“Ahmadinejad’s Demons”

"Since Ahmadinejad became president, the influence of the Basiji has grown. In November, the new Iranian president opened the annual "Basiji Week," which commemorates the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq War. According to a report in Kayan, a publication loyal to Khameini, some nine million Basiji–12 percent of the Iranian population–turned out to demonstrate in favor of Ahmadinejad’s anti-liberal platform. The article claimed that the demonstrators "form[ed] a human chain some 8,700 kilometers long. … In Tehran alone, some 1,250,000 people turned out." Barely noticed by the Western media, this mobilization attests to Ahmadinejad’s determination to impose his "second revolution" and to extinguish the few sparks of freedom in Iran.


At the end of July 2005, the Basij movement announced plans to increase its membership from ten million to 15 million by 2010. The elite special units are supposed to comprise some 150,000 people by then. Accordingly, the Basiji have received new powers in their function as an unofficial division of the police. What this means in practice became clear in February 2006, when the Basiji attacked the leader of the bus-drivers’ union, Massoud Osanlou. They held Osanlou prisoner in his apartment, and they cut off the tip of his tongue in order to convince him to keep quiet. No Basiji needs to fear prosecution for such terrorists tactics before a court of law. "  Matthias Kuntzel


Kuntzel does not have the role of the Basiij in the Iran-Iraq War quite right.  They were as described but they were usually used as "fillers" in IRGC "Divisions."  These "Divisions" were only about five or six thousand in strength.  The IRGC lost a lot of men in the early part of the war in fighting the Iraqis around Khoramshar and other places and because of that the decision was made to have these "divisions" be made up of IRGC cadres leading and controlling Basiij "infantry" companies.  In that way, a typical IRGC "Division" was probably 20% IRGC and 80% Basiij.

These units did not have artillery, armor or engineer support troops and relied almost exclusively on the actual Iranian Army for these support services.  Kuntzel does not mention the Iranian Army, but they continued to exist.  This was the old Imperial Army.  They fought well and actually progressed in skill during the war.  Their officers had been trained in US and British service schools, The infantry at Ft. Benning, The artillery at Ft. Sill, the armor at Ft. Knox, etc. 

The Iraqis were a lost more impressed with the Iranian Army than with the IRGC.  They said that the IRGC/Basiij were only dangerous if you ran out of ammunition.  If that happened then, they said, the IRGC/Basiij would simply flow over you like a Tsunami.  On the other hand the Iranian Army often outfought the Iraqis, using their artillery, armor and engineers with a skill that the Iraqis could not match.

This article is a portent.  It says that the Basiij/IRGC faction of the revolutionary establishment is now running Iran and prospering.  Those people seek death.  They always did.

Pat Lang


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29 Responses to “Ahmadinejad’s Demons”

  1. jonst says:

    In your opinion is Ahmadinejad the head of some new movement that, however much allied with, nonetheless, seeks to move beyond the Mullahs. Or is he simply the latest stalking horse of the Mullahs?

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    In my view, he is the true fruit of the revolution. pl

  3. zanzibar says:

    It would be useful to get more information/opinions on contemporary domestic politics in Iran.
    I am under the impression that real power is held by the clerics and specifically Khamanei. And that the President is just the nominal chief executive. It seems that when Khatami was president he could not get much done although he did have a popular mandate as the clerical organs of power thwarted any impingement of their prerogatives. So even though Ahmadinejad has the support of the Basijs and other sons of the revolution he may not be able to affect much change without the concurrence of Khamanei.
    I believe that all of Ahmadinejad’s public rhetoric that sounds crazy is really for domestic consumption to rally support for a weak government. Not very different from what other politcians have done through history – aim rhetoric at an enemy.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Your name contains the arabic word “Zanj” and of course refers to the island off east Africa. Any significance to that?
    “It seems that when Khatami was president he could not get much done..”
    Any comparison of Khatami’s situation and that of A——d is probably defective in conception. Khatami sought to limit the power of the mullagopoly. A——-d is in love with the idea of “wilayat al-faqih.” He is the faithful servant of the most extreme of the “clerical” party. pl

  5. jonst says:

    Yes, as long as we are employing history as a guide, the domestic message sent will end up being misread by the relevant foreign power.
    I certainly defer to PL and others on Iran. But my general impression is something about the ‘Mullagopoly’ has changed. And changed for the worst. And A…..D represents this change. Perhaps the change is in response to both the internal, and external threats, real and imagined, the regime percieves.
    I would love to be able to ascertain if there is any daylight between the Clergy and Pres A….D.
    On the other hand, none of my musings make much sense, to the extent it makes sense at all, given who is in the White House. What good is it to have accurate intel presented to the White House et al if said intel runs counter to himself’s desires.

