On January 13, the head of Iran’s Basij Force rejected the criticism that the paramilitary force was entering the political field. “Basij never belongs to politics. Our scope of responsibilities is defined and we operate within that framework. We only protect the country, the revolution, and the Islamic regime and its values and aspirations,” Brigadier General Gholamhossein Ghaib-Parvar stressed.
Few Iranians, however, would believe Ghaib-Parvar’s assertion.
Indeed, the role of the Basij Force in politics has only increased since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iran’s president in 2005. It reportedly played a decisive role in Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009, by establishing campaign offices in major cities, holding rallies in the incumbent’s favor, and intimidating opposition supporters.
The Basij Force was instrumental in the bloody suppression of anti-government protests that rocked Iran after the 2009 controversial presidential elections. Its plainclothes agents and moral police regularly harass ordinary Iranians, university students, government workers, journalists, activists and politicians.
Now that the Basij Force is an integral part of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), its security, political and economic role is expected to only grow further. On December 7, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Ghaib-Parvar as the new head of the Basij Force, and tasked him to counter “enemy infiltration” and “soft” threats against the regime. Previously, the Supreme Leader had warned that “enