What would the Iranian Army do?

610x The fuss is probably largely over until next time.  What it would come down to in an all out confrontation is whether or not the regular armed forces of Iran would carry out orders to kill their countrymen or allow others in the IRGC or Basiij to do so.  Opinion?  pl


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22 Responses to What would the Iranian Army do?

  1. N. M. Salamon says:

    Considering the history of armed forces intervention when the State’s power is questioned, be it in China, op the USA [Waco] or anywhere else, the army follows orders [whether legal or not e.g invasion of Iraq].
    So in my opinion the army will be on the side of the Irani government, oif necessary – though the necessity isa not appearant at present.
    While I do not question that some, or most, Iranian middle and higher class citizens are demanding change [only on their own terms], it is doubtful if there is not an effect here of the long-running attempt by USA’s covert operation in Iran whose aim is regime change [ the famous 400 million $ by Bush II].
    Further this balyhoo takes the readers’ eye off the I/P problem and the ongoing attemopt by Administration Congress to help their bosses, the oligarchs, rather than the common folk, eg public finance health care.

  2. ddjango says:

    From what I’ve seen on Twitter and elsewhere, the verifiable info from the streets is vague, at best. Military is there, but is it reg. Army or RG?
    Basij seem to be doing most of heavy lifting, causing the most damage.
    I certainly don’t know and I’ve been following it intensley.

  3. Neil Richardson says:

    How are the Iranian Army maneuver units organized? According to Anthony Cordesman, about 40 percent of their personnel are 18 mos. draftees who probably are unreliable. As some armies organize along regional and ethnic lines to take shortcuts in developing unit cohesion, I would expect this to be a factor. When Chun Doo Hwan and his junta quelled the Kwangju uprising in 1980, they sent in units from Kyungsang province as they could be counted on to be brutal toward civilians in Cholla-do. In 1989, the PRC leadership brought in the 27th and 28th Armies from the provinces because they felt local PLA divisions were unreliable. In fact this embassy cable seems to suggest the PLA leadership wasn’t sure whether other units would rebel.
    And IIRC Adolphe Thiers used units composed mainly of troops from rural provinces to put down the Paris Commune. When authoritarian political leadership (or coup plotters) get careless, they end up losing like the Yazov/Kryuchkov/Pugo group. The Taman and Kantemir divisions were too close to the people of Moscow and their leadership had been flipped by Yeltsin supporters. And even Pavel Grachev hedged his bets during the coup. IMHO if Khamenei wants to succeed, he probably ought to let the IRGC take the lead (as Hitler would’ve used the Waffen-SS in case of a general uprising) while taking care to select reliable Iranian regular army units from rural areas.

  4. Jon T. says:

    What is the generational demographic in the Army? Given the lengthy war with Iraq in which many men in the Iranian Army lost their lives, my guess is that the Army is younger rather than older and on that basis may be more hesitant to kill their brothers, cousins, and surviving Uncles and Fathers than if it were an older aged force. That is a guess though. Is there a hard data way to confirm? And is that an irrelevant thought along the lines of “orders are orders no matter what the age” in the Iranian Army.
    The Hungarian model doesn’t remain parallel if the Army sides with the “street people” – at least some of the Hungarian Army went for freedom but were killed by The Bear’s overwhelming strength. From Col Lang’s question, I’d say The Iranian Army is the Dragon

  5. Salvador says:

    Is the regular Iranian Army politicized? Is there tension between the regular army and the IRGC? How good is the CIA’s intel on Iran?

  6. 505th PIR says:

    I don’t know if my 1st message went through…I hit send I think in mid sentence.
    The Iranians are much further ahead of their Sunni neighbors on the liberal path as I think their version of Islam allows for some debate. They just might do it in time though with much local flavor.

  7. Jose says:

    Since there was no outside agitation from “The Great Satan” , we might have a chance to see a Romania-type Revolution.
    That is why we often do more harm than good with American intervention, just IMHO.

  8. Paul Escobar says:

    But why would you even consider an “all out confrontation”?
    The actual protests only had steam in certain parts of Tehran.
    The protesters looked like your typical American protesters, hipster University students.
    The corrupt billionaire backing the opposition, Rafsanjani, has no military support.
    This was destined for failiure from the start.
    The Iranian security forces will engage in as much self-reflection as a Chicago Cop beating down a Connecticut hippie back in the sixties.

