already stepped down as Urmia’s mayor and was by then exclusively involved in the IRGC. He offered a Koran and his handgun for the mehr or dowry, a mandatory payment made to the wife by the groom in the form of money or possessions that legally becomes her property by marriage.
When the war with Iraq began, Mehdi Bakeri and Hasan Shafizadeh got their hands on a 120 mm mortar and took it to a port in Ahvaz. Their plan was to go to Abadan to end the siege on the city. They found a small ship carrying flour bags, and the captain promised them if they unloaded the flour, he would take them to Bahmanshir river. It took them two days to unload the flour bags and get out to sea.
During his time as commander of the Fath-al-Mobin operation, Mehdi Bakeri was wounded in one of his eyes. After recovery, he was deployed to the frontline, where he once again sustained an injury during the operation to liberate Khorramshahr. He sustained a third injury during Operation Ramadan while commanding the Ashura Corps.
Hamid Bakeri was Mehdi’s deputy in the Ashura Corps and in Operation Beit-al-Moqaddas, he simultaneously commanded two regiments of the Najaf Corps. On February 25, 1984, he was killed next to a bridge in the south of Majnoon Island.
Hamid’s will remains one of the most famous documents among IRGC officers and Basijis. “Pray to God that you’ll be a martyr,” it said. Otherwise, there comes a time when there is no more war and today’s fighter will be in one of three groups. The first group will regret their past and try to fight it. The second group will be those who don’t care anymore and decide to pursue the material life. And the third group will be the ones who remain loyal to their values and will suffer the rest of their lives. So, beg God for martyrdom because the first two groups are doomed to Hell and it’s very difficult to be a part of the third group of true believers.”
The Iran-Iraq War and Operation Badr
In March 1985, Operation Badr got underway. According to Hossein Alayi, “Mehdi Bakeri was the only IRGC Commander who fought along with his men until the very end and did not fall back.” In the operation, Mehdi was injured badly after suffering a gunshot wound to the head. An IRGC officer, Ali Reza Tondro, was tasked with taking the critically injured commander back for medical attention via a speedboat, but the boat was shot by Iraqi soldiers and the commander was lost forever in the Tigris River.
Today, the surviving Bakeri family members are close to the family of another late IRGC Commander, Mohammad Ibrahim Hemmat. The two families became friends after the death of their respective fallen relatives. Mehdi Bakeri’s widow, Safieh Modares, described how after losing her husband and brother-in-law, the family bought land in Qom and built a two-story home with two units on each floor. On the first floor lived Hamid Bakeri’s widow Fatemeh Amirani resided. The two upper units belonged to Mehdi Bakeri’s wife and the widow of another IRGC Commander, Mehdi Zeinoddin.
In 2009, the Bakeri and Hemmat families came to public attention when they came out in support of protesters following the disputed presidential election of that year. On September 27, 2010, Hossein Shariatmadari wrote in Kayhan Newspaper: “When the widows of Hemmat and Bakeri support the conspiracy and send their regards to the leaders of the Green Movement, it’s obvious that not only do they disrespect their fallen husbands, but also offer their innocent blood to the enemies of God and their murderers.”
In 2010, the Bakeri brothers’ sister wrote an open letter to the head of Islamic Republic Broadcasting, Ezzat Allah Zarqami, about a movie it was producing about fallen IRGC commanders. She objected strongly to the proposed storyline, and threatened, “If you show or suggest anything untrue about Mehdi’s life or character in your movie, we will sue you in a court of law.”
Read other articles in the series: