National Security

A sword and scabbard from a bas-relief at Persepolis, ca. 500 B.C.

During the 1970s, imperial Iran developed one of the most impressive military forces in the Middle East, and it used those forces to assume a security role in the Persian Gulf after the British military withdrawal in 1971. The defense of the strategic Strait of Hormuz preoccupied the shah, as it did the other conservative monarchs in the area. Freedom of navigation in the Gulf was important for international shipping, and the shah was perceived, at least in certain quarters, as the undeclared "policeman of the West in the Gulf." When independent observers concluded that Iran's military buildup exceeded its defensive needs, the shah declared that his responsibilities extended beyond Iran and included the protection of the Gulf. Increasingly, the military played a pivotal role in promoting this policy and, in doing so, gained a privileged position in society. Under the Nixon Doctrine of 1969, according to which aiding local armed forces was considered preferable to direct United States military intervention, Washington played an important part in upgrading the Iranian military forces. The United States supplied Iran with sophisticated hardware and sent thousands of military advisers and technicians to help Iran absorb the technology.

By 1979 the United States military presence in Iran had drawn the wrath of Iranians. Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini specifically identified the shah's pro-American policies as detrimental to Iranian interests and called on his supporters to oppose the United States presence. He cited special legal privileges granted United States personnel in Iran as an example of the shah's excessive identification of Iran's interests with those of Washington.

Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the armed forces underwent fundamental changes. The revolutionary government purged high-ranking officials as well as many mid-ranking officers identified with the Pahlavi regime and created a loyal military force, the Pasdaran (Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami, or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Revolutionary Guards), whose purpose was to defend the Revolution. When the Iran-Iraq War began, however, the revolutionary government had to acknowledge its need for the professional services of many of the purged officers to lead the armed forces in defending the country against Iraq. The army was unexpectedly successful in the war, even though, as of 1987, the regular armed forces continued to be regarded with considerable suspicion. Within the Iranian military there was competition between the regular and irregular armed forces. The Islamic clergy continued to rely more heavily on the loyal Pasdaran to defend the regime. Moreover, most of the casualties were members of the Pasdaran and Basij volunteers who composed the irregular armed forces. In the late 1980s, in addition to defending the Revolution, Iran continued to follow certain national security policies that had remained constant during the previous four decades.


Historical Background

The importance of the armed forces in Iran flows from Iran's long history of successive military empires. For over 2,500 years, starting with the conquests of the Achaemenid rulers of the sixth century B.C., Iran developed a strong military tradition. Drawing on a vast manpower pool in western Asia, the Achaemenid rulers raised an army of 360,000, from which they could send expeditions to Europe and Africa.

Iranian early military history boasts the epic performances of such great leaders as Cyrus the Great and Darius I. The last great Iranian military ruler was Nader Shah, whose army defeated the Mughals of India in 1739. Since then, however, nearly all efforts to conquer more territory or check encroaching empires have failed. During much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Iran was divided and occupied by British and Russian military forces. When their interests coincided in 1907, London and St. Petersburg entered into the Anglo-Russian Agreement, which formally divided Iran into two spheres of influence. During World War I, the weak and ineffective Qajar Dynasty, allegedly hindered by the effects of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1907, could not prevent increasing British and Russian military interventions, despite Iran's declaration of neutrality.

In 1918 the Qajar armed forces consisted of four separate foreign-commanded military units. Several provincial and tribal forces could also be called on during an emergency, but their reliability was highly questionable. More often than not, provincial and tribal forces opposed the government's centralization efforts, particularly because Tehran was perceived to be under the dictate of foreign powers. Having foreign officers in commanding positions over Iranian troops added to these tribal and religious concerns. Loyal, disciplined, and well trained, the most effective government unit was the 8,000-man Persian Cossacks Brigade. Created in 1879 and commanded by Russian officers until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, after which its command passed into Iranian hands, the brigade represented the core of the new Iranian armed forces. Swedish officers commanded the 8,400-man Gendarmerie (later the Imperial Gendarmerie and after 1979 the Islamic Iranian Gendarmerie), organized in 1911 as the first internal security force. The 6,000-man South Persia Rifles unit was financed by Britain and commanded by British officers from its inception in 1916. Its primary task was to combat tribal forces allegedly stirred up by German agents during World War I. The Qajar palace guard, the Nizam,commanded by a Swedish officer, was a force originally consisting of 2,000 men, although it deteriorated rapidly in numbers because of rivalries. Thus, during World War I the 24,400 troops in these four separate military units made up one of the weakest forces in Iranian history.

Upon signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and Turkey on December 15, 1917, Russia put in motion its eventual withdrawal from Iran, preparing the way for an indigenous Iranian military. A hitherto little-known colonel, Reza Khan (later known as Reza Shah Pahlavi, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty), assumed leadership of the Persian Cossacks Brigade in November 1918, after the expulsion of its Russian commanders. In February 1921, Reza Khan and Sayyid Zia ad Din Tabatabai, a powerful civilian conspirator, entered Tehran at the head of 1,500 to 2,500 Persian Cossacks and overthrew the Qajar regime. Within a week, Tabatabai formed a new government and made Reza Khan the army chief. Recognizing the importance of a strong and unified army for the modern state, Reza Khan rapidly dissolved all "independent" military units and prepared to create a single national army for the first time in Iranian history.

Riding on a strong nationalist wave, Reza Khan was determined to create an indigenous officer corps for the new army, though an exception was made for a few Swedish officers serving in the Gendarmerie. Within a matter of months, officers drawn from the Persian Cossacks represented the majority. Nevertheless, Reza Khan recognized the need for Western military expertise and sent Iranian officers to European military academies, particularly St. Cyr in France, to acquire modern technical know-how. In doing so, he hoped the Iranian army would increase its professionalism without jeopardizing the country's still fragile social, political, and religious balance.

By 1925 the army had grown to a force of 40,000 troops, and Reza Khan, under the provisions of martial law, had gradually assumed control of the central government. His most significant political accomplishment came in 1925 when the parliament, or Majlis, enacted a universal military conscription law. In December 1925, Reza Khan became the commander in chief of the army; with the assistance of the Majlis, he assumed the title of His Imperial Majesty Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Reza Khan created the Iranian army, and the army made him shah. Under the shah, the powerful army was used not only against rebellious tribes but also against anti-Pahlavi demonstrations. Ostensibly created to defend the country from foreign aggression, the army became the enforcer of Reza Shah's internal security policies. The need for such a military arm of the central government was quite evident to Reza Shah, who allocated anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of total yearly national expenditures to the army. Not only did he purchase modern weapons in large quantities, but, in 1924 and 1927, respectively, he created an air force and a navy as branches of the army, an arrangement unchanged until 1955. With the introduction of these new services, the army established two military academies to meet the ever-rising demand for officers. The majority of the officers continued to be trained in Europe, however, and upon their return served either in the army or in key government posts in Tehran and the provinces. By 1941 the army had gained a privileged role in society. Loyal officers and troops were well paid and received numerous perquisites, making them Iran's third wealthiest class, after the shah's entourage and the powerful merchant and landowning families. Disloyalty to the shah, evidenced by several coup attempts, was punished harshly.

By 1941 the army stood at 125,000 troops -- five times its original size -- and was considered well trained and well equipped. Yet, when the army faced its first challenge, the shah was sorely disappointed; the Iranian army failed to repulse invading British and Soviet forces. London and Moscow had insisted that the shah expel Iran's large German population and allow shipments of war supplies to cross the country en route to the Soviet Union. Both of these conditions proved unacceptable to Reza Shah; he was sympathetic to Germany, and Iran had declared its neutrality in World War II. Iran's location was so strategically important to the Allied war effort, however, that London and Moscow chose to overlook Tehran's claim of neutrality. Against the Allied forces, the Iranian army was decimated in three short days, the fledgling air force and navy were totally destroyed, and conscripts deserted by the thousands. His institutional power base ruined, Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his young son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

In the absence of a broad political power base and with a shattered army, Mohammad Reza Shah faced an almost impossible task of rebuilding. There was no popular sympathy for the army in view of the widespread and largely accurate perception that it was a brutal tool used to uphold a dictatorial regime. The young shah, distancing Tehran from the European military, in 1942 invited the United States to send a military mission to advise in the reorganization effort. With American advice, emphasis was placed on quality rather than quantity; the small but more confident army was capable enough to participate in the 1946 campaign in Azarbaijan to put down a Soviet-inspired separatist rebellion.

Unlike its 1925 counterpart, the 1946 Majlis was suspicious of the shah's plans for a strong army. Many members of the parliament feared that the army would once again be used as a source of political power. To curtail the shah's potential domination of the country, they limited his military budgets.

Although determined to build an effective military establishment, the shah was forced to accept the ever-rising managerial control of the Majlis. Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, backed by strong Majlis support, demanded and received the portfolio of minister of war in 1952. For the better part of a year, Mossadeq introduced changes in the high command, dismissing officers loyal to the shah and replacing them with pro-Mossadeq nationalists. With the assistance of British and United States intelligence, however, officers dismissed by Mossadeq staged the August 1953 coup d'état, which overthrew the prime minister and returned the shah to power.

In a classic housecleaning, several hundred pro-Mossadeq officers were arrested, allegedly for membership in the communist Tudeh Party. Approximately two dozen were executed, largely to set an example and to demonstrate to the public that the shah was firmly in command. Within two years, the shah had consolidated his rule over the armed forces, as well as over the much-weakened Majlis. Separate commands were established for the army, air force, and navy; and all three branches of the military embarked on massive modernization programs, which flourished throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Nonetheless, the shah's military was probably crippled as early as 1955. Mohammad Reza Shah, mistrustful of his subordinates as well as his close advisers, instituted an unparalleled system of control over all his officers. Not only did the monarch make all decisions pertaining to purchasing, promotions, and routine military affairs, but he also permitted little interaction among junior and senior officers. Even less was tolerated among senior officers. No meetings grouping all his top officers in the same room were ever held. Rather, the shah favored individual "audiences" with each service chief; he then delegated assignments and duties according to his overall plans. This approach proved effective for the shah, at least until his downfall in 1979. For the Iranian armed forces, it proved devastating.

As internal security agencies assumed the critical role of maintaining public order, the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces (IIAF) were charged with defending the country against foreign aggression. First among threats was the Soviet Union, which shares a 2,000-kilometer border with Iran. The shah feared that Moscow would try to again access to warm-water port facilities, a Russian goal since Peter the Great, and seek to destabilize what the Soviets surely perceived to be a pro-Western, if not pro-American, regime. The majority of Iranian troops, therefore, were stationed in the north for the better part of the early 1960s. The resulting high level of tension between two mismatched neighboring forces was not a satisfactory arrangement for the politically and militarily astute monarch. Taking a pragmatic approach, the shah pursued economic cooperation to improve relations with the Soviet Union and thereby reduced military tensions along the border. Having softened Iran's Cold War rhetoric in relation to Moscow, the shah focused his attention on the Persian Gulf. When in 1971 Britain terminated its treaties of protection with the several small Arab shaykhdoms or amirates of the Arabian Peninsula, the shah's primary security concerns shifted to the border with Iraq.

When petroleum exports from the Gulf expanded rapidly in the 1970s and British withdrawal from the conservative shaykhdoms created a security vacuum, the Iranian military expanded its plans to include the defense of sea-lanes, especially the Strait of Hormuz, although navigation through the strait generally takes place entirely in Oman's territorial waters. Iran has always considered the forty-one-kilometer-wide strait vital to its oil exports and, since 1968, has made every effort to exert as much influence as possible there. The shah referred to the strait as Iran's "jugular vein," and the revolutionary regime has been similarly concerned with its security.

In March 1975, Iran reached a geographic-political agreement with Iraq. This pact, called the Algiers Agreement, accomplished two important military objectives. First, because the existence of the agreement allowed Iran to terminate aid to the Kurdish rebels in Iraq, Iran could deploy more of its forces in areas other than the Iraqi border. Second, Baghdad's acceptance of Iran's boundary claim to a thalweg (the middle of the main navigable channel) in the Shatt al Arab settled a security issue, freeing the Iranian navy to shift its major facilities from Khorramshahr on the Iraqi border to Bandar Abbas near the strait and to upgrade its naval forces in the southern part of the Gulf.

Despite frequent public expressions of reserve, the weaker conservative Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf supported the shah's military mission of guaranteeing freedom of navigation in and through the Gulf. They strongly objected, however, to Iran's military occupation in November 1971 of the islands of Abu Musa, belonging to Sharjah, and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, belonging to Ras al Khaymah. These two members of the United Arab Emirates could offer no resistance to Tehran's swift military action, however. The Iranian navy used its Hovercraft to transport occupying troops, and it eventually installed military facilities on two of the islands. Despite its earlier agreement to respect Sharjah's claim to Abu Musa, Tehran justified the occupation of Abu Musa and the Tunbs on strategic grounds.
Located near the strait between the deepest navigation lanes, the islands offered ideal bases from which to watch over shipping in the Gulf.

This action was only the precursor of other regional operations by which a strong Iranian military would deter foreign, especially Soviet or Soviet-inspired, incursions into the Gulf. Twice, during the 1970s, the shah provided military assistance -- to Oman and Pakistan -- to overcome internal rebellions. By doing so, he established Iran as the dominant regional military power.

The most significant combat operation involving Iranian (along with British and Jordanian) troops took place in Oman's Dhofar Province. Iran aided Sultan Qabus in fighting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman, which was supported by the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) and the Soviet Union. Starting with an initial force of 300 in late 1972, the Iranian contingent grew in strength to 3,000 before its withdrawal in January 1977. The shah was proud that his forces had participated in the defeat of the guerrilla rebellion, even though the performance of Iranian troops in Oman was mixed. The air force received the most favorable reports from the battle zone. Reconnaissance flights provided valuable information, and helicopters proved effective in the rugged Dhofar region. Ground forces fared less well, suffering significant casualties, with 210 Iranian soldiers killed in 1976 alone. The high casualty rate was attributed to the overall lack of combat experience. Nearly 15,000 Iranian soldiers were rotated through Oman during the five-year period.

In 1976 Iranian counterinsurgency forces, relying on helicopter support, were deployed in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province to combat another separatist rebellion. This operation, albeit small and limited, was of considerable concern to Iran, which had a large Baluch population of its own. The shah sought to buy insurance against a possible insurrection in Iran by helping Pakistan crush a Baluch uprising.

The shah continued to assist his allies in Oman and Pakistan after 1977. More important, Iran had served notice that it would engage its military to preserve the status quo in the Persian Gulf region, a status quo that was heavily tilted to its advantage. On more than one occasion, the shah stated that he would not refrain from maintaining the security of the Gulf, whether or not his troops were invited to intervene.

Iran had also come of age in the larger context of the Middle East. Between 1958 and 1978 Iran participated in war games conducted under the auspices of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), which grouped Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Britain (with the United States participating as an observer). Although CENTO declined in significance over the years, its military exercises, especially the yearly Midlink maritime maneuvers, provided useful training for the Iranian armed forces. The shah also participated in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions, sending a battalion to the UN buffer zone in the Golan Heights as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in 1977. The bulk of this force also served in southern Lebanon following the Israeli invasion of 1978. The Iranian contingent in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was withdrawn in late 1978, however, following several desertions by Shia Muslim soldiers sympathetic to the local population.

On January 16, 1979, as the shah was preparing to leave Iran for the last time, he was still confident that his army could and would handle any internal disturbances. Still under the impression that the Soviet Union and Iraq were the greatest threats to his country, he left behind a United States-designed army prepared for external rather than domestic requirements.

The Revolutionary Period

Lack of leadership at the general staff level and below in the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces (IIAF) had literally frozen the military between December 1978 and February 1979. In the melee of the Revolution, mob scenes were frequent; on several occasions the army fired on demonstrators, killing and injuring many civilians, the most famous such encounter occurring at Jaleh Square in Tehran. In response to these incidents, army units of the IIAF, responsible for law and order in Tehran and other large cities, were attacked by mobs. Within days after the Revolution's success, several religious leaders, however, claimed that the armed forces had "joined the nation" or "returned to the nation" and cautioned against indiscriminate vengeance against the military.

Members of the shah's Imperial Iranian Armed Forces

The government took prompt steps to reconstitute the armed forces, weakened in both numbers and morale. Contrary to the general perception in 1979 and 1980, Khomeini did not seek the disintegration of the armed forces but rather wished to remold the shah's army into a loyal national Islamic force. Troops that had heeded Khomeini's appeal to disband were called back in March 1979. A new command group established in February 1979 was composed of nine officers with impeccable revolutionary credentials: they had all been imprisoned under the shah for different reasons. Khomeini relied on the advice of Colonel Nasrollah Tavakkoli, a retired Special Forces officer, to recruit ideologically compatible officers for the armed forces. General staff personnel were all called back to coordinate the nascent reorganization; division and brigade command positions were promptly filled by loyal and reliable officers. The Imperial Guard, the Javidan Guard, and the Military Household of the shah were the only organizations that were permanently disbanded.

The revolutionary government decided to formulate as clearly as possible the functions and roles of the armed forces, particularly in relation to internal security. In contrast to the shah's regime, it entrusted internal security functions to the newly established Pasdaran. Pasdaran clergy were also engaged to disseminate Islamic justice and were assigned to units of the armed forces to help communicate Khomeini's instructions and to provide religio-political indoctrination.

Much of this early cooperation was an extension of the military's existing support for the Revolution. For example, even though the head of the air force, General Amir Hosain Rabii, opposed the Revolution, many air force cadets and young homafars (skilled military technical personnel) supported it. Revolutionary groups that had played prominent roles in the seizure of power, however, were hostile to the military. These included the Mojahedin (Mojahedin-e Khalq, or People's Struggle), the Fadayan (Cherikha-ye Fadayan-e Khalq, or People's Guerrillas), and even the Tudeh, which called for a drastic purge of the military. The Mojahedin, especially, threatened the military's position because it had captured the Tehran arms factory and government arsenal depots and was thus armed. Moreover, the Mojahedin quickly organized into "councils" and recruited personnel in military posts throughout the country, seeing themselves as the military core of the new order. These councils were then turned into debating forums where conscripts could air past grievances against officers. The Tudeh, for its part, called on the government to return to active duty several hundred officers dismissed or imprisoned under the shah for their membership in the Tudeh.

The provisional government recognized the threat implicit in these demands. In the absence of a centralized command system, the military balance of power would eventually tilt toward the heavily armed guerrilla groups of the left. Hojjatoleslam Ali Khamenehi (who became president of Iran in 1982) and many of the leading ayatollahs were very suspicious of the leftist guerrillas. The members of the Revolutionary Council (a body formed by Khomeini in January 1979 to supervise the transition from monarchy to republic) would have preferred to balance the power of the leftist guerrillas with that of the Pasdaran, but the Pasdaran was in its formative stage and had neither the necessary strength nor the training.

The ultimate elimination of the Mojahedin, Fadayan, and Tudeh was a foregone conclusion in the ideological framework of an Islamic Iran. To this end, revolutionary leaders both defended and courted the military, hoping to maintain it as a countervailing force, loyal to themselves. In one of his frequent public pronouncements, Khomeini praised military service as "a sacred duty and worthy of great rewards before the Almighty" and solicited military support for his regime, declaring that "the great Iranian Revolution is more in need of defense and protection than at any other time." Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan denounced guerrilla demands for a full-scale purge of the military.

In the end, the leadership decided in February 1979 that a purge of the armed forces would be undertaken, but on a limited scale, concentrating on "corrupt elements." The purge of the military started on February 15, 1979, when four general officers were executed. Two groups were purged, one consisting of those elements of the armed forces that had been closely identified with the shah and his repression of the revolutionary movement and the other including those that had committed actual crimes of violence, particularly murder and torture, against supporters of the Revolution. A total of 249 members of the armed forces, of whom 61 were SAVAK (Sazman-e Ettelaat va Amniyat-e Keshvar, the shah's internal security organization) agents, were tried, found guilty, and executed between February 19 and September 30, 1979. Significant as this figure is, it represented only a small percentage of military personnel.

Apart from the replacement of senior officers, various structural changes were introduced in the aftermath of the Revolution. But because of the lack of leadership at headquarters, command and control were at best tenuous. Local commanders exercised unprecedented autonomy, and integration of the regular armed forces with the Pasdaran was not even considered. Lack of coordination within the Pasdaran and between it and regular army personnel resulted in shortages for the Pasdaran of desperately needed supplies, ranging from daily rations to ammunition; such supplies usually found their way only to army depots.

In isolated areas, cooperation between the Pasdaran and the regular military eventually emerged. For example, in West Azarbaijan, prorevolutionary officers in the 64th Infantry Division in Urumiyeh (also cited as Urmia to which it has reverted after being known as Rezaiyeh under the Pahlavis) extended a helping hand to the Pasdaran in the latter's efforts to crush an uprising. The 64th Infantry Division's leading officers, including Colonel Qasem Ali Zahirnezhad and Colonel Ali Seyyed-Shirazi, were strong advocates of cooperation. They made proposals in which they argued that the Pasdaran and the regular military should be completely integrated at the operational level while maintaining separate administrations. They envisaged joint staffs at divisional and higher echelons, joint logistical systems, and joint procurement of equipment. By accepting logistical assistance from the military, the Pasdaran could become combat ready. From the regular armed forces' perspective, cooperation would turn members of the Pasdaran into professional soldiers. The process would also create a level of mutual dependence, thereby preventing antimilitary measures. Airings of proposals for similar cooperative measures received sympathy from some officers at the National Military Academy, where Commandant Colonel Musa Namju, expanding on Colonel Zahirnezhad's and Colonel Seyyed-Shirazi's earlier proposals, wrote several widely read documents. Little or no support came from Minister of Defense Mostofa Ali Chamran, who was more concerned with the impact that a full and rapid reorganization of the military might have on the Revolution.

Neglected for over a year, Iran's ground forces fared poorly during the first stages of the Iran-Iraq War. Ironically, logistical shortcomings rather than desertions or combat defects were the problem. By the end of 1980, Iranian leaders finally recognized supply deficiencies and the more important command-and-control problems that were crippling the military. Colonel Namju resurrected the group proposals, and Chamran appointed Colonel Zahirnezhad and Colonel Seyyed-Shirazi to senior command and staff positions at the front.

In Tehran, President Abolhasan Bani Sadr attempted to gain control of the armed forces but failed for several reasons. Above all, Khomeini would not permit the Supreme Defense Council (SDC) to be dominated by any faction, and he was not prepared to make an exception for Bani Sadr. Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Rajai, Bazargan's successor, and his Islamic Republican Party (IRP) allies, concerned with the Revolution as much as the war, were adamant in their opposition to Bani Sadr's unilateral decisions. Bani Sadr was also weakened by his frequent interference in purely military affairs (in which his poor judgment in military matters became evident) as well as by competition with clergy members.

Despite the rift between Bani Sadr and the IRP, the SDC appointed him supreme commander over all regular and paramilitary units. His control of the military was tenuous, however, because by early 1981 IRP members were demanding representation at the senior levels of command. In addition, the front as an operational area was organized into subordinate field sectors and operational sectors, with little official liaison among the different service staffs. Moreover, the war effort was going poorly.

Bani Sadr's ouster from the presidency and Chamran's death at the front galvanized the Urumiyeh group to push for implementation of the reorganization proposals. Colonel Namju was the new defense minister, and reorganization of the command system received his full support. By September 1981, SDC approval was ensured and coordination with the Pasdaran initiated. Deputy Commander in Chief of the Pasdaran Kolahduz supervised the first operational integration of the regular military with the Pasdaran. Even the air force relented, and Brigadier General Javad Fakuri authorized additional close air support for ground forces. On September 24, 1981, a new command and control system was finalized at a Tehran meeting hosted by Pasdaran commander in chief Mohsen Rezai, who agreed to test the new proposals. An operation was launched to liberate Abadan and force the Iraqis to the west bank of the Karun River. Within four days, Iran's coordinated attack was successful, and the Iraqis retreated. For the first time since the outbreak of hostilities, a full-scale integration at the staff level produced positive results.

On September 29, 1981, several high-ranking military leaders, including Colonel Namju and Kolahduz, were killed in an airplane crash. Colonel Zahirnezhad, promoted to brigadier general, took over as chief of the Joint Staff of the armed forces, and Colonel Seyyed-Shirazi took Zahirnezhad's post as commander of armed forces. These appointments ensured the full implementation of the new command system.

Command and Control

According to Article 110 of the 1979 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the faqih is empowered to appoint and dismiss the chief of the Joint Staff, the commander in chief of the Pasdaran, two advisers to the SDC, and the commanders in chief of ground, naval, and air forces on the recommendation of the SDC. He is also authorized to supervise the activities of the SDC and to declare war and mobilize the armed forces on the recommendation of the SDC. As faqih, Khomeini, although maintaining the role of final arbiter, has delegated the post of commander in chief to the president of the Republic.

In addition to specifying the duties of the commander in chief, Article 110 establishes the composition of the SDC as follows: president of the country, prime minister, minister of defense, chief of the Joint Staff of the armed forces, commander in chief of the Pasdaran, and two advisers appointed by the faqih. Other senior officials may attend SDC meetings to deliberate national defense issues. In the past, the minister of foreign affairs, minister of interior, minister of the Pasdaran and his deputy, air force and navy commanders in chief, War Information Office director, and others have attended SDC meetings. The ground forces commander in chief, Colonel Seyyed-Shirazi, is a member of the SDC as a representative of the military arm for the faqih, whereas Majlis speaker Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is representative of the political arm for the faqih.

Iran's strategic planning and the establishment of its military and defense policies are the responsibilities of the SDC, which has representatives at operational area and field headquarters to provide political and strategic guidance to field commanders. SDC representatives may also veto military decisions. But reports in 1987 indicated that SDC orders to regional representatives have been modified to limit the heavy casualty rates caused by their inappropriate advice. Inexperienced nonmilitary religious advisers have seen their interference in purely technical matters dramatically curtailed. The Urumiyeh reorganization proposals recognized the administrative separation of the services as part of Iran's political reality. Consequently, as of 1987 there were two chains of command below the SDC, one administrative and the other operational. To some extent this dual chain of command existed because the revolutionary government had retained a modified version of the organizational structure of the IIAF, which was modeled on the United States division of powers between the administrative functions of the service secretaries and the operational functions of the secretary of defense and chiefs of staff. In addition, the IRP leaders wanted to limit friction between the regular military and the Pasdaran. According to Speaker Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the service commanders in chief, the minister of defense, and the minister of the Pasdaran were removed from the operational chain to avoid further friction between the two groups.

In 1987 the Ministry of Defense continued to handle administrative matters for the regular armed forces. The chain of command flowed from senior unit commanders (division, wing, and fleet) to intermediate-echelon service commanders and to service commanders in chief and their staffs. Similarly, the Ministry of the Pasdaran handled the administrative affairs of the Pasdaran. The chain of command flowed from senior unit commanders (operational brigades in the case of combat units) to the ministry staff officers. In the case of internal security units, the chain of command went from local commanders to provincial commanders (who were colonels) and then to provincial general commanders (who were generals).

The Joint Staff of the armed forces, composed of officers assigned from the various services, the Pasdaran, the National Police, and the Gendarmerie, was responsible for all operational matters. Its primary tasks included military planning and coordination and operational control over the regular services, combat units of
the Pasdaran, and units of the Gendarmerie and National Police assigned to the war front. Joint Staff members were also empowered to integrate fully the regular and paramilitary forces in operational planning. The components of the armed forces Joint Staff were modeled on the United States joint and combined staff system.

Staff members of J1 -- Personnel and Administration -- conducted planning and liaison duties with their counterparts at the ministries of defense, interior, and the Pasdaran. They also supervised budgeting and financial accountability and the preparation of operational budgets for Majlis approval for all the armed services.

Personnel of J2 -- Intelligence and Security -- carried out operational control for intelligence planning, intelligence operations, intelligence training, counterintelligence, and security for all elements of the armed forces. They also handled liaison with the komitehs (revolutionary committees) for internal security matters and with SAVAMA for foreign intelligence.

Staff members of J3 -- Operations and Training -- conducted training, operational planning, operations, and communications. The operational planning and operations sections were further divided into eleven subsections for planning and coordination of the services, including: the Iranian Islamic Ground Forces (IIGF), IIGF Aviation, IIGF Chemical Troops, IIGF Artillery Troops, IIGF Engineer Troops, Iranian Islamic Air Force (IIArF), Iranian Islamic Navy (IIN), IIN Aviation, the Pasdaran, the Gendarmerie, and the National Police.

Personnel of J4 -- Logistics and Support -- coordinated and provided liaison for the services. Primary responsibility for logistics and supply rested with the services through the ministries of defense, interior, and the Pasdaran; collection and coordination of supplies and coordination of transportation to the war front, however, remained under the control of J4.

Staff members of J5 -- Liaison -- handled liaison and coordination with nonmilitary organizations and with those military organizations not covered by Joint Staff-level arrangements. Organizations covered by J5 included the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of the Pasdaran, Office of the Prime Minister, Council of Ministers' Secretariat, SDC, Majlis (particularly the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee), the Foundation for Popular Mobilization, the Foundation for the Disinherited, the Foundation for Martyrs (Bonyad-e Shahid), the Foundation for War Victims, and the Crusade for Reconstruction (Jihad- e Sazandegi or Jihad).

The office of the staff judge advocate provided legal counsel to the Joint Staff and facilitated liaison with the revolutionary prosecutor general and the military tribunal system of the armed forces. The Political-Ideological Directorate (P-ID) staff members operated the political-ideological bureaus of the Joint Staff components and the political-ideological directorates and bureaus of the operational commands. This office also developed and disseminated political-ideological training materials, in close cooperation with the Foundation for the Propagation of Islam and the Islamic associations of the services. Finally, P-ID members conducted liaison duties between the Joint Staff and the Islamic Revolutionary Court of the Armed Forces.

Members of the Inspectorate General handled oversight functions over the staff components and liaison with the inspectors general of the operational commands. Special Office for Procurements staff members controlled and coordinated procurement of military equipment and supplies from foreign sources through the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Pasdaran, the Ministry of Commerce and Foreign Trade, and the Central Bank of Iran.

In general, operational area commands were subordinate to the Joint Staff, and each armed force component was subordinate to the operational area command in
accordance with its own command structure. In 1987 there was only the Western Operational Area Command, which was responsible for the war with Iraq. Established to provide more effective control of wartime operations, this area may have been the precursor of the planned Northern, Southern, and Eastern Operational Area Commands.

The Western Operational Area Command was similar in structure to the armed forces Joint Staff except that it was also the lowest operational echelon at which naval forces were integrated into combined-services operations and planning. Although operational area command Joint Staff members exercised operational control over all troops within their area, they were subject to several constraints. Generally speaking, Pasdaran, Gendarmerie, and National Police units operating in an internal security mission, particularly against insurgents, were detached from the operational area command and subordinated to the senior Pasdaran commander in the province in which they were engaged. Air and naval units continued to be partially controlled by their service commanders and responded to the Western Operational Area Command Joint Staff through specialized liaison staffs. The commander of the operational area was further burdened by the presence at his headquarters of an SDC representative and a personal representative of Khomeini. Both of these influential individuals could effectively take any matter over the commander's head to higher authority. In 1987 the SDC representative in the Western Operational Area Command was also the Pasdaran commander for the operational area command, a situation that further complicated the command and control system.

Below the Operational Area Command were four field headquarters (FHQ), code-named FHQ Karbala, FHQ Hamzeh Seyyed ash Shohada, FHQ Ramadah, and FHQ An Najaf. The FHQs were organized on the model of the Western Operational Area Command except that they did not have naval integration. Subordinate to each FHQ were from three to eight operational sectors. Each operational sector did not necessarily have its own air support unit.

Additional echelons consisting of a commander and staff drawn from the Joint Staff of the participating FHQs could be created during major offensives. The purpose of these echelons was to overcome logistical shortcomings, concentrate and deploy forces as needed, and combine the services, particularly the naval forces, in offensive operations.

The reorganization of the command-and-control system could largely be attributed to the Urumiyeh proposals. The war with Iraq naturally increased the level of integration, particularly between regular military officers commanding Pasdaran units and Pasdaran officers commanding regular military units. Logistical problems also came under increasing scrutiny because of the war. The military's weak infrastructure required the centralization of logistics and supply. The sophisticated computer inventory and accounting systems of the ground, air, and naval logistical commands had been sabotaged during the Revolution, and the country lost valuable time while bringing these systems back into service. Improvements in logistical support proved quite rewarding, revealing, for example, that Iran possessed twice as many critical spare parts for its aircraft as were previously believed to exist. Nevertheless, the Iranian armed forces faced a logistical dilemma in deploying supplies to troops at the front; lack of maintenance skills translated into a decreased repair and salvage capacity, creating serious bottlenecks. Vehicles in need of repair had to be transported to repair centers hundreds of kilometers from the front, along stretches of poorly maintained roads and railroads. Under such circumstances cannibalization of damaged equipment for spare parts, particularly for sophisticated equipment, became the norm. Without a solution in sight, Iranian authorities relied on the "down time" between major offensives to resupply units before resuming offensive operations. This practice further prolonged the war, because multiphased operations could not be launched and sustained.

Organization, Size, and Equipment

As faqih, Khomeini is constitutionally designated supreme commander of the armed forces. He has delegated his powers to the president, who may in turn delegate authority as required. Important decisions regarding defense policies are made by the SDC, which combines senior members of the armed services with senior members of the government.


In 1979, the year of the shah's departure, the army experienced a 60-percent desertion from its ranks. By 1986 the regular army was estimated to have a strength of 305,000 troops. In the fervor of the Revolution and in the light of numerous changes affecting conscripts and reservists, the army underwent a structural reorganization. Under the shah, the army had been deployed in 6 divisions and 4 specialized combat regiments supported by more than 500 helicopters and 14 Hovercraft. An 85-percent readiness rate was usually credited to the force, although some outside observers doubted this claim. Following the Revolution the army was renamed the Islamic Iranian Ground Forces (IIGF) and in 1987 was organized as follows: three mechanized divisions, each with three brigades, each of which in turn was composed of three armored and six mechanized battalions; seven infantry divisions; one airborne brigade; one Special Forces division composed of four brigades; one Air Support Command; and some independent armored brigades including infantry and a "coastal force." There was also in reserve the Qods battalion, composed of ex-servicemen.

After the mid-1970s, military manpower was unevenly deployed. Nearly 80 percent of Iran's ground forces were deployed along the Iraqi border, although official sources maintained that the military was capable of rapid redeployment. Although air force transports were used extensively, redeployment was slow after the start of the war. The Mashhad division headquarters, in the eastern part of the country, has remained important because of Soviet military operations in Afghanistan and resulting Afghan migration into Iran.

In the past, Iran purchased army equipment from many countries, including the United States, Britain, France, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Italy, and the Soviet Union. By late 1987, Iran had diversified its acquisitions, obtaining arms from a number of suppliers. Among them were the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), China, Brazil, and Israel. The diversity of the weapons purchased from these countries greatly complicated training and supply procedures, but, faced with a war of attrition and a continuous shortage of armaments, Iran was willing to purchase from all available sources.

The IIGF operated almost 1,000 medium tanks in 1986. Although a large number were British-made Chieftains and American-made M-60s, an undetermined number of Soviet-made T-54 and T-55s, T-59s, T-62s, and T-72s were also part of the inventory, all captured from the Iraqis or acquired from North Korea and China. There was also a complement of fifty British-made Scorpion light tanks. Several hundred Urutu and Cascavel armored fighting vehicles from Brazil joined American-made M-113s and Soviet-made BTR-50-60s. An undetermined number of Soviet-made Scud surface-to-surface missiles were acquired from a third country, believed to be Libya. And in November 1986, the United States revealed that it had supplied the Iranian military with Hawk surface-to-air missiles and TOW antitank missiles via Israel.

The army's aviation unit, whose main operational facilities were located at Esfahan, was largely equipped with United States aircraft, although some helicopters were of Italian manufacture. In 1986 army aviation operated some 65 light fixed-wing aircraft, but its strength lay in its estimated 320 combat helicopters, down from 720 in 1980.


The Iranian navy has always been the smallest of the three services, having about 14,500 personnel in 1986, down from 30,000 in 1979. Throughout the 1970s, the role of the navy had expanded as Iran recognized the need to defend the region's vital sea-lanes. In 1977 the bulk of the fleet was shifted from Khorramshahr to the newly completed base at Bandar-e Abbas, the new naval headquarters. Bushehr was the other main base; smaller facilities were located at Khorramshahr, Khark Island, and Bandar-e Khomeini (formerly known as Bandar-e Shahpur). Bandar-e Anzelli (formerly known as Bandar-e Pahlavi) was the major training base and home of the small Caspian fleet, which consisted of a few patrol boats and a minesweeper. The naval base at Bandar Beheshti (formerly known as Chah Bahar) on the Gulf of Oman had been under construction since the late 1970s and in late 1987 still was not completed. Smaller facilities were located near the Strait of Hormuz.

The Navy's airborne component, including an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and minesweeping helicopter squadron and a transport battalion, continued to operate in 1986 despite wartime losses. Of six P-3F Orion antisubmarine aircraft, perhaps two remained operational, and of twenty SH-3D ASW helicopters, possibly only ten were airworthy. Despite overall losses, the navy increased the number of its marine battalions from two to three between 1979 and 1986.

Entirely of foreign origin, Iran's naval fleet has suffered major losses since the beginning of the war, when it was made up of American- and British-made destroyers and frigates, and some sixty smaller vessels and one of the largest Hovercraft fleets in the world. The Hovercraft had been expressly chosen to operate in the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf and proved useful in the 1971 occupation of Abu Musa and the Tunbs. After the cancellation of foreign orders in 1979, the rapid matériel advance of the navy was halted. For example, the shah's government had ordered six Spruance-class destroyers equipped for antiaircraft operations and three diesel-powered Tang-class submarines from the United States. Washington canceled the sale of these vessels, selling the submarines to Turkey and absorbing the destroyers into the United States Navy. In 1979 Khomeini also canceled an order for six type-209 submarines from West Germany.

What naval vessels remained in 1987 suffered from two major problems -- lack of maintenance and lack of spare parts. After the departure of British-United States maintenance teams, the Iranian navy conducted only limited repairs, despite the availability of a completed Fleet Maintenance Unit at Bandar-e Abbas; consequently, several ships were laid up. Lack of spare parts also plagued the navy more than other services, because Western naval equipment was less widely available on world arms markets than other equipment.

Iran's ambitious plans for escort and patrol capabilities in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean may not be realized until the Bandar Beheshti naval facility is completed. The country's interest in navigation through the Strait of Hormuz has not diminished, as the contemplated deployment of Chinese-made Silkworm HY-2 surface-to-surface missiles on Larak Island in 1987 clearly indicated. This development underscored Iran's interest in Gulf waters and the navy's role, along with that of Pasdaran units, in protecting them or in denying them to others.

Air Force

The shah's air force had more than 450 modern combat aircraft, including top-of-the-line F-14 Tomcat fighters and about 5,000 well-trained pilots. By 1979 the air force, numbering close to 100,000 personnel, was by far the most advanced of the three services and among the most impressive air forces in the developing world. Reliable information on the air force after the Revolution was difficult to obtain, but it seems that by 1987 a fairly large number of aircraft had been cannibalized for spare parts.

Before the Revolution, the air force was organized into fifteen squadrons with fighter and fighter-bomber capabilities and one reconnaissance squadron. In addition, one tanker squadron, and four medium and one light transport squadron provided impressive logistical backup. By 1986 desertions and depletions led to a reorganization of the air force into eight squadrons with fighter and fighter-bomber capabilities and one reconnaissance squadron. This reduced force was supported by two joint tanker-transport squadrons and five light transport squadrons. Some seventy-six helicopters and five surface-to-air missile (SAM) squadrons supplemented this capability.

Air force headquarters was located at Doshan Tapeh Air Base, near Tehran. Iran's largest air base, Mehrabad, outside Tehran, was also the country's major civil airport. Other major operational air bases were at Tabriz, Bandar-e Abbas, Hamadan (Shahroki Air Base), Dezful (Vahdati Air Base), Shiraz, and Bushehr. Since 1980 air bases at Ahvaz, Esfahan (Khatami Air Base), and Bandar Beheshti have also become operational.

Throughout the 1970s, Iran purchased sophisticated aircraft for the air force. The acquisition of 77 F-14A Tomcat fighters added to 166 F-5 fighters and 190 F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers, gave Iran a strong defensive and a potential offensive capability. Before the end of his reign, the shah placed orders for F-16 fighters and even contemplated the sharing of development costs for the United States Navy's new F-18 fighter. Both of these combat aircraft have been dropped from the revolutionary regime's military acquisitions list, however.

When the Iran-Iraq War started in 1980, Iran's F-14s, equipped with Phoenix missiles, capable of identifying and destroying six targets simultaneously from a range of eighty kilometers or more, inflicted heavy casualties on the Iraqi air force, which was forced to disperse its aircraft to Jordan and Oman. The capability of the F-14s and F-4s was enhanced by the earlier acquisition of a squadron of Boeing 707 tankers, thereby extending their combat radius to 2,500 kilometers with in-flight refueling.

By 1987, however, the air force faced an acute shortage of spare parts and replacement equipment. Perhaps 35 of the 190 Phantoms were serviceable in 1986. One F-4 had been shot down by Saudi F-15s, and two pilots had defected to Iraq with their F-4s in 1984. The number of F-5s dwindled from 166 to perhaps 45, and the F-14 Tomcats from 77 to perhaps 10. The latter were hardest hit because maintenance posed special difficulties after the United States embargo on military sales.

China and North Korea with their "independent" policies on arms sales, were the only countries willing to sell Iran combat airplanes. Iran had acquired two Chinese-made Shenyang J-6 trainers in 1986. Unconfirmed reports in 1987 indicated that Iran was receiving Shenyang F-6s (Chinese-built MiG-19SFs), and that Iranian pilots were receiving training in North Korea. The reconnaissance squadron has also struggled to perform its duties with limited equipment. Once flying close to thirty-four aircraft, by late 1987 it may have been reduced to eight, having converted five Tomcats to serve in a noncombat role. It was not clear whether these five airplanes were in addition to the ten in the interceptor squadrons. Given the technical sophistication of reconnaissance aircraft, it was almost impossible to acquire from non-Western sources new ones capable of performing to Iranian standards. The only substantial acquisition was the purchase of forty-six Pilatus PC-7s from Switzerland. Iran requested three Kawasaki C-1 transports and a 3D air defense radar system from Japan, but this transaction did not appear to have materialized by 1987. Reports also indicated that Iran had placed with Argentina an order for thirty Hughes 500D helicopters.

From its inception, the air force also assumed responsibility for air defense. The existing early warning systems, built in the 1950s under the auspices of CENTO, were upgraded in the 1970s with a modern air defense radar network. To complement the ground radar component and provide a blanket coverage of the Gulf region, the United States agreed to sell Iran seven Boeing 707 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft in late 1977. Because of the Revolution, Washington canceled the AWACS sale, claiming that this sensitive equipment might be compromised. Finally, the air force's three SAM battalions and eight improved Hawk battalions were reorganized in the mid-1980s (in a project involving more than 1,800 missiles) into five squadrons that also contained Rapiers and Tigercats. Washington's sale of Hawk spare parts and missiles in 1985 and 1986 may have enhanced this capability.

The air force's primary maintenance facility was located at Mehrabad Air Base. The nearby Iran Aircraft Industries, in addition to providing main overhaul backup for the maintenance unit, has been active in manufacturing spare parts.

Source and Quality of Manpower

Armed forces manpower increased substantially throughout the 1970s as the shah implemented Iran's "guardian" role in the Gulf. Following the outbreak of the Revolution, there was a sharp drop in the number of military personnel, which in 1982 stood at 235,000, including the Pasdaran but excluding reserves. In contrast, total military personnel, including the Pasdaran but excluding reserves, stood at 704,500 in 1986. In addition to active-duty personnel, some 400,000 veterans, organized in reserve units after the outbreak of the war, were subject to recall to duty. Two-thirds of army personnel were conscripts; in the air force and navy, the majority were volunteers.

The National Military Academy was the largest single source of commissioned officers in the 1970s, but since 1980 a significant number of commissions have been awarded for wartime heroism and leadership at the front. Although air force and navy officers had attended military academies or participated in cadet programs in the United States, Britain, or Italy before 1979, few foreign contacts have been recorded since the Revolution. In the few instances in which contact was established, it was with Asian states, namely China and North Korea. Unlike the army, the air force and navy have experienced high attrition, and it must be assumed that operations have been streamlined to be effective with fewer personnel.

Class differences in the armed forces remained virtually undisturbed by the Revolution. Commissioned officers came from upper class families, career noncommissioned and warrant officers from the urban middle class, and conscripts from lower class backgrounds. By 1986, an increasing segment of the officer corps came from the educated middle class, and a significant number of lower middle-class personnel were commissioned by Khomeini for leadership on the battlefield.

Iran's 1986 population of approximately 48.2 million (including approximately 2.6 million refugees) gave the armed forces a large pool from which to fill its manpower needs, despite the existence of rival irregular forces. Of about 8 million males between the ages of eighteen and fourty-five, nearly 6 million were considered physically and mentally fit for military service. Revolutionary leaders have repeatedly declared that Iran could establish an army of 20 million to defend the country against foreign aggression. Since the beginning of 1986, women have also been encouraged to receive military training, although no women were actually serving in the regular armed forces as of late 1987. The decision to encourage women to join in the military effort may indicate an increasing demand for personnel or an effort to gain increased popular support for the Revolution. It could also mean that conscription was not replacing war losses or retirements.

Compulsory conscription has been in effect since 1926, when Reza Shah's Military Service Act was passed by the Majlis. All males must register at age nineteen and begin their military service at age twenty-one; the law, however, is of limited significance in view of government pressures for volunteer enlistments in military units at an earlier age. According to the act, the total period of service is twenty-five years, divided as follows: two years of active military service, six years in standby military service for draftees, then eight years in first-stage reserve and nine years in second-stage reserve. In 1984 the Majlis passed the new Military Act. It amended conscription laws to reduce the high number of draft dodgers. Newspapers have carried reports of people caught trying to buy their way out of military service, at an unofficial figure of about US$8,000 for forged exemption documents. Under the prerevolutionary law, temporary or permanent exemptions were provided for the physically disabled, hardship cases, convicted felons, students, and certain professions. Draft evaders were subject to arrest, trial before a military court, and imprisonment for a maximum of two years after serving the required two years of active duty. Few draft dodgers, if any, were sent to jail; the normal procedure was to fine them the equivalent of US$75 (1986 exchange rate). Under the 1984 law, draft evaders were subject to restrictions for a period of up to ten years. They could be prevented from holding a driver's license, running for elective office, registering property ownership, being put on the government payroll, or receiving a passport, in addition to being forced to pay fines and/or receive jail sentences. Exemptions were given only to solve family problems. Moreover, all exemptions, except for physical disabilities, were only for five years. Those seeking relief for medical reasons had to serve but were not sent on combat duty. Under the amended law, men of draft age were subject to conscription, whether in war or peace, for a minimum period of two years and could be recalled as needed.

In the past, a consistent weakness of the armed forces had been the high illiteracy rate among conscripts and volunteers. This reflected the country wide illiteracy rate, which stood at 60 percent in 1979. Compounding this dilemma, many conscripts came from tribal areas where Persian was not spoken. Thus, the military first had to teach the conscripts Persian by instituting extensive literacy training programs.

By 1986 the country's overall literacy rate was estimated at 50 percent, a dramatic improvement. This gain was also reflected in the regular armed forces. Of the three services, the air force fared best in this respect, as it had always done. Yet even the air force, which had developed training facilities for support personnel and homafars, was short of its real requirements. With the 1979 withdrawal of foreign military and civilian advisers, particularly from the United States and Pakistan, the operation, maintenance, and logistical functioning of armed forces' equipment was hampered by a critical shortage of skilled manpower. As purchases from non-Western countries increased, Iran came to rely on Chinese, Syrian, Bulgarian (unconfirmed), and North Korean instructors and those from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), among others.

In 1987 the impressive progress of the regular armed forces was counterbalanced by manpower shortages. Without the support of large numbers of irregular forces and volunteers, it was difficult to foresee how this shortage might be overcome.

Foreign Influences in Weapons, Training, and Support Systems

Foreign influence on the regular armed forces has historically been massive, vital, and controversial. Around the turn of the century, before Reza Shah unified the military, officers from Sweden, Britain, and Russia commanded various Iranian units. These officers were unpopular because they were perceived as occupiers rather than as advisers, and the seeds of xenophobia were planted. Aware of these sentiments, Reza Shah tried to minimize direct foreign military influence, although an exception was made for Swedish officers serving with the Gendarmerie. Between the two world wars, a large number of Iranian officers attended military academies in France and Germany, where they received command and technical training. In a further effort to counter the influence of both Britain and Russia (by that time, the Soviet Union) in Iranian affairs, Reza Shah attempted to establish closer ties with Germany, a relationship that would be controversial during World War II. After 1945 the United States gradually became more influential and had a significant impact on the Pahlavi dynasty's leadership and the military.

With the establishment during World War II of a small United States military mission to the Gendarmerie (known as GENMISH) in 1943, Washington initiated a modest military advisory program. In 1947 the United States and Tehran reached a more comprehensive agreement that established the United States Army Mission Headquarters (ARMISH). Its purpose was to provide the Ministry of War and the Iranian army with advisory and technical assistance to enhance their efficiency. As a result, the first Iranian officers began training in the United States, and they were followed by many more over the next three decades. The United States initiated its military assistance grant program to Iran in 1950 (the bilateral defense agreement between Iran and the United States was not concluded until 1959) and established a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to administer the program. In 1962 the two missions were consolidated into a single military organization, ARMISH-MAAG, which remained active in Iran until the Islamic revolutionary regime came to power in 1979. Between 1973 and 1979, the United States also provided military support in the form of technical assistance field teams (TAFTs), through which civilian experts instructed Iranians on specific equipment on a short-term basis. Although the GENMISH program ended in 1973, United States military assistance to Iran rose rapidly in the six years before the Revolution.

United States military assistance to Iran between 1947 and 1969 exceeded US$1.4 billion, mostly in the form of grant aid before 1965 and of Foreign Military Sales credits during the late 1960s. The financial assistance programs were terminated after 1969, when it was determined that Iran, by then an important oil exporter, could assume its own military costs. Thereafter, Iran paid cash for its arms purchases and covered the expenses of United States military personnel serving in the ARMISH-MAAG and TAFT programs. Even so, in terms of personnel the United States military mission in Iran in 1978 was the largest in the world. Department of Defense personnel in Iran totaled over 1,500 in 1978, admittedly a small number compared with the 45,000 United States citizens, mostly military and civilian technicians and their dependents, living in Iran. Almost all of these individuals were evacuated by early 1979 as the ARMISH-MAAG program came to an abrupt end. Ended also was the International Military Education and Training (IMET) Program, under which over 11,000 Iranian military personnel had received specialized instruction in the United States.

Washington broke its diplomatic ties with Tehran in April 1980, closing an important chapter with a former CENTO ally whose security it had guaranteed since 1959. The relationship had evolved dramatically from the early 1950s, when Iran depended on the United States for security assistance, to the mid-1970s, when the government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program dominated other issues. Arms transfers increased significantly after the 1974 oil price rise, accelerating at a dizzying pace until 1979. From fiscal year (FY) 1950 through FY 1979, United States arms sales to Iran totaled approximately US$11.2 billion, of which US$10.7 billion were actually delivered.

The transfer of such large volumes of arms and the presence of thousands of United States advisers had an unmistakable influence on the Iranian armed forces. The preponderance of American weapons led to a dependence on the United States for support systems and for spare parts. Technical advisers were indispensable for weapons operations and maintenance.

After the Revolution, Iranians continued to buy arms from the United States using Israeli, European, and Latin American intermediaries to place orders, despite the official United States embargo. Israeli sales, for example, were recorded as early as 1979. On several occasions, attempted arms sales to Iran have been thwarted by law enforcement operations or broker-initiated leaks. One operation set up by the United States Department of Justice foiled the shipment of more than US$2 billion of United States weapons to Iran from Israel and other foreign countries. The matériel included 18 F-4 fighter-bombers, 46 Skyhawk fighter-bombers, and nearly 4,000 missiles. But while the Department of Justice was attempting to prevent arms sales to Iran, senior officials in the administration of President Ronald Reagan admitted that 2,008 TOW missiles and 235 parts kits for Hawk missiles had been sent to Iran via Israel. These were intended to be an incentive for the release of American hostages held by pro-Iranian militiamen in Lebanon. Unverified reports in 1987 indicated that Iranian officials claimed that throughout 1986 the Reagan administration had sold Iran ammunition and parts for F- 4s, F-5s, and F-14s. In addition, Tehran reportedly purchased United States-made equipment from international arms dealers and captured United States weapons from Vietnam.

Despite official denials, it is believed that Israel has been a supplier of weapons and spare parts for Iran's American-made arsenal. Reports indicate that an initial order for 250 retread tires for F-4 Phantom jets was delivered in 1979 for about US$27 million. Since that time, unverified reports have alleged that Israel agreed to sell Iran Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, radar equipment, mortar and machinegun ammunition, field telephones, M-60 tank engines and artillery shells, and spare parts for C-130 transport planes.

By 1986 Iran's largest arms suppliers were reportedly China and North Korea. China, for example, is believed to have supplied Iran with military equipment in sales funneled through North Korea. According to an unconfirmed report in the Washington Post, one particular deal in the spring of 1983 netted Beijing close to US$1.3 billion for fighters, T-59 tanks, 130mm artillery, and light arms. China also delivered a number of Silkworm HY-2 surface-to-surface missiles, presumably for use in defending the Strait of Hormuz. As of early 1987, China denied all reported sales, possibly to enhance its diminishing position in the Arab world. North Korea agreed to sell arms and medical supplies to Iran as early as the summer of 1980. Using military cargo versions of the Boeing 747, Tehran ferried ammunition, medical supplies, and other equipment that it purchased from the North Korean government. According to unverified estimates, total sales by 1986 may have reached US$3 billion.

Other countries directly or indirectly involved over the years in supplying weapons to Iran have included Syria (transferring some Soviet-made weapons), France, Italy, Libya (Scud missiles), Brazil, Algeria, Switzerland, Argentina, and the Soviet Union. Direct foreign influence, however, was minimal because most purchases were arranged in international arms markets. Moreover, the influence of the major arms suppliers was balanced by other international relationships. Many of the above-mentioned West European states in 1988 had arms embargoes against shipments to Iran, but nevertheless some matériel slipped through. Also, West European states often wished to keep communication channels open, no matter how difficult political relations might have become. For example, despite strong protests from the United States, the British government in 1985 transferred to Iran a fleet-refueling ship and two landing ships without their armament. The British also allowed the repair of two Iranian BH-7 Hovercraft. In 1982 Tehran began negotiations with Bonn for the sale of submarines. Iran also approached the Netherlands and, in 1985, purchased two landing craft, each sixty-five meters long and having a capacity exceeding 1,000 tons. The influence of the Asian arms- supplying countries was further minimized because purchases were made in cash upon delivery with no strings attached. Finally, foreign influence was less pronounced in 1987 than at any time since 1925 because a defiant Tehran espoused "independent" foreign and military policies, based on a strong sense of Islamic
and nationalistic values.

Domestic Arms Production

In 1963 Iran placed all military factories under the Military Industries Organization (MIO) of the Ministry of War. Over the next fifteen years, military plants produced small arms ammunition, batteries, tires, copper products, explosives, and mortar rounds and fuses. They also produced rifles and machine guns under West German license. In addition, helicopters, jeeps, trucks, and trailers were assembled from imported kits. Iran was on its way to manufacturing rocket launchers, rockets, gun barrels, and grenades, when the Revolution halted all military activities. The MIO, plagued by the upheavals of the time, was unable to operate without foreign specialists and technicians; by 1981 it had lost much of its management ability and control over its industrial facilities.

The outbreak of hostilities with Iraq and the Western arms embargo served as catalysts for reorganizing, reinvigorating, and expanding defense industries. In late 1981, the revolutionary government brought together the country's military industrial units and placed them under the Defense Industries Organization (DIO), which would supervise production activities. In 1987 the DIO was governed by a mixed civilian-military board of directors and a managing director responsible for the actual management and planning activities. Although the DIO director was accountable to the deputy minister of defense for logistics, Iran's president, in his capacity as the chairman of the SDC, had ultimate responsibility for all DIO operations.

By 1986 a large number of infantry rifles, machine guns, and mortars and some small-arms ammunition were being manufactured locally. On several occasions, clerics delivering their Friday sermons in Tehran claimed that Iran was engaged in a full-scale military production program, and the Iranian press regularly reported the successful production of new items ranging from washers to helicopter fuselage parts. For example, the professional military displayed, at the Permanent Industrial Exhibition in Tehran, a collection of hermetic sealing cylinders for Chieftain tanks and artillery flame-deflectors with artillery pads. They also displayed Katyusha gauges, personnel carrier shafts, gears, gun pulleys, carriages for 50mm caliber guns, 155mm shells, bases for night-vision telescopic rifles, parts for G-3 rifles, various firing pins, and flash suppressors for 130mm guns.

In 1987 the military took pride in being able to repair various transmitters, receivers, and helicopter engines. A number of unverified reports also alluded to the repair of the testing equipment of F-14 hydraulic pressure transmitters and generators. Similarly, Iran claimed to have manufactured an undisclosed number of Oghab rockets, probably patterned on the Soviet-made Scud-B surface-to-surface missiles the Iranians received from Libya. In mid-1984 the navy claimed to have successfully repaired the gas turbines of several vessels in Bandar-e Abbas. Moreover, Pasdaran units reportedly repaired Soviet- and Polish-made T-54, T-55, T-62, and T-72 tanks, captured from the Iraqis in 1982, at their armor repair center.

The monopoly of the regular armed forces over domestic arms production and repair industries ended in 1983 when the SDC authorized the Pasdaran to establish its own military industries. This new policy was in line with the Pasdaran's growing political and military weight. Beginning in 1984, the first Pasdaran armaments factory manufactured 120mm mortars, antipersonnel grenades, various antichemical-warfare equipment, antitank rockets, and rocket-propelled grenades.


Troops of the Pasdaran in Qasr-e Shirin

A primacy of state interest over revolutionary ideology was reflected in the Khomeini regime's treatment of the military. Reports to the contrary notwithstanding, the Khomeini regime never eliminated imperial Iran's regular armed forces. Certainly, key military personnel identified with the deposed shah were arrested, tried, and executed. But the purges were limited to high-profile military and political figures and had a clear purpose: to eliminate Pahlavi loyalists. As a means of countering the threat posed by either the leftist guerrillas or the officers suspected of continued loyalty to the shah, however, Khomeini created the Pasdaran, designated as the guardians of the Revolution. The Constitution of the new republic entrusts the defense of Iran's territorial integrity and political independence to the military, while it gives the Pasdaran the responsibility of preserving the Revolution itself.

Days after Khomeini's return to Tehran, the Bazargan interim administration established the Pasdaran under a decree issued by Khomeini on May 5, 1979. The Pasdaran was intended to protect the Revolution and to assist the ruling clerics in the day-to-day enforcement of the new government's Islamic codes and morality. There were other, perhaps more important, reasons for establishing the Pasdaran. The Revolution needed to rely on a force of its own rather than borrowing the previous regime's tainted units. As one of the first revolutionary institutions, the Pasdaran helped legitimize the Revolution and gave the new regime an armed basis of support. Moreover, the establishment of the Pasdaran served notice to both the population and the regular armed forces that the Khomeini regime was quickly developing its own enforcement body. Thus, the Pasdaran, along with its political counterpart, Crusade for Reconstruction, brought a new order to Iran. In time, the Pasdaran would rival the police and the judiciary in terms of its functions. It would even challenge the performance of the regular armed forces on the battlefield.

Since 1979 the Pasdaran has undergone fundamental changes in mission and function. Some of these changes reflected the control of the IRP (until its abolition in 1987) over both the Pasdaran and the Crusade for Reconstruction. Others reflected the IRP's exclusive reliance on the Pasdaran to carry out certain sensitive missions. Still others reflected personal ambitions of Pasdaran leaders. The Pasdaran, with its own separate ministry, has evolved into one of the most powerful organizations in Iran. Not only did it function as an intelligence organization, both within and outside the country, but it also exerted considerable influence on government policies. In addition to its initial political strength, in the course of several years the Pasdaran also became a powerful military instrument for defending the Revolution and Islamic Iran.

Organization and Functions

According to a classified report captured and released by the students who occupied the United States embassy in Tehran, initially the Pasdaran was planned as an organization that would be directly subordinate to the ruling clerics of the Revolution. According to this report, the Revolutionary Council in 1979 was composed of 12 members and the Pasdaran of 30,000 members, divided as follows: Central Council of Saltanatabad, Tehran, 4,000 members; Provincial Command, 20,000; other commands for border checkpoints and key areas, 3,000; and a training center at Aliabad, 3,000. The commander of the Pasdaran was Ayatollah Lahuti and its chiefs of staff were Hojjatoleslams Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Gholam Ali Afrouz.

From this modest beginning, the Pasdaran became a formidable force. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 1986 the Pasdaran consisted of 350,000 personnel organized in battalion-size units that operated either independently or with units of the regular armed forces. In 1986 the Pasdaran acquired small naval and air elements, and it has claimed responsibility for hit-and-run raids on shipping in the Persian Gulf. Darting out from bases on a chain of small islands in Swedish-built speedboats equipped with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the Pasdaran has established a naval zone in northern Gulf waters. Hosain Alai, the Pasdaran naval commander, announced on April 27, 1987, that the Pasdaran was in "full control" of certain portions of Gulf waters and would continue to operate from Farsi Island, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as from Sirri, Abu Musa, and Larak islands. At that time 200 Pasdaran pilots reportedly were in training in East Germany.

According to the Muslim Student Followers of the Iman's Line, the Pasdaran, under the guidance of such clerics as Lahuti and Hashemi-Rafsanjani, was also "to act as the eyes and ears of the Islamic Revolution" and "as a special task force of the Imam (see Glossary) Khomeini to crush any counterrevolutionary activities within the government or any political usurper against [the] Islamic Government." Over the years the IRP's leadership used the Pasdaran to eliminate opposition figures and to enhance its own position. Using the Pasdaran as a springboard to more important positions, Pasdaran leaders could always obtain access to the Revolutionary Council and Khomeini. For example, President Khamenehi and Majlis speaker Hashemi-Rafsanjani were both former commanders of the Pasdaran.


The first operations commander of the Pasdaran was Abbas Zamani (Abu Sharif), a former teacher from Tehran. A graduate of the College of Education (Islamic Law Section), Zamani was one of the founders of Hizballah in 1971. As early as 1970, when he first traveled to Beirut, he established contacts in Lebanon with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and various guerrilla groups there. Unverified reports have claimed that the Pasdaran has received organizational and training assistance from the PLO, but no Palestinians were known to have visited the Aliabad or other Pasdaran training grounds. Khomeini and his supporters in Iran, as well as many other Iranians, have continued to support the Palestinians, however. For example, PLO leader Yasir Arafat was one of the first world leaders to visit Tehran after the Revolution; he opened a diplomatic mission in what formerly had been the Israeli embassy.

The Pasdaran has been quite active in Lebanon. By the summer of 1982, shortly after the second Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Pasdaran had nearly 1,000 personnel deployed in the predominantly Shia Biqa Valley. From its headquarters near Baalbek, the Pasdaran has provided consistent support to Islamic Amal, a breakaway faction of the mainstream Amal organization that contemplated the establishment of an Islamic state in Lebanon. The secular Baathist Syrian regime has found the Pasdaran presence in Lebanon alternately helpful and threatening. In 1987 the Pasdaran's alleged involvement in anti-American terrorism in Lebanon remained difficult to confirm.

By September 1980, the Pasdaran was capable of deploying forces at the front. Initially, the forces were sent to conduct operations against Kurdish rebels, but before long they were deployed alongside regular armed forces units to conduct conventional military operations. Despite differences, the Pasdaran and the regular armed forces have cooperated on military matters.

The Pasdaran was also given the mandate of organizing a large people's militia, the Basij, in 1980. In a 1985 Iranian News Agency report, Hojjatoleslam Rahmani, head of the Basij forces of the Pasdaran, was quoted as stating that there were close to 3 million volunteers in the paramilitary force receiving training in some 11,000 centers. It is from Basij ranks that volunteers have been drawn to launch "human wave" attacks against the Iraqis, particularly around Basra. More recently, the Pasdaran, on Khomeini's instructions, has initiated the training of women to serve the Revolution.

Role in National Security

From the beginning of the new Islamic regime, the Pasdaran functioned as a corps of the faithful. Its role in national security evolved from securing the regime and eliminating opposition forces to becoming a branch of the military establishment. The Pasdaran's most problematic role, however, has been in intelligence.

Although little is known about the Ministry of the Pasdaran, its intelligence-gathering operations, and its relationship with SAVAMA, several reports have speculated that the Pasdaran has maintained an intelligence branch to spy on the regime's adversaries and to participate in their arrests and trials. Khomeini implied Pasdaran involvement in intelligence when he congratulated the Pasdaran on the arrest of Iranian communist Tudeh leaders. Observers also believed that the Pasdaran had contacts with underground movements in the Gulf region. Given their importance in domestic politics, it would have been possible for Pasdaran members to be assigned to Iranian diplomatic missions, where, in the course of routine intelligence activities, they could monitor dissidents. Observers believed that Pasdaran influence might be particularly important in Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.

Under the command of Mohsen Rezai, the Pasdaran became large enough to match the strength of the regular military. Its power base remained strong in 1987, with the continuing support of Khomeini and other religious authorities. Having eliminated armed leftist groups such as the Mojahedin and the Fadayan, the Pasdaran had fulfilled all IRP expectations. With the abolition of the IRP in 1987, however, observers were uncertain whether the Pasdaran would continue to enjoy unlimited support from high-ranking clerics. Staunchly religious, nationalistic, and battle-trained since 1980, the Pasdaran had emerged as a critical force in determining Iran's national security strategy. In a post-Khomeini era, the Pasdaran could wield enormous power to approve or disapprove governmental changes. In contrast to the Pasdaran, which had a primary responsibility for upholding the Revolution, the major concern of the Iranian military was the prosecution of the war with Iraq.


As of June 1987, the major events of the war could generally be divided into six overlapping phases: the original Iraqi offensive, Iranian mobilization and resistance, the Iranian counteroffensive, the war of attrition, Iraqi internationalization of the war, and the surge in superpower involvement. In addition, there was the tanker war in the Persian Gulf, which extended over several of these phases.

The Original Iraqi Offensive

Baghdad originally planned a quick victory over Tehran. On September 22, 1980, Iraqi fighter aircraft attacked ten air bases in Iran. Their aim was to destroy the Iranian air force on the ground -- a lesson learned from the Arab-Israeli June 1967 War. They succeeded in destroying runways and fuel and ammunition depots, but much of Iran's aircraft inventory was left intact. Simultaneously, six Iraqi army divisions entered Iran on three fronts in an initially successful surprise attack. On the northern front, an Iraqi mountain infantry division captured Qasr-e Shirin, a border town in Bakhtaran (formerly known as Kermanshahan) Province, and occupied territory thirty kilometers eastward to the base of the Zagros Mountains. This area was strategically significant because the main Baghdad-Tehran highway traversed it. On the central front, Iraqi forces captured Mehran, on the western plain of the Zagros Mountains in Ilam Province, and pushed eastward to the mountain base. Mehran occupied an important position on the major north-south road, close to the border on the Iranian side. The main thrust of the attack, however, was in the south. Iraqi armored units easily crossed the Shatt al Arab waterway and entered the Iranian province of Khuzestan. While some divisions headed toward Khorramshahr and Abadan, others moved toward Ahvaz, the provincial capital and site of an air base. Supported by heavy artillery fire, the troops made a rapid and significant advance -- almost eighty kilometers in the first few days. In the battle for Dezful in Khuzestan, where a major air base is located, the local Iranian army commander requested air support in order to avoid a defeat. President Bani Sadr, therefore, authorized the release from jail of many pilots, some of whom were suspected of still being loyal to the shah. With the increased use of the Iranian air force, the Iraqi progress was somewhat curtailed.

The last major Iraqi territorial gain took place in early November 1980. On November 3, Iraqi forces reached Abadan but were repulsed by a Pasdaran unit. Even though they surrounded Abadan on three sides and occupied a portion of the city, the Iraqis could not overcome the stiff resistance; sections of the city still under Iranian control were resupplied by boat at night. On November 10, Iraq captured Khorramshahr after a bloody house-to-house fight. The price of this victory was high for both sides, approximately 6,000 casualties for Iraq and even more for Iran.

Iranian Mobilization and Resistance

Iran may have prevented a quick Iraqi victory by a rapid mobilization of volunteers and deployment of loyal Pasdaran forces to the front. Besides enlisting the Iranian pilots, the new revolutionary regime also recalled veterans of the old imperial army, although many experienced officers, most of whom had been trained in the United States, had been purged. Furthermore, the Pasdaran and Basij (what Khomeini called the "Army of Twenty Million" or People's Militia) recruited at least 100,000 volunteers. Approximately 200,000 soldiers were sent to the front by the end of November 1980. They were ideologically committed troops (some members even carried their own shrouds to the front in the expectation of martyrdom) that fought bravely despite inadequate armor support. For example, on November 7 commando units played a significant role, with the navy and air force, in an assault on Iraqi oil export terminals at Mina al Bakr and Al Faw. Iran hoped to diminish Iraq's financial resources by reducing its oil revenues. Iran also attacked the northern pipeline in the early days of the war and persuaded Syria to close the Iraqi pipeline that crossed its territory.

Iran's resistance at the outset of the Iraqi invasion was unexpectedly strong, but it was neither well organized nor equally successful on all fronts. Iraq easily advanced in the northern and central sections and crushed the Pasdaran's scattered resistance there. Iraqi troops, however, faced untiring resistance in Khuzestan. President Saddam Husayn of Iraq may have thought that the approximately 3 million Arabs of Khuzestan would join the Iraqis against Tehran. Instead, many allied with Iran's regular and irregular armed forces and fought in the battles at Dezful, Khorramshahr, and Abadan. Soon after capturing Khorramshahr, the Iraqi troops lost their initiative and began to dig in along their line of advance.

The Iranian Counteroffensive

Iran had created the SDC in 1980 to undertake what the Iranians called Jange Tahmili, or the imposed war. Iran launched a counteroffensive in January 1981. Both the volunteers and the regular armed forces were eager to fight, the latter seeing an opportunity to regain prestige lost because of their association with the shah's regime. Iran's first major counterattack failed, however, for political and military reasons. President Bani Sadr was engaged in a power struggle with key religious figures and eager to gain political support among the armed forces by direct involvement in military operations. Lacking military expertise, he initiated a premature attack by three regular armored regiments without the assistance of the Pasdaran units. He also failed to take into account that the ground near Susangerd, muddied by the preceding rainy season, would make resupply difficult. As a result of his tactical decision making, the Iranian forces were surrounded on three sides. In a long exchange of fire, many Iranian armored vehicles were destroyed or had to be abandoned because they were either stuck in the mud or needed minor repairs. Fortunately for Iran, however, the Iraqi forces failed to follow up with another attack.

After Bani Sadr was ousted as president and commander in chief, Iran gained its first major victory, when, as a result of Khomeini's initiative, the army and Pasdaran suppressed their rivalry and cooperated to force Baghdad to lift its long siege of Abadan in September 1981. Iranian forces also defeated Iraq in the Qasr-e Shirin area in December 1981 and January 1982. The Iraqi armed forces were hampered by their unwillingness to sustain a high casualty rate and therefore refused to initiate a new offensive.

In March 1982, Tehran launched a major offensive called "Undeniable Victory." Its forces broke the Iraqi line near Susangerd, separating Iraqi units in northern and southern Khuzestan. Within a week, they succeeded in destroying a large part of three Iraqi divisions. This operation, another combined effort of the army, Pasdaran, and Basij, was a turning point in the war because the strategic initiative shifted from Iraq to Iran. In May 1982, Iranian units finally regained Khorramshahr, but with high casualties. After this victory, the Iranians maintained the pressure on the remaining Iraqi forces, and President Saddam Husayn announced that the Iraqi units would withdraw from Iranian territory.

The War of Attrition

The "war of attrition" began after the Iranian high command passed from regular military leaders to clergy in mid-1982. Although Basra was within range of Iranian artillery, the clergy used "human-wave" attacks by the Pasdaran and Basij against the city's defenses, apparently waiting for a coup to topple Saddam Husayn. All such assaults faced Iraqi artillery fire and received heavy casualties.

Throughout 1983 both sides demonstrated their ability to absorb and to inflict severe losses. Iraq, in particular, proved adroit at constructing defensive strong points and flooding lowland areas to stymie the Iranian thrusts, hampering the advance of mechanized units. Both sides also experienced difficulties in effectively utilizing their armor. Rather than maneuver their armor, they tended to dig in tanks and use them as artillery pieces. Furthermore, both sides failed to master tank gunsights and fire controls, making themselves vulnerable to antitank weapons.

Internationalization of the War

Beginning in 1984, Baghdad's military goal changed from controlling Iranian territory to denying Tehran any major gain inside Iraq. Furthermore, Iraq tried to force Iran to the negotiating table by various means. First, President Saddam Husayn sought to increase the war's manpower and economic cost to Iran. For this purpose, Iraq purchased new weapons, mainly from the Soviet Union and France. Iraq also completed the construction of what came to be known as "killing zones" (which consisted primarily of artificially flooded areas near Basra) to stop Iranian units. In addition, according to Jane's Defence Weekly and other sources, Baghdad used chemical weapons against Iranian troop concentrations and launched attacks on many economic centers. Despite Iraqi determination to halt further Iranian progress, Iranian units in March 1984 captured parts of the Majnun Islands, whose oil fields had economic as well as strategic value.

Second, Iraq turned to diplomatic and political means. In April 1984, Saddam Husayn proposed to meet Khomeini personally in a neutral location to discuss peace negotiations. But Tehran rejected this offer and restated its refusal to negotiate with President Husayn.

Third, Iraq sought to involve the superpowers as a means of ending the war. The Iraqis believed this objective could be achieved by attacking Iranian shipping. Initially, Baghdad used borrowed French Super Etendard aircraft armed with Exocets. In 1984 Iraq returned these airplanes to France and purchased approximately thirty Mirage F-1 fighters equipped with Exocet missiles. Iraq launched a new series of attacks on shipping on February 1, 1984.

Gradual Superpower Involvement

In early 1987, both superpowers indicated their interest in the security of the region. Soviet deputy foreign minister Vladimir Petrovsky made a Middle East tour expressing his country's concern over the effects of the Iran-Iraq War. In May 1987, United States assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy also toured the Gulf emphasizing to friendly Arab states the United States commitment in the region, a commitment which had become suspect as a result of Washington's transfer of arms to the Iranians, officially as an incentive for them to assist in freeing American hostages held in Lebanon. In another diplomatic effort, both superpowers supported the UN Security Council resolutions seeking an end to the war.

The war appeared to be entering a new phase in which the superpowers were becoming more involved. For instance, the Soviet Union, which had ended military supplies to both Iran and Iraq in 1980, resumed large-scale arms shipments to Iraq in 1982 after Iran banned the Tudeh and tried and executed most of its leaders. Subsequently, despite its professed neutrality, the Soviet Union became the major supplier of sophisticated arms to Iraq. In 1985 the United States began clandestine direct and indirect negotiations with Iranian officials that resulted in several arms shipments to Iran.

Iranian military gains inside Iraq after 1984 were a major reason for increased superpower involvement in the war. In February 1986, Iranian units captured the port of Al Faw, which had oil facilities and was one of Iraq's major oil-exporting ports before the war.

By late 1986, rumors of a final Iranian offensive against Basra proliferated. On January 8, Operation Karbala Five began, with Iranian units pushing westward between Fish Lake and the Shatt al Arab. They captured the town of Duayji and inflicted 20,000 casualties on Iraq, but at the cost of 65,000 Iranian casualties. In this intensive operation, Baghdad also lost forty-five airplanes. Attempting to capture Basra, Tehran launched several attacks, some of them well-disguised diversion assaults such as Operation Karbala Six and Operation Karbala Seven. Iran finally aborted Operation Karbala Five on February 26.

In late May 1987, just when the war seemed to have reached a complete stalemate on the southern front, reports from Iran indicated that the conflict was intensifying on Iraq's northern front. This assault, Operation Karbala Ten, was a joint effort by Iranian units and Iraqi Kurdish rebels. They surrounded the garrison at Mawat, endangering Iraq's oil fields near Kirkuk and the northern oil pipeline to Turkey.

By late spring of 1987, the superpowers became more directly involved because they feared that the fall of Basra might lead to a pro-Iranian Islamic republic in largely Shia-populated southern Iraq. They were also concerned about the intensified tanker war. During the first four months of 1987, Iran attacked twenty ships and Iraq assaulted fifteen. Kuwaiti ships were favorite targets because Iran strongly objected to Kuwait's close relationship with the Baghdad regime. Kuwait turned to the superpowers, partly to protect oil exports but largely to seek an end to the war through superpower intervention. Moscow leased three tankers to Kuwait, and by June the United States had reflagged half of Kuwait's fleet of twenty-two tankers. Finally, direct attacks on the superpowers' ships drew them into the conflict. On May 6, for the first time, a Soviet freighter was attacked in the southern Gulf region, hit by rockets from Iranian gunboats. Ten days later, a Soviet tanker was damaged by a mine allegedly placed by Iranians near the Kuwait coast. More shocking to the United States was the May 17 accidental Iraqi air attack on the U.S.S Stark in which thirty-seven sailors died. The attack highlighted the danger to international shipping in the Gulf.

The Tanker War

The tanker war seemed likely to precipitate a major international incident for two reasons. First, some 70 percent of Japanese, 50 percent of West European, and 7 percent of American oil imports came from the Persian Gulf in the early 1980s. Second, the assault on tankers involved neutral shipping as well as ships of the belligerent states.

The tanker war had two phases. The relatively obscure first phase began in 1981, and the well-publicized second phase began in 1984. As early as May 1981, Baghdad had unilaterally declared a war zone and had officially warned all ships heading to or returning from Iranian ports in the northern zone of the Gulf to stay away or, if they entered, to proceed at their own risk. The main targets in this phase were the ports of Bandar-e Khomeini and Bandar-e Mashur; very few ships were hit outside this zone. Despite the proximity of these ports to Iraq, the Iraqi navy did not play an important role in the operations. Instead, Baghdad used Super Frelon helicopters equipped with Exocet missiles or Mirage F-1s and MiG-23s to hit its targets.

In March 1984, the tanker war entered its second phase when an Iraqi Super Etendard fired an Exocet missile at a Greek tanker south of Khark Island. Until the March assault, Iran had not intentionally attacked civilian ships in the Gulf. The new wave of Iraqi assaults, however, led Iran to reciprocate. In April 1984, Tehran launched its first attack against civilian commercial shipping by shelling an Indian freighter. Most observers considered that Iraqi attacks, however, outnumbered Iranian assaults by three to one.

Iran's retaliatory attacks were largely ineffective because a limited number of aircraft equipped with long-range antiship missiles and ships with long-range surface-to-surface missiles were deployed. Moreover, despite repeated Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, Iran itself depended on the sea-lanes for vital oil exports. Nonetheless, by late 1987 Iran's mine-laying activities and attacks on ships had drawn a large fleet of Western naval vessels to the Gulf to ensure that the sea-lanes were kept open.

Role of the Air Force

Despite Iraqi success in causing major damage to exposed Iranian ammunition and fuel dumps in the early days of the war, the Iranian air force prevailed initially in the air war. One reason was that Iranian airplanes could carry two or three times more bombs or rockets than their Iraqi counterparts. Moreover, Iranian pilots demonstrated considerable expertise. For example, the Iranian air force attacked Baghdad and key Iraqi air bases as early as the first few weeks of the war, seeking to destroy supply and support systems. The attack on Iraq's oil field complex and air base at Al Walid, the base for T-22 and Il-28 bombers, was a well-coordinated assault. The targets were more than 800 kilometers from Iran's closest air base at Urumiyeh, so the F-4s had to refuel in midair for the mission. Iran's air force relied on F-4s and F-5s for assaults and a few F-14s for reconnaissance. Although Iran used its Maverick missiles effectively against ground targets, lack of airplane spare parts forced Iran to substitute helicopters for close air support. Helicopters served not only as gunships and troop carriers but also as emergency supply transports. In the mountainous area near Mehran, helicopters proved advantageous in finding and destroying targets and maneuvering against antiaircraft guns or man-portable missiles. During Operation Karbala Five and Operation Karbala Six, the Iranians reportedly engaged in large-scale helicopter-borne operations on the southern and central fronts, respectively. Chinooks and smaller Bell helicopters, such as the Bell 214A, were escorted by Sea Cobra choppers.

In confronting the Iraqi air defense, Iran soon discovered that a low-flying group of two, three, or four F-4s could hit targets almost anywhere in Iraq. Iranian pilots overcame Iraqi SA-2 and SA-3 antiaircraft missiles, using American tactics developed in Vietnam; they were less successful against Iraqi SA-6s. Iran's Western-made air defense system seemed more effective than Iraq's Soviet-made counterpart. Nevertheless, Iran experienced difficulty in operating and maintaining Hawk, Rapier, and Tigercat missiles and instead used antiaircraft guns and man-portable missiles.

As the war continued, however, Iran was increasingly short of spare parts for damaged airplanes and had lost a large number of airplanes in combat. As a result, by late 1987 Iran had become less able to mount an effective defense against the resupplied Iraqi air force, let alone stage aerial counterattacks.

Role of the Navy

In late 1987, an accurate estimate of Iranian naval capability was difficult. In the November 1980 offensive against Iraqi ports and oil facilities, Iran lost at least two corvettes and two missile boats. Nevertheless, the Iranian navy was able to supply Abadan by night (with food and arms for the armed forces and the remaining civilians) until late 1981, when Iranian forces regained the city.

Lacking parts and qualified personnel, few Iranian ships were deployed outside limited coastal areas, where their main functions were patrol and search missions. The Iranian navy stopped and searched hundreds of ships suspected of carrying military equipment destined for Iraq. Beginning in 1984, some Iranian military elements such as the Pasdaran also assaulted ships in the Persian Gulf. In May 1987, reliable sources reported that a Soviet ship was assaulted by a Pasdaran unit speedboat; such Pasdaran raids were largely ineffective, however, because of the weapons used -- machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.


Status in National Life

Since 1979 Iran has witnessed political and military changes with long-lasting domestic repercussions. The shah relied on the country's considerable military strength to implement his policy goals. When his rule was replaced by a theocratic regime with a new domestic agenda, political power presumably rested in the hands of Khomeini and a group of cautious clerics bound by deeply conservative religious values. In the turmoil of the Revolution, the regular armed forces lost their preeminent position in society primarily because of their close identification with the shah.

The military was paralyzed by fast-moving events and incapable of effective action, and its downfall was accelerated when a number of key senior officers fled the country, fearing reprisals from the revolutionary regime. The public trials and executions of high-ranking military officers further tainted the military's image. On February 15, 1979, three days after the official declaration of the republic, a secret Islamic revolutionary court in Tehran handed down death sentences on four generals. Five days later the regime ordered the execution of four more generals. Other military officers were executed for the Islamic crimes of "causing corruption on earth" and "fighting Allah," according to an interpretation of shariat. The new regime considered these officers as Pahlavi holdovers, lacking proper Islamic credentials and therefore potential instigators of military coups. When protests were voiced about summary executions, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, the cleric in charge of the komitehs, replied, "We must purify society in order to renew it." The resulting leadership vacuum in the military took several years to fill.

Mobilized to fight a foreign enemy, the armed forces by 1981 were gradually developing autonomy and an esprit de corps, despite their acrimonious infighting with the Pasdaran, whose independent military power acted as a check on any possible coup attempts by the armed forces. The Khomeini regime, aware of its dependence on the armed forces, adopted a new strategy aimed at assimilating the military into the Revolution by promoting loyal officers and propagating Islamic values. Leaders recognized that as long as the country was at war with Iraq and was experiencing internal political turmoil, they would need a loyal army on the battlefield as well as the loyal Pasdaran on the homefront. Despite the need for military support, however, the revolutionary regime continued to exercise tight control over the armed forces and to regard them with some suspicion.

Political rivalries notwithstanding, the regular armed forces' professionalism and impressive performance in the war stood as clear alternatives to the early "human-wave" tactics of the Pasdaran and Basij, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and achieved little. The armed forces' respectable military performance also helped exonerate them from the role they had played during the Pahlavi period. Since September 1980, the military has demonstrated that it could and would defend the country and the legitimate government.

The Defense Burden

Military expenditures under the shah were high and unpopular. Even after the 1974 rise in the price of petroleum, a disproportionately high percentage of the government's annual budget was devoted to military expenditures. Iran's military establishment occupied a special place, and the civilian population, particularly in the rural areas, disapproved of its privileged status. Despite the nation-building activities in which the armed forces were engaged (especially in the area of education), Iranian society in general never fully shared the shah's commitment to a buildup that drained the treasury of scarce resources.

Since 1980 the armed forces' budget has been prepared by the Ministry of Defense (formerly the Ministry of War under the shah) in consultation with the SDC. The latter is also consulted by the Ministry of the Pasdaran in preparing its budget. In turn, the prime minister, who is also a member of the SDC, submits the completed package to the Majlis for debate, approval, and appropriation.

In the absence of official data, the precise levels of military expenditures are difficult to determine. Figures collected and analyzed by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute for the 1976-83 period indicate a reduction in defense expenditures from the equivalent of US$14.6 billion in 1976 to US$5.2 billion in 1983. Not surprisingly, the sharpest decline occurred in 1979, when the revolutionary regime either canceled or postponed contracted purchases. The most notable cancellations were the navy's six Spruance-class destroyers and three Tang-class submarines. The air force also canceled big-ticket items, including 160 F-16 fighters and 7 Boeing E3A-AWACS aircraft. Admittedly, some cancellations were caused by economic difficulties during the shah's last years in power. With a reduction in Iran's oil revenues during the 1977-78 period, the shah reluctantly agreed to scale down ambitious construction projects, such as the naval facility at Chah Bahar (now Bandar Beheshti) on the Arabian Sea and the military industrial complex at Esfahan.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary government abandoned many military projects, not only because most were contracted with American corporations such as Northrop and Boeing, but also because the new regime's priorities were different. The Khomeini government claimed to represent the oppressed masses and promised to provide for their needs. To this end the government chose to reallocate massive defense expenditures in other directions.

This trend was rapidly reversed, however, with the revolutionary government's first war budget in 1981. Because published figures are lacking, reliable estimates of Iran's defense expenditures are difficult to make. For example, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, defense expenditures in FY 1981-82 may have been somewhere between US$4.4 and US$13.3 billion; if so, the latter figure would represent 41.6 percent of Iran's total budget. By 1987 all defense expenditures, including those of the Pasdaran and Basij and payments to the families of war martyrs, may have totaled US$100 billion.

Iran's prerevolutionary defense budgets were high by the standards of developing countries, and large expenditures for its armed forces continued through the early 1980s. Despite the outbreak of the war, Iran's gross national product (GNP) climbed from an estimated US$107 billion in 1979 to US$158 billion in 1984. Military expenditures climbed similarly from an estimated US$8.8 billion in 1979 to US$11.3 billion in 1984. The United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency's statistics indicated that military expenditures as a percentage of GNP increased from 6.6 percent to 7.2 percent between 1980 and 1984. More significantly, according to some estimates, military expenditures represented 19.7 percent of central government expenditures in 1980 and 29.9 percent in 1984. By all accounts, the impact of these large military expenditures on Iranian society has been considerable.

The World Bank estimated that with almost one-third of the annual budget allocated to the war effort, other sectors of the economy, including education, health, and housing, experienced sharp declines. Iran's revolutionary government, however, rechanneled some of its military disbursements to the nonmilitary population. For example, veterans, disabled veterans, and widows continued to receive financial support from the government. In rural areas, ad hoc procurement mechanisms were rapidly put in place to feed and clothe the swelling volunteer ranks. These activities created employment opportunities that channeled government monies to the civilian population.

Ingenious as these steps were, the burden of defense expenditures left some of Tehran's revolutionary promises unfulfilled. Khomeini had criticized the shah's regime for squandering Iran's assets by pouring a large percentage of oil revenues into the military and denying basic services to the majority of the population, but in some cases Khomeini was obliged to do the same thing. It was true that after 1980, economic conditions improved proportionately faster for the lower classes than for any other group. Still, the revolutionary regime was exacting great sacrifices from those who could least afford it.  