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements regarding Israel and the Holocaust are not for domestic consumption.
    His comments reflects, in my opinion, the sentiments hundreds of millions of Muslims and probably two thirds of the Muslim States.
    On Israel and the Holocaust, the West and Israel have clearly “lost” Muslims.
    In regards to the Iranian President’s demons; his anger against foreign powers that countenanced the use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops is widely shared inside of Iran. (The international negative security and political consequence of the use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War is going to take decades to overcome.)
    Mr. Ahmadinejad is very very popular in Iran and is trusted by a decisive majority of the Iranian people. He is respected for his administrative records and for his ideas regarding how to improve the economy of Iran. He has, in his speeches, suggested shrinking the consumption of the State and investing those resources in the private sector.
    It is probable that the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran concluded some time in 2003 that US was pursuing a policy of regime change (per the reports of Mr. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said that an Iranian offer of talks to address all U.S. concerns was rebuffed in 2003 at the behest of the regime-change faction of the Bush administration. Former Bush National Security Council official Flynt Leverett has confirmed this account.) Thus there is the possibility that the Iranian leadership concluded that some kind of military confrontation with US was inevitable and they have acted accordingly to help support a candidate that can be a leader in the coming war with US.
    Neither the Basiji nor the Mr. Ahmadinejad care about what the West or any other foreigner or foreign government thinks about them. They went through the searing experience of the war with Iraq and are not beholden to any one except perhaps their comrades.
    I recall a US general in the Vietnam War who observed that men cannot be reasoned to their deaths, they must be inspired so. The Basiji are certainly inspired.

  7. zanzibar says:

    PL, Many years ago while on a safari vacation to E.Africa, I got to visit Zanzibar. Its one of the most magical places I have been to with an incredible cultural milieu and long history in the spice trade. Of course the diving and cuisine were spectacular too! As a result I have become fascinated by the history of the period of the spice trade. Although I have never traveled to the ME, I hope some day I’ll be able to and learn more about the culture and history first hand. The poetry of Gibran, Khayyam and Rumi have a special place for me.

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    “On Israel and the Holocaust, the West and Israel have clearly “lost” Muslims.”
    I have been around in this business a long time and I would say that there was never any possibility that “Muslims” would accept Israel on the basis of anything except a truce (hudna).
    I don’t remember the name of the man who said it but what was said was that men could not be MANAGED to their deaths. What he meant was that the application of business methods of management to war is inappropriate. pl

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    The island was a possession of the sultan of Oman. From there he ran his slave trading empire in east Africa as well as the spice trade which extended all the way to the Phillipines. That’s why we have Moros in Mindanao. I suppose that three were other Arabs involved but most of both trades were centered in Muscat and Zanzibar.
    “Zanj” refers to the Blacks. pl

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    My impression has been that the Maghreb states, the Turkish Republic, and the Jordanian State were an exception to this.
    As for hudna, the Cold War was a form of Hudna and so is the 38-th Parallel. Hudna could be a workable condition.

  11. rpe says:

    Colonel Lang,
    I agree emphatically with your analysis; there is no way that any believing Muslim could ever grant legitimacy to an infidel state on stolen Muslim lands. The Muslim governments that have recognized Israel have done so out of weakness {Egypt} or out of fear {Jordan}. The very act of recognizing Israel robs them of legitimacy. There is nothing to stop a Muslim state from having a truce, even an extended truce; 30 years or so is sometimes heard from Hamas. But it is just a truce, when it expires, if the correlation of forces was favorable, the Muslim states would be duty bound to wage war. There is no reason for this to change in the Muslim mind.
    The Iranian leaders just announced that they see America as a waning power while the see themselves and the rest of the Muslim states waxing in power. They see themselves, or in conjunction with some other Muslim powers, eventually driving America out of the Near East and bringing Israel to book for its crimes against the Muslims. Mr. Ahmadinejad is a devout Muslim and, perhaps, he thinks that an American initiated attack on Iran would lead to the correlation of forces necessary to bring about our defeat. He certainly doesn’t seem to fear us at all.

  12. rpe says:

    Colonel Lang,
    What happened to the Shah’s senior officers? Were they all shot by the mullahs? Who commanded the Iranian Army in the Iran Iraq war ?

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Some were shot.
    Many were cashiered.
    Some fought.

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I think a “hudna” is the only practicable vehicle for use in the Arab-Israeli dispute and I have some hope that Olmert may accept the idea.
    What would Iran do then? pl

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Nevertheless, I think a series of truces (hudna)is a possibility, pl

  16. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Babak has it exactly right. those who were allowed to do so fought for Iran, and rather well.
    A number of officers of the Imperial Navy had been educated at the British Naval Academy, the Citadel and VMI. Most of these went into the Imperial Iranian Marines (or landing force, I know not which they were named). A lot of these men were killed in the fighting at Khorramshar in the first year of the war. It was, as was said of Hue in ’68, Stalingrad with palm trees. pl

  17. rpe says:

    Colonel Lang,
    Well it sure is a comfort to know that these people will surrender as soon as we drop a few bombs on them. I wonder why the Iraqis never thought to to that.

  18. rpe says:

    COl. Lang & Babak,
    I wonder if Mr. Ahmadinejad perhaps believes that an attack from America is inevitable sooner or later and that — with America in a very vulnerable position in Iraq now — sooner is better than later. If the Iranian forces succeed in inflicting very heavy casualties on us, Mr. Ahmadinejad could correctly, I believe, think that we would be averse to any further neocon adventuring in the Near East for several decades to come. This would give Iran the time to more fully develop its economy and industrial infrastructure for what he would see as the inevitable battle against Israel. His remarks about Israel, his taunting of America as a declining power, and his unhidden contempt for the West in general could be meant to provoke a military reaction from us. While Rumsfeld and company scare the hell out of me, their abysmal performance in Iraq probably doesn’t scare the generation of Iranian men who survived the Iran-Iraq war.
    Ahmadinejad’s generation is coming of age and coming to power in Iran. They were deeply scarred by the war which they saw as the rest of the world conspiring with Saddam Hussein to deny Iran its rightful place in the world. These are not men who can be intimidated. Any war with them will be long, bloody, and bitter.
    While much is being made of all the former Revolutionary Guards that Mr. Ahmadinejad has elevated to positions of power in the various Iranian bureaucracies, I’ve read nothing about the officers of the regular army. From Colonel Lang’s description, they were a formidable group of men and I wonder what part they are playing in all this?

  19. RJJ says:

    Sow the wind. What will be the response of the Absolute Executive to the blowback from this. Is the Enabling Act on file somewhere?

  20. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I do not know any thing about the military capabilities of the regular Iranian armed forces beyond what I have learnt form open sources.
    What I can conlude is that the Iranian armed forces, regular or irregular, have been trained together in irregular warfare tactics as their primary manner of war fighting.
    Against US, Iran does not have to win. It just needs not to loose to be considered victor.
    Beyond US and Iran, all these only serves to make the world more dangeors.
    The use of chemical weapons in Iran-Iraq War, the War of Kosovo, and the War against Iraq have sent a loud and clear signal to any state that aspires to chart and independent policy course to arm itself with WMD since the Western Alliance is behaving essentially cpariciously.

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    If the hudna includes East Jerusalem in the Palestinian hands, then it has a chance to be durable.
    I suspect that Iran will go along with whatever Hamas accepts.
    On the subject of Israel’s acceptance or rejection by the wider Arab and Muslim World :
    If Israel becomes a vassal state of a Mulsim power then it could be acceptd. Essentially that means that Israel has to become something like Armenia or Georgia.
    Since the current President and Defence Minister of Israel are both Iranians, it follows that Israel could be easily made into a satrapi of the reconstituted Persian Empire; a.k.a. United Islamic Republic.

  22. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Don’t get too wrapped up in someone’s propaganda.
    It is true that Iraq used chemical weapons in the Iran War.
    It is not true that the US used chemical weapons in either of the situations you mention. White Phosphorus, depleted uranium tank ammunition and riot control agents like CS are not “chemical weapons” under the terms of any convention. pl

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I did not mean to imply that US used chemical weapons in Kosvo War or the recent war in Iraq.
    Rather this:
    Yuoslavia was an unoffical NATO member. Their military was built around fighting an invading Red Army. The Kosovo War, with all pretexts and excuses, was a war of choice by the Western Alliance against a state that was not a threat to them and was not seeking a war with them. Nevertheless, a war was initiated in pursuit of humantiarian fantasies.
    In Iraq, likewise, US started a war against a state that was not a threat againt US and was not seeking a war with US.

  24. ali says:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2136638,00.html has tens of thousands of Iranian martyrdom bombers poised to dash to Basra and deal with the “wily” English. That’s an awful lot of human ordinance to face. Those useless SA80’s will melt.
    Are these people really nuts or do they just sign up to get a party card?