  9. Yohan says:

    The Army is pretty sheepish. They belatedly and very half-heartedly tried to stand in the way of the popular uprising after the Shah left and that didn’t last long. For that they were forever viewed with suspicion by the revolutionary government which is why the IRGC are so large and so powerful. Major strategic disagreements with the Revolutionary Guards during the Iran-Iraq War caused even more suspicion of the regular Army which was further marginalized(Iran might have won had they followed the Army’s war of attrition strategy rather than gambling on the human wave attacks).
    Bani-Sadr tried to win over the Army and use them to take on Khomeini when the two were having their brief and rather lopsided power struggle, but the Army was not at all interested and so Bani-Sadr, a sitting president but with no popular base, had to flee the country. The Army didn’t want any more problems for itself than it already had and so was not going to risk itself in a dubious confrontation with the ruling clerics.
    Then as now, I predict the Army will keep its head down. They will not fire on their own people, but they aren’t needed for that, that’s what the Basiij and other assorted regime loyalists are for. Neither will they join the protesters unless it becomes abundantly clear that the protesters will win and that regime change is imminent. Unless a sufficiently vigorous leader rises from the ranks, the Army will not play the decisive factor in either direction.

  10. Richard Armstrong says:

    Very interesting question, what would the regular armed forces do?
    I have always understood that SecDef Schlesinger gave orders in ’74 that no order from the Commander in Chief was to be acted upon without his approval because of the possible pending Constitutional crisis. I cannot provide any citation for this and it may just be apocryphal.
    Your question is the key to everything in Iran right now, isn’t it?
    The scale of the demonstrations this month are pretty small when compared to those in ’79. I really don’t think they will be able to reach the critical mass the protests reached in ’79.
    Therefore, I don’t think the regular forces will ever have to face the decision you describe.
    Sidenote: In ’79 we had two classes of Iranian officers attending Data Processing classes at Ft. Harrrison during the revolution. Quite a large number of them didn’t want to have anything to do with Khomeni. CID was called upon to provide security for the Iraninian officers and to keep the pro-Khomeni faction separated from the pro-Shah faction until a decision was made what to do with them.
    Interesting times.

  11. LeaNder says:

    My excuses, I can’t post via Firefox at the moment so I have to shift to InternetExplorer. In one case I thus seem to have I responded on the wrong thread.
    Off-topic from a nitwit in military matters.
    One simply has to love this man:
    Roger Cohen from the streets in Iran.

  12. Based on nothing but an insufficient knowledge of Iranian history I say NO WAY!
    But could be wrong!

  13. Pat Lang.
    I don’t know anything about the Iranian Army except that there is one. There is a pattern in genuine revolutions, I would cite France in 1789 and Russia in 1917, of military units refusing to fire on their own people. The same seems to have been true in 1978 in Iran. This appears to be the pattern when a government,through percieved inadequacy, loses legitimacy in the eyes of an overwheming majority of the population. Does anyone think that that’s the case in The Islamic Republic? I don’t.
    I’d like to mention an amazing euphemism, in this age of amazing euphemisms related to our foreign policy adventures, that I noticed the other day. Admiral Mullen was quoted, on the subject the deaths of Afghan civilians, as saying that attacks on the Afghans were a challenge (paraphrase). The military and naval hierarchy goes to great effort in their attempts to avoid using words like problem, difficulty, troublesome, dilemma, etc. The use of challenge in that context strikes me as being idiotic.
    The number of euphemisms used by the hierarchy to describe the Iraqis seems to be indicative of basic confusion about the war. I’ve heard dead-enders, Saddam loyalists, insurgents, jihadis, and probably more. But, for some reason, never rebels or guerillas.

  14. curious says:

    The corrupt billionaire backing the opposition, Rafsanjani, has no military support.
    Posted by: Paul Escobar | 20 June 2009 at 08:26 PM
    aha, that’s where usually the problem is. A young revolutionary country like Iran, most probably has everything controlled by military or ex military men. (to prevent counter revolution, enhancing weak/budding government structure, stopping internal bickering, filling competency hole)
    Basically, in the early days, by necessity, a revolutionary government need the army to control everything to prevent total social collapse. (afghanistan, hello?)
    But now, the revolution is over. Second generation is in. The big fat cats won’t budge, while the youngster has no job and can’t see the future.
    In case of Iran, this problem is magnified by several times due to Iran-Iraq war casualty size. There is a very sharp break in generational continuity. (think how much trouble “baby boomer” was causing. Cultural revolution, political landscape change, economic demand and consumption, etc. And thats due to returning WWII popping babies like crazy after returning from frontline. Imagine a much smaller country with top down control like Iran. Bigger ratio. The generational gap is much more pronounced.
    It’s very hard to manage revolutionary era into next phase. Ideological control, economic activity, institutions, demographic, etc.
    But I don’t understand why Iran is having trouble. The solution and experience from other countries are numerous. Theirs is fairly typical.
    The asian examples are: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia. They only have to copy what these has done. (The reason I can call out the idiocy of this event.) These are exactly, exactly …. the same experience.
    Devastated by war, post colonial military regime with totalitarian tendency that tries to breakout the old way. Democracy is bullshit, it’s a superficial show. The real game is managing ultra high economic growth. (6% plus)
    If I were an advisor to Iran, I would say, twist the economic growth dial twice as fast. make everything spin so fast, the people won’t have time having family dinner, nevermind rioting on the street. Deal with boom and bust using oil wealth.
    Forget peace and tranquility. What you want is crazy ass economic development never seen before. To pacify your population and feed military machine.
    People think 6% is riot inducing speed, at 10-12% growth like Korea, city riot is national sport.
    Want to stop city riot? destroy the urban fabric of a city. New urban planning for Tehran, build gigantic buildings (reduce echoes, break traffic pattern, redraw historical context of places, changing land use, change commerce pattern, re-arrange class connection, etc)
    They have money to burn. Use is or loose it. Invest on growth.

  15. fred says:

    The more John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the neocons push to have open US support for the protesters and ‘regime change’ the less likely the Iranian Army will be to support it. Do they really believe in government of the Iranian people, by the Iranian people, for the Iranian people? As for Mr Cohen’s article in the Times “… That is why a whole new generation of Iranians, their intelligence insulted, has risen.” One would wonder what would happen here in the US – oh yes, that new generation voted for Obama. Someone please remind the Republicans. And when thinking of a national health care plan please remind the Democrats too.

  16. JustPlainDave says:

    Perhaps germane to some of the questions being posed by the readership:
    Ward, Steven R. (2009). Immortal: A Military History of Iran and its Armed Forces. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press. – Ward was DNIO for the Near East; covers the entire sweep of modern Iranian military history from the Safavids, on.
    Schahgaldian, N.B. and Barkhordarian, G. (2007). The Iranian Military Under the Islamic Republic. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

  17. rfjk says:

    Professor Augustus Norton in Lebanon provides a brief analysis and breakdown of the Iranian security state:
    Does the state have the upper hand?
    Grand Ayatullahs Nasir Makarem Shirazi, ‘Abdolkarim Ardabili, and Safi Gulpaygani join Grand Ayatullahs Hossein ‘Ali Montazeri and Yusuf Saanei, and leading Reformist religious scholar Hujjat al-Islam Mohsen Kadivar as clerical critics of the election results and subsequent crackdown by the state.
    Considering the spontaneity, breath and depth of opposition that erupted from the populace, anything less than the total mobilization of all of Iran’s military, police and civilian assets in suppressing today’s mass civil disobedience is doomed to failure.
    The above articles prove schism among the spiritual leadership of Iran’s Grand Ayatollahs, as well as other reports concerning hesitancy among generals who have been detained by the state and reluctance by police in using force against the demonstrators. Roger Cohen, who is in the thick of it and a hot contender for a Pulitzer prize has this to say:
    A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets
    The Basijis are the principle & current tool of oppression. And as Norton suggests (and I concur) are probably the most counterproductive in Khamanei’s and Ahmadinejad’s toolkit. Personally, I believe its too late for the current regime to liquidate what they have foolishly declared and acted against as rebellion against their rule. Violence will not save them. It will lead to the immolation they fear.
    The above posters obviously understand nothing about the dominance of moral factors in war or conflict. Iran also is Iran, nowhere else. And in Iran moral authority is an important factor in the aura of leadership, and most especially in the person of the ‘Supreme Leader.’ Ahmadinejad lost his moral authority the moment he opened his mouth in the first televised political debate in Iranian history. Khamanei lost his by proclaiming Ahmadinejad the winner before the votes were collected and properly counted. When all is said and down I believe everything following those two events will be know as postscripts.

  18. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I agree with you.

  19. curious says:

    Major strategic disagreements with the Revolutionary Guards during the Iran-Iraq War caused even more suspicion of the regular Army which was further marginalized(Iran might have won had they followed the Army’s war of attrition strategy rather than gambling on the human wave attacks).
    Posted by: Yohan | 21 June 2009 at 12:04 AM
    In early 1984, Iran had begun Operation Dawn V, which was meant to split the Iraqi 3rd Army Corps and 4th Army Corps near Basra. In early 1984, an estimated 500,000 Pasdaran and Basij forces, using shallow boats or on foot, moved to within a few kilometers of the strategic Basra-Baghdad waterway. Between February 29 and March 1, in one of the largest battles of the war, the two armies clashed and inflicted more than 25,000 fatalities on each other. Without armored and air support of their own, the Iranians faced Iraqi tanks, mortars, and helicopter gunships. Within a few weeks, Tehran opened another front in the shallow lakes of the Hawizah Marshes, just east of Al Qurnah, in Iraq, near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Iraqi forces, using Soviet- and French-made helicopter gunships, inflicted heavy casualties on the five Iranian brigades (15,000 men) in this Battle of Majnun.
    Lacking the equipment to open secure passages through Iraqi minefields, and having too few tanks, the Iranian command again resorted to the human-wave tactic. In March 1984, an East European journalist claimed that he “saw tens of thousands of children, roped together in groups of about twenty to prevent the faint-hearted from deserting, make such an attack.” The Iranians made little, if any, progress despite these sacrifices. Perhaps as a result of this performance, Tehran, for the first time, used a regular army unit, the 92nd Armored Division, at the Battle of the Marshes a few weeks later.
    Within a four-week period between February and March 1984, the Iraqis reportedly killed 40,000 Iranians and lost 9,000 of their own men, but even this was deemed an unacceptable ratio, and in February the Iraqi command ordered the use of chemical weapons. Despite repeated Iraqi denials, between May 1981 and March 1984, Iran charged Iraq with forty uses of chemical weapons. The year 1984 closed with part of the Majnun Islands and a few pockets of Iraqi territory in Iranian hands. Casualties notwithstanding, Tehran had maintained its military posture, while Baghdad was reevaluating its overall strategy.
    demographic of Iran

  20. I am not clear as to what the regular military under the present Iranian Constitution is to defend.
    Do they take an oath to defend the Constitution? The Supreme Leader? or just what? The Islamic Republic? (Defined how?)
    Irrespective of what the Army may or may not be up to, the United States needs an agreement with Iran with respect to “incidents at sea” and we need to get Navy to Navy contact going to this end. I think this is particularly true now that we have just had this internal crisis there.

  21. cb says:

    Paul Escobar’s comment above baffles me. “The protesters looked like your typical American protesters, hipster University students…This was destined for failiure from the start.”
    IIRC, the Shah was overthrown after his police shot student protestors in the streets in early 1978. (Not the only cause, but a big push toward the end.) Student-led revolutions have damaged and destroyed governments around the world. Revolutionary confrontation with government tends to draw young people, for pretty obvious reasons. I say this as an old guy with a family and no desire to fight riot cops in the streets.
    You think the protestors look like “hipster university students,” and you don’t like people who look like that — that’s not analysis, and it’s probably not correct.
    Finally, as for those “Connecticut hippie[s] back in the sixties,” your cultural biases are showing again. Those hippies caused enormous changes in the political landscape. That’s not a value judgement, and I have no interest here in whether the changes they caused were good or bad. But your instinct to understate the impact of cultural elites and well-to-do university students misses a broad range of real-world possibility.

  22. Peter Principle says:

    Why did he align himself with Ahmadinejad, and lower his standing in the scheme of things? . . . Why did he have to take sides?
    It is, of course, impossible to know the true answer, but everything Khamanei has done since the election has the appearance of a man who is supremely (forgive the pun) confident of his power — or deathly afraid of his own political weakness, leading him to believe he must act as if he is supremely confident.
    I tend to think the latter is true — i.e. that Khamanei knows the regime’s elites are splintering, that Rafsanjani is a smart, wily and extremely well-connected opponent, that many of the Qom clerics who have been on the fence are now tilting toward the opposition, and that even his authority over the IRG is not ironclad.
    Thus, Khamanei feels he must use the stick instead of the carrot — while he still has a stick at his disposal.
    But, like everyone else, I’m just guessing here.

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