The Impact of Casualties on Society

Iraqi force severely damaged the port of Khorramshahr in October 1980

Iran's population, based on the preliminary results of the October 1986 census, was slightly more than 48 million, including approximately 2.6 million refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq. The population was expected, according to United States Bureau of Census projections, to increase to nearly 56 million in 1990 and 76 million in the year 2000. In 1986 the 18 to 30-year-old and 31 to 45-year-old male populations stood at about 5.2 and 3.5 million, respectively. In the absence of reliable information on Iran's war casualties, the significance of these figures was difficult to assess. Estimates of war-related deaths ranged between 750,000 and 1 million. Loss of life was especially high among the 18- to 30-year-old male population; a generation of young and potentially productive citizens had been cut by 15 to 20 percent, and the survivors had been physically and mentally scarred by the war.

Casualties also affected Iran's attempts at industrial recovery. The campaign to resuscitate steel, petrochemical, and other plants faced critical manpower shortages, raising criticisms from the more conservative elements in the regime. The manpower shortages were exacerbated by the 1982 military campaigns that had mobilized up to 1 million volunteers on more than one occasion.

Coupled with the deteriorating economic situation, the high human cost of the abortive Iranian thrusts into Iraq in 1981 to 1983 generated war-weariness and discontent even among the regime's staunchest supporters, the urban and lower classes. The number of recruits dropped because of disenchantment stemming from political divisions, which sometimes produced conflicts that turned violent in the streets of major cities. The Khomeini regime, relying on the total devotion of the Pasdaran and the Basij, appealed to national and religious feelings to rekindle morale. In a series of rulings issued in the autumn of 1982, Khomeini declared that parental permission was unnecessary for those going to the front, that volunteering for military duty was a religious obligation, and that serving in the armed forces took priority over all other forms of work or study. The government mounted a simultaneous effort to quell demonstrations by political groups like the Mojahedin and the Tudeh. The demise of left-wing guerrilla organizations, however, did not reduce opposition to the war. New elements calling for a settlement of the conflict with Iraq emerged. Because of this opposition, former Prime Minister Bazargan tried to negotiate an end to the war, realizing that Iran might fall victim to its own political rigidity. For the revolutionary regime, however, the war remained a legitimizing tool, despite its high cost.

Treatment of Veterans and Widows

In 1980 the Khomeini government established two special foundations to care for those affected by war. The Foundation for Martyrs and the Foundation for War Refugees (Bonyad-e Jangzadegan) provided welfare and services to veterans and survivors. It also established the Foundation for War Victims (veterans) and the Foundation for the Disinherited (Bonyad-e Mostazafin), which looked after orphans.

With more than 1 million people killed or maimed by the war, the cost of financing compensations and pensions mounted rapidly. War-related expenses included the costs of the Pasdaran and the Basij, compensations and pensions to the war disabled and the families of the dead, the funding of the Foundation for War Victims and the War Reconstruction Fund. Despite these mounting costs, the government was generous to the survivors of the dead. A regular soldier's family reportedly received compensation of US$24,000 and full salary as a pension; additionally, the equivalent of US$60 monthly was deposited in the bank account of each of his minor children until they reached eighteen. The government assisted the family in renting, buying, or building a house. Less generous amounts were paid to the families of the Pasdaran and the Basij who died on the front. Disabled soldiers reportedly received US$30 monthly, and the seriously injured were cared for in veterans' hospitals.

In an official Iranian publication, Summary Report: An Estimate of the Economic Damages of the Imposed War of Iraq Against Iran, the damages caused to the Iranian economy up to March 1983 were cited as equivalent to US$135.8 billion, including the loss of oil revenue (US$35 billion) and agricultural output (US$23 billion). A dozen cities and 1,200 villages were reported destroyed and another 19 cities partially damaged. The war had created no fewer than 1.5 million Iranian refugees by early 1983. In 1987 more recent documentation was unavailable, but, because of the war's persistence, the numbers were undoubtedly larger.


The Islamic Revolution destroyed the structures on which the shah's internal security policies depended. Mohammad Reza Shah had not tolerated dissent, had reacted strongly when challenged, and had relied on an elaborate internal security police force to enforce his absolute authority. Over the years, Khomeini had vigorously condemned the shah's secret police operations and continually called on Iranians to rise against a perceived tyrannical ruler. By the late 1970s, the shah's internal security organizations were in disgrace because of their abuses. In early 1979, the revolutionary regime dismantled existing security organizations and called on loyal citizens to protect the Revolution. Yet, like the shah, the revolutionary regime faced clear opposition to its authority.

Internal Security in the 1970s

The Pahlavi regime identified the Fadayan, the Tudeh, and several ethnic groups as opponents to the shah's rule. To meet their rising challenge, the shah relied on security forces whose agents infiltrated many underground organizations. By early 1970, a sophisticated intelligence-gathering system was in place, reporting all currents of political dissent directly to the monarch.

In 1970 opposition forces took the initiative by launching a terrorist campaign against the regime. At the time, this was perceived as a nuisance and an embarrassment to the shah, because the monarchy was not "threatened." Nevertheless, opposition to the shah grew stronger when the monarch authorized unrelenting punishment of those accused of security violations. Hundreds of young Iranians were arrested, tried, and sentenced. Many were tortured and some executed for their unwavering opposition. In 1976 opposition forces clashed with the police in a series of gun battles that mobilized thousands in the streets of Tehran. With heightened visibility, terrorist groups mounted successful attacks on police posts, further threatening the regime's hold on internal security. By 1978 organized opposition to the monarchy reached a high point with ideologically incompatible groups joining in efforts to overthrow the shah. Leftist guerrillas joined student and religious organizations in calling for political change.

The two most important leftist guerrilla groups operating in Iran in 1978 were the Mojahedin and the Fadayan. The Mojahedin had changed its name at least three times since its formation in 1960 under the name of Nehzat-e Azadi-yi Iran, or the Iran Freedom Movement (IFM). Although it was not formally a religious party, its rank-and-file membership was religiously oriented, a fact that helped mobilize clerical support in 1978. Unlike the clerical forces, however, the Mojahedin and the Fadayan conducted a systematic assassination campaign in 1977 and 1978 against Iranian security officials and United States military and defense-related personnel stationed in Tehran. The shah was also a target, as evidenced by periodic uncoverings of assassination plots. This wave of violence was met by an equally strong and determined campaign of arrests and executions. Iranian students abroad also became part of a cycle of action and counteraction: in the United States and Western Europe, students who protested against the shah were kept under surveillance so that punitive action could later be taken against them. In addition, the Mojahedin and the Fadayan conducted a propaganda campaign in support of "the Iranian armed struggle" and against the shah, SAVAK, and what was termed "institutionalized repression in Iran."

Within Iran's borders, stiff government security measures notwithstanding, organized opposition was never eliminated. Although the shah had declared illegal all opposition political parties, labor unions, peasant organizations, and university student groups, antigovernment sentiments remained high, especially among the clerical
community. By late 1977, student demonstrations increased in frequency, with a vocal minority calling on Iranians to "raise their voices against absolute rule." These protests, timed to call President Jimmy Carter's attention to the human rights situation in Iran, resulted in the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom were allegedly tortured by SAVAK forces.

In January 1978, conservative religious students demonstrated in the holy city of Qom to express the long-standing clerical opposition to the shah's land reform
policies, which had resulted in the expropriation of vaqf (religious endowment) and other lands. Religious leaders were also outraged at what they perceived to be the shah's violations of sacred Islamic laws in such areas as the role of women in society and the imposition of a secular legal system that usurped clerical authority. Attempts by the police to disperse demonstrators resulted in several deaths.

The religious leadership called for a general strike across the country for February 18, to highlight the forty-day mourning period for those killed in Qom. Far more serious disturbances erupted on that day in Tabriz and Tehran, precipitating the worst riots since 1963. After several days of widespread arson directed at banks, movie theaters, and hotels in Tabriz, the army moved in to restore order. Similar measures were taken in Tehran and other major cities. According to the government 12 persons were killed in Tabriz and 250 persons arrested. In reality, the casualty figure was much higher and the arrests more numerous. Ironically, the deaths presented the next opportunity for confrontation. When demonstrators, commemorating the forty-day mourning period, defiantly marched through the streets of Tabriz, the armed forces reacted as expected. To protect themselves and restore order, they opened fire, killing and injuring more civilians. The result was a sequence of events in which the opposition, led by influential clerics, conducted "religious commemorations," and the government interpreted them as challenges to aw and order. With neither side relenting, the cycle of violence spread.

Observers of these tragic events pointed out that the reemergence of large-scale protest demonstrations was only made possible because of the shah's more liberal policies toward the nonviolent expression of dissent. Indeed, the shah confirmed on several occasions his commitment to more "liberal" political reforms, but at the same time he warned that the dissident movement was "completely illegal" and that he would "not let it get out of hand." Illegal or not, mass protest demonstrations did get out of control when the shah openly chastised the clerics for "destroying the country." The shah could not end these demonstrations, which gathered more support throughout 1978. Workers from the oil industry, heeding the call of the religious authorities, slowly paralyzed Iran's economic sector. It became only a matter of time before the shah lost control over Iran's internal security.

Law Enforcement Agencies

Intensely concerned with matters of internal security in the post-1953 environment, the shah authorized the development of one of the most extensive systems of law enforcement agencies in the developing world. The Gendarmerie -- the rural police -- and the National Police gained in numbers and responsibilities. The secret police organization, SAVAK, gained special notoriety for its excessive zeal in "maintaining" internal security. But as in the regular armed forces, the shah's management style virtually eliminated all coordination among these agencies. A favorite approach was to shuffle army personnel back and forth between their ordinary duties and temporary positions in internal security agencies, in order to minimize the possibility of any organized coups against the throne. Added to this list of institutional shortcomings was agencies' all- important public image, cloaked in mystery and fear. Iranians in and out of the country came to perceive these agencies as "arms" of the shah's absolute power and resented them deeply.


Formed under the guidance of United States and Israeli intelligence officers in 1957, SAVAK developed into an effective secret agency. General Teymur Bakhtiar was appointed its first director, only to be dismissed in 1961, allegedly for organizing a coup; he was assassinated in 1970 under mysterious circumstances, probably on the shah's direct order. His successor, General Hosain Pakravan, was dismissed in 1966, allegedly for having failed to crush the clerical opposition in the early 1960s. The shah turned to his childhood friend and classmate, General Nematollah Nassiri, to rebuild SAVAK and properly "serve" the monarch. Mansur Rafizadeh, the SAVAK director in the United States throughout the 1970s, claimed that General Nassiri's telephone was tapped by SAVAK agents reporting directly to the shah, an example of the level of mistrust pervading the government on the eve of the Revolution.

In 1987 accurate information concerning SAVAK remained publicly unavailable. A flurry of pamphlets issued by the revolutionary regime after 1979 indicated that SAVAK had been a full-scale intelligence agency with more than 15,000 full-time personnel and thousands of part-time informants. SAVAK was attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, and its director assumed the title of deputy to the prime minister for national security affairs. Although officially a civilian agency, SAVAK had close ties to the military; many of its officers served simultaneously in branches of the armed forces. Another childhood friend and close confidant of the shah, Major General Hosain Fardust, was deputy director of SAVAK until the early 1970s, when the shah promoted him to the directorship of the Special Intelligence Bureau, which operated inside Niavaran Palace, independently of SAVAK.

Founded to round up members of the outlawed Tudeh, SAVAK expanded its activities to include gathering intelligence and neutralizing the regime's opponents. An elaborate system was created to monitor all facets of political life. For example, a censorship office was established to monitor journalists, literary figures, and academics throughout the country; it took appropriate measures against those who fell out of line. Universities, labor unions, and peasant organizations, among others, were all subjected to intense surveillance by SAVAK agents and paid informants. The agency was also active abroad, especially in monitoring Iranian students who publicly opposed Pahlavi rule.

Over the years, SAVAK became a law unto itself, having legal authority to arrest and detain suspected persons indefinitely. SAVAK operated its own prisons in Tehran (the Komiteh and Evin facilities) and, many suspected, throughout the country as well. Many of these activities were carried out without any institutional checks. Thus, it came as no surprise when, in 1979, SAVAK was singled out as a primary target for reprisals, its headquarters overrun, and prominent leaders tried and executed by komiteh representatives. High-ranking SAVAK agents were purged between 1979 and 1981; there were 61 SAVAK officials among 248 military personnel executed between February and September 1979. The organization was officially dissolved by Khomeini shortly after he came to power in 1979.


Little information existed in 1987 on SAVAK's successor agency, SAVAMA. According to General Robert E. Huyser, President Jimmy Carter's last special envoy to imperial Iran, SAVAMA's first director was Major General Fardust, who was arrested in December 1985 for being a "Soviet informer." But after this major arrest the revolutionary government's keen desire to gain an upper hand over leftist guerrilla organizations may have influenced certain IRP leaders to relax their previously unrelenting pursuit of military intelligence personnel. Key religious leaders, including Majlis speaker Hashemi-Rafsanjani, insisted on recalling former agents to help the regime eliminate domestic opposition. Consequently, some intelligence officers and low-ranking SAVAK and army intelligence officials were asked to return to government service because of their specialized knowledge of the Iranian left. Others had acquired in-depth knowledge of Iraq's Baath Party and proved to be invaluable in helping decision makers.

Although it is impossible to verify, in 1987 observers speculated that some of SAVAK's intelligence-gathering operations were turned over to SAVAMA. It remained to be determined whether these newly authorized operations proved effective and whether there was coordination with other branches of government,
including the powerful Pasdaran.

Gendarmerie and National Police

The Gendarmerie, numbering nearly 74,000 in 1979, was subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Its law enforcement responsibilities extended to all rural areas and to small towns and villages of fewer than 5,000 inhabitants. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated its manpower at 70,000 in 1986.

The National Police operated with approximately 200,000 men in 1979, a figure that has not fluctuated much since. Like the Gendarmerie, the National Police was under the Ministry of Interior, and its responsibilities included all cities with more than 5,000 in population -- a total of 20 percent of the population. In addition, the National Police was responsible for passport and immigration procedures, issuance and control of citizens' identification cards, driver and vehicle licensing and registration, and railroad and airport policing. Some of these duties were absorbed into the Ministry of the Pasdaran during the early years of the Revolution, and cooperation between these two branches seemed extensive.

Since 1979 both these paramilitary organizations have undergone complete reorganizations. IRP leaders quickly appointed Gendarmerie and police officers loyal to the Revolution to revive and reorganize the two bodies under the Republic. Between 1979 and 1983, no fewer than seven officers were given top National Police portfolios. Colonel Khalil Samimi, appointed in 1983 by the influential Hojjatoleslam Nategh-e Nuri, then minister of interior, was credited with reorganizing the National Police according to the IRP's Islamic guidelines. The Gendarmerie followed a similar path. Seven appointments were made between 1979 and 1986, leading to a full reorganization. In addition to Brigadier General Ahmad Mohagheghi, the commander in the early republican period who was executed in late summer of 1980, five colonels were purged. Colonel Ali Kuchekzadeh played a major role in reorganizing and strengthening the Gendarmerie after its near collapse in the early revolutionary period. The commander in 1987, Colonel Mohammad Sohrabi, had served in that position since February 1985 and was the first top officer to have risen from the ranks.

