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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 (see Command and Control; Organization, Size, and Equipment , this ch.). 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 (see The Iran-Iraq War , this ch.). 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.

Data as of December 1987

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