Forces: Iran's Grassroots Muscle

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March31, 2006: Iran has a major air-sea-land exercise scheduled for April 1-5. In addition to elements of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Revolutionary Guard, there will be substantial participation by the Basij, or National Militia. The Basij have recently been made an official part of the security forces (military and police), and their activities in the exercises will test how that will work.

On paper, the Basij has over 2,000 battalions, each supposedly of some 500 troops (including some women's battalions). Although equipped almost exclusively with small arms, most Basij battalions have apparently been reasonably well-trained and some select units may be comparable to regular light infantry. In addition to the "active" Basij, numbering on paper about 1,250,000 men and women, there are supposedly some 2 million more inactive militia members, though they are usually older personnel, and often lack equipment. About a third of the Basij are well enough trained and led to be ready for active service in days. It is these loyal militiamen that the government will use to face down any popular insurrection. While the Basij are largely from the countryside, this will allow the government to concentrate military and police units in urban areas, where most of the political reformers are.

Several free elections over the past decade have shown that the Islamic conservatives to control the government, only have the support of about 10-20 million Iranians. So, in effect, the Basij is largely composed of that minority of the population that supports the Islamic conservatives, and are willing to carry, and presumably use, a gun to keep their boys in power.

 


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