As of 1987, the National Police and the Gendarmerie reflected the ideology of the state. Despite their valuable internal security operations, the roles of both bodies were restricted by the rising influence of the Pasdaran and the Basij.

Antiregime Opposition Groups

The Khomeini regime has faced severe challenges from several opposition groups, including royalists, National Front bureaucrats, intellectuals and professionals, communists, guerrilla organizations, Kurdish rebels, and distinguished mujtahids (Shia clerics whose demonstrated erudition in religious law has earned them the privilege to interpret law). Of these, the royalists and the National Front leaders have operated mainly from foreign bases or underground cells. The communists were purged in 1983 when the Tudeh's leadership was almost entirely eliminated. The main guerrilla group, the Mojahedin, claimed to have made strides in organizing a war of attrition against the regime. But because it has operated since July 1986 primarily from Baghdad, thus giving the impression of collaboration with Iraq, the Mojahedin's effectiveness and credibility may have been lessened by the war. The Kurds have been fighting the regime since their 1979 rebellion, even though Tehran has kept them off balance by using Pasdaran forces. Finally, National Front politicians have openly displayed their differing views, mostly in West European capitals, although the group led by former Prime Minister Bazargan was the only domestic "opposition" party tolerated by the regime.


In the early 1970s, supporters of Khomeini decided to create the Mojahedin movement to organize operations against the shah's government. Initial demands made by Mojahedin leaders, who included clerical officials like Hashemi-Rafsanjani, covered such points as the cancellation of all security agreements with the United States; expropriation of multinational corporations; nationalization of agricultural and urban land, banks, and large industries; administration of the army and other institutions by people's councils; creation of a "people's army"; regional autonomy for Iran's ethnic minorities; and various measures to benefit workers and peasants. Unlike other anti-shah organizations, the Mojahedin channeled its efforts into gaining supporters and developing an effective party network. The members were not ideologically inspired by outside sources but focused on strong nationalistic arguments and attacked the shah and his perceived abuses. By 1979 the membership of the Mojahedin had reached a record high of 25,000, and it had hundreds of thousands of supporters. The movement frequently mobilized these masses against the shah.

The organization fell out of favor immediately after the Revolution, however, when its new leader, Masud Rajavi, boycotted the referendum on the new Constitution and advocated the total separation of the religious establishment and the state. Khomeini considered this a calculated and direct challenge to the IRP and the revolutionary regime. Rumors spread that the Mojahedin organization was a pawn of foreign powers, especially the United States. In response, the Mojahedin launched its own anti-Khomeini campaign by calling on the government to purify the Revolution.

President Bani Sadr supported the Mojahedin. When he lost the support of Khomeini, Bani Sadr sought refuge with Mojahedin leaders and was smuggled out of Iran, along with Rajavi and other senior representatives. In July 1981, the two leaders announced the formation of the National Council of Resistance (NCR) and launched a campaign to overthrow the Khomeini regime. From its headquarters in France, the NCR recruited additional support both within and outside Iran and welcomed ethnic minority leaders to its ranks. Its published charter was almost identical to the program of the Mojahedin. Partly to satisfy its diverse constituency and partly to distinguish itself from the Khomeini regime, the NCR offered a new agenda that reflected special concern for the interests of the lower middle class. In its attempt to gain the support of minor civil servants, shopkeepers, artisans, and small merchants, it adopted a slightly more moderate position than the one the Khomeini government had espoused concerning private property. The charter also promised to respect individual liberties, "except for persons identified with the shah's or Khomeini's regime," and guaranteed special rights for ethnic minorities, particularly the Kurds.

A score of other promises were made, including the return of land to farmers who would, however, be encouraged to consolidate their holdings in collective farms; the increase of available housing, education, and health services; the guarantee of equality for women; and the establishment of a "democratic army" in which the rank and file would be consulted on decisions and selections of officers. Yet, these promises could not be implemented because the NCR was not in power. The organization had to operate inside Iran, and the process strained the leadership's unity; disagreements over goals eventually led to the dissolution of the NCR. By March 1984, Bani Sadr and Kurdish leaders withdrew from the coalition. The French government asked Rajavi to leave France in July 1986. The Mojahedin set up their headquarters in Baghdad, whence they continued to launch military and propaganda offensives against the Khomeini regime.

In June 1987, Rajavi announced the formation of the Iranian National Army of Liberation, open to non-Mojahedin members, that would escalate attacks. Subsequently, Mojahedin sources claimed to have set up military training camps near the war front and to have launched numerous attacks against Pasdaran outposts. The Mojahedin has also been active in Western Europe and the United States; it has organized numerous rallies, distributed anti-Khomeini literature, and recruited Iranians living abroad.

A unit of the Iranian National Army of Liberation celebrates a victory over Iranian forces in Khuzestan Province


Among the armed leftist guerrilla groups operating in Iran in 1987, the Fadayan was the most active. The Fadayan was established when smaller groups operating in Tabriz, Mashhad, and Tehran merged in 1970. Its founders were university students and graduates who saw violence as the only means to oppose the shah. As Iran's economic situation deteriorated in the mid-1970s, the Fadayan recruited workers from large manufacturing industries and the oil sector. Recruitment expanded to include such national and ethnic movements as those of Kurdish, Turkoman, Baluch, and Arab minorities. The Fadayan opposed both imperial and republican regimes but did participate fully in the Revolution, taking over various military barracks and police stations in Tehran, Tabriz, Hamadan, Abadan, and Shiraz in 1979. In early June 1980, the Fadayan split into two factions: the Fadayan "Minority" and the Fadayan " Majority." The "Minority" faction, which was actually the larger of the two, has consistently opposed the Republic and considered Khomeini "reactionary." It vehemently condemned the Tudeh's cooperation with Khomeini prior to 1983. It also rejected the armed activities of the Mojahedin and advocated instead the expansion of underground cells. The "Minority" faction refused to join the NCR because of Bani Sadr's past association with the Khomeini regime. Subsequently, the "Minority" faction, along with a number of smaller leftist groups, established a new organization known as the Organization of Revolutionary Workers of Iran.

The Fadayan "Majority" faction moved closer to the views held by the Tudeh and supported Khomeini because of his anti-imperialist stance. This support of Khomeini changed in early 1983 when Khomeini turned against the Tudeh. In late 1987, the "Majority" faction was a satellite of the Tudeh.

The falling out of the Fadayan with the Islamic government within the first year of the Revolution was attributed to the ideological rift that emerged between the Fadayan's leftist-secular agenda and the religious and ideological views of the clerical leadership. Khomeini's velayat-e faqih was a powerful concept that swept aside all leftist arguments; the Khomeini view of the Revolution was appealing precisely because of its nationalist aspects, which were easily assimilated by the Iranian population.


The Paykar (Struggle) Organization was formed in 1979 from a Mojahedin splinter group that advocated the total separation of the religious establishment and the state. It considered Khomeini's policies backward and damaging to Iran's long-term socioeconomic development. The Paykar, perceived by other leftist groups as a dogmatic movement, called for an end to the Iran-Iraq War, viewing it as a diversionary tactic "waged by two reactionary and unpopular regimes." In 1982, when several Paykar leaders were arrested, the organization ceased to function overtly, but in 1987 it was still suspected of operating underground cells in major Iranian cities.

The Role of Minorities in Internal Security

Ethnic cooperation has been a consistent national security problem for successive regimes throughout the twentieth century, and, after the 1979 Revolution, the Khomeini government faced one of its earliest challenges from Kurdish, Baluch, and Turkoman tribal members. The Turkoman and Baluch rebellions, reminiscent of secession attempts in the 1970s, were quickly ended. The revolutionary regime went out of its way to accommodate opposition because it did not want any instability to develop on the border with Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Tehran wanted at all costs to prevent foreign powers from exploiting ethnic discontent in southwestern Iran. By emphasizing shared religious and cultural values, the revolutionary government persuaded some tribal members to accept the central authority of Tehran, while it sought to co-opt others, such as the Turkomans and Baluchs, by providing special economic incentives.

A more pressing ethnic challenge to the regime came from Kurdish rebels in the northeast, who had long struggled for independence. In several 1979 meetings, Khomeini warned key Kurdish leaders that any attempts at dismantling Iran would be met with the harshest response, and he sent Pasdaran units to the north, underlining the seriousness of the government's intention. Despite these warnings, in the spring of 1979, seizing on the turmoil of the Revolution, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, the Komala (Komala-ye Shureshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Komala, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan) and the Kurdish branch of the Fadayan mounted a well-organized rebellion, but the revolutionary regime was ready.

The confrontation between Tehran and the Kurds intensified sharply when the Iran-Iraq War broke out. It was assumed that Iraqi Kurds and their Iranian brothers would cooperate to exploit weaknesses on both sides. Past divisions within the Kurdish communities were temporarily shelved in pursuit of the long-cherished goal of an independent state. Not surprisingly, neither Baghdad nor Tehran was willing to accept this outcome. Rather, both sides insisted on organizing special loyalist Kurdish military units to participate in the war and to demonstrate allegiance to their respective states.

In contrast to the Kurds, the Arab population of Khuzestan stood firmly behind the revolutionary government. Iranian Arabs rejected Saddam Husayn's call to "liberate Arabistan" from Persian rule and overwhelmingly opted to remain loyal to their country. Since 1980 Khuzestan has witnessed some of the bloodiest battles in the twentieth century, but its Arab inhabitants have not wavered in their allegiance.

Iran regards ethnic minority challenges with apprehension. It has taken every precaution, for example, to resist Iraqi- or Soviet-sponsored efforts to persuade the Kurdish minority to secede from Iran. Much as the Pahlavi regime before it had done, the revolutionary government considered the unity of Iran vital to its national security. The commitment to defend the entire country, with all its ethnic groups, remained an uncompromised objective, and sensitive, pragmatic, and political steps have been taken since 1979 to strengthen national unity. Despite the commitment of the Khomeini regime to the revival of the Islamic community (ummah), it, no less than the shah's regime, sought to preserve Iran's territorial integrity as an aspect of national security.

Of all the issues facing revolutionary Iran since 1979, none was more serious than alleged human rights violations. Although the trend was toward greater adherence to constitutional guarantees, particularly after December 1982, when Khomeini issued several directives relaxing the application of Islamic laws, Iran's human rights record showed serious abuses. Procedural safeguards were lacking for defendants tried in revolutionary courts, which handled virtually all political cases. In evaluating the hundreds of executions ordered each year, separating cases of executions for actual crimes from executions based purely on the defendant's beliefs, statements, or associations, was difficult, given the regime's practice of cloaking the latter category with trumped-up charges from the former category. Reliable statistics were not available in 1987 on the number killed for political or religious reasons under the Khomeini regime, but the number of persons executed each year for political reasons was high.

Amnesty International's 1986 annual report recorded an estimated 6,500 executions in Iran between February 1979 and the end of 1985; the report noted, however, that "Amnesty International believed the true figures were much higher, as former prisoners and relatives of prisoners consistently testified that large numbers of political prisoners were executed in secret." These killings were largely conducted by the government's own organizations, including the Pasdaran and the SAVAMA.

Political opposition to the revolutionary regime was punished in ways other than execution. Iranians listed as "killed while resisting arrest," but actually alive and in jail, were too numerous to count, according to Amnesty International. Torture in Iran's prisons was rampant and covered a wide range of inhuman practices, particularly in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. Mock executions, along with blindfolding and solitary confinement, were favorite methods of torture, according to witness reports assembled by Amnesty International. Beatings of all kinds were common, and prisoners were regularly beaten on the soles of their feet until they could no longer walk. Individuals also suffered damaged kidneys as a result of being kicked and beaten.

The revolutionary prosecutors continued to revise Iran's civil code to conform more closely with their interpretation of Islamic law. In January 1985, for example, Tehran announced the inauguration of a new machine for surgical amputation of the hands of convicted thieves. As interpreted in Iran, this punishment consisted of amputation of the four fingers of the right hand. There were subsequent announcements of the occasional use of this device to administer justice. Death by stoning was allegedly reinstituted as a punishment for certain morality crimes, at least in remote areas of the country. There were many reports of floggings, both as a means of torture and as a formal punishment for sexual offenses.

Although the Constitution guarantees many basic human rights, including rights related to due process (e.g., the right to be informed in writing of charges immediately after arrest, the right to legal counsel, the right to trial by jury in political cases), the revolutionary court system ignored these provisions in practice for "security reasons." When there was a formal accusation, the charge was usually subversion, antiregime activities, or treason. Political arrests were made by members of the Pasdaran or, less commonly, by komiteh members. Member of the National Police and Gendarmerie were not normally involved in arrests made on political or moral charges. In political cases, warrants for arrests were seldom used. Consequently, there was no judicial determination of whether these detentions were in conformity with Iranian law. Detainees were frequently held for long periods without charge and in some cases were tortured. For political crimes, no access to a lawyer was permitted; such cases were heard, if at all, by the revolutionary judiciary, and bail was not permitted.

Religious opposition as well as political opposition has met with severe punishment. For example, Iran's largest non-Muslim minority, the Bahais, have suffered persecution. Charges against Bahais were vague, but penalties were severe. As of December 1986, 767 Bahais had been imprisoned and approximately 200 Bahais had been executed or had died following torture.

Between 1979 and 1982, these abuses of human rights were all defended as necessary to safeguard the Revolution. Tehran launched a systematic attack on its opponents in order to protect its own interpretations of revolutionary norms. Since then, many revolutionary leaders have adopted a more relaxed mood without jeopardizing perceived internal security requirements. It remained to be seen in late 1987 whether the revolutionary regime would be able to maintain the internal security it felt it needed without returning to the drastic measures characteristic of the early period of the Revolution.

An early, albeit cursory, introduction to the Iranian armed forces after the 1979 Revolution is William F. Hickman's Ravaged and Reborn. Gregory F. Rose's "The Post-Revolutionary Purge of Iran's Armed Forces: A Revisionist Assessment" and "Soldiers of Islam: The Iranian Armed Forces since the Revolution" provide detailed information on the purges of the military and the ensuing reorganization. Nikola B. Schahgaldian's The Iranian Military under the Islamic Republic is the most complete source on the Pasdaran and Basij forces. The best source of current data on the size, budget, and equipment inventory of the armed forces is the annual The Military Balance, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Historical background material is presented most completely in J.C. Hurewitz's Middle East Politics. On the postrevolutionary period, Dilip Hiro's Iran under the Ayatollahs and Ruhollah K. Ramazani's Revolutionary Iran are indispensable. For the Iran-Iraq War, Jasim M. Abdulghani's Iraq and Iran provides comprehensive coverage of events leading up to the war. The writings of Anthony H. Cordesman on the war itself are very valuable, as is the excellent account in Efraim Karsh's "The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis." (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
  Data as of December 1987
  Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

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