  25. RJJ says:

    Our crazies are inciting their crazies. This provides cover for our crazies. But we are in more immediate danger from our crazies than from theirs.

  26. zanzibar says:

    PL, Babak – thanks for the insight. Would it be fair then to assume that Ahmadinejad is a front person for Khamanei? That the clerics are all for the “baiting”? What is to be gained?
    Looks like the Iraq instability could be spreading with an attempt to kill Nasrullah the Hezbollah spiritual head in Lebanon. And Sam Gardiner on CNN yesterdy, believes there is already covert operations in Iran – “I was in Berlin two weeks ago, sat next to the ambassador, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA. And I said, “Hey, I hear you’re accusing Americans of being in there operating with some of the units that have shot up revolution guard units.”
    He said, quite frankly, “Yes, we know they are. We’ve captured some of the units, and they’ve confessed to working with the Americans.”
    The evidence is mounting that that decision has already been made, and I don’t know that the other part of that has been completed, that there has been any congressional approval to do this.
    My view of the plan is, there is this period in which some kinds of ground troops will operate inside Iran, and then what we’re talking about is the second part, which is this air strike.”
    Any credence to this?

  27. Babak Makkinejad says:

    No, in my opinion, Mr. Ahmadinejad is his own man. And he might honseltly believe in the concept of the Guardianship of Jurisprudent.
    I would like to add that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s constitution is based on the ideas of Plato (yes another case of the tyranny of Greece over he minds of men!)
    Mr. Khamenei’s position is the equivalent of the Philosopher-King in the Republic.
    I read Col. Gardiner’s comments. What I surmised is that US is trying to use proxies to irritate Iran.
    He also mentioned MEK. MEK members are mostly in their 30s and 40s. They are Shia Muslims with a Shia-Socialist ideology. Frankly, I cannot see how they can be an effective military force or even irritant you need men in their early 20s) or how they could be trusted by Sunni Muslims as military advisors.
    The Islamic Republic dealt with ethnic unrest quite effectively in 1980s when it had much less power, cohesion, or legitimacy. I expect even more effective response now.
    A repeat of Kosovo is not in the cards, in my opinion.

  28. NNTrancer says:

    I believe Ahmadinejad may represent an IRGC coup over the Supreme Leader. Khamenei was an undistinguished junior cleric when he was elected Supreme Leader, and I’ve often suspected that the real powers in Iran chose him as a compromise candidate they could control. As to who those king makers are, I’d point to the Guardian council, especially Rafsanjani. The trouble for the hardliners was that the liberalization that occurred under former president Khatami gave power to reformers, and eroded Veliyat-e Faqih. Worse, from their standpoint, several leading Ayatollahs were highly critical of the direction the revolution went, and Khamenei tried to referee the disputes. So the IRGC, with the help of the Basiji, threw the election to Ahmadenijad and he has taken a far more visible role in governing than Khatami since he has the backing of the conservatives. In other words, the Supreme Leader is no longer their spokesman and if he protested, Khamenei could be voted out of office. I further suspect that Ahmadenijad’s inflammatory rhetoric over the nuclear issue may be a trap intended to provoke a strike by Israel and the US. From the Iranian perspective, they know the US would not insert ground troops and would limit military action to air strikes against suspected nuclear facilities and, of course, air defense sites. I believe that the nuclear facilities we know of that were inspected by the IAEA were a front, and the real weapons program is probably being conducted in underground facilities at military bases where the IAEA can’t inspect. So the net result for Iran would be entirely positive. They would lose nuclear facilities that were not important anyway, they would lost AD sites that are probably more of a danger to Iran than any opponents, and furthermore, they’d win sympathy and admiration from the entire Muslim world for standing up to the US and Israel. The Iranian population would also rally around the regime and any dissenters would be dealt with harshly as a matter of national security. They’d also feel justified in unleashing terrorist attacks against US and Israeli targets worldwide, and would probably send volunteers into Iraq to help the Shia make life miserable for the US and Sunnis. That would cement Iranian control over the Shia areas of Iraq. The imposition of Shia/Persian rule over formerly Sunni/Arab controlled territory would be deeply savored in Tehran. Iran probably calculates that they would drive the US out and emerge as the foremost regional power in the Middle East. They also know that they would drive a deeper wedge between the US and our NATO allies and further discredit the US. All in all, they’re probably praying to Allah that our government falls into the trap.

  29. Arun says:

    Question regarding the Basiij: might they have now been trained like the Hezbollah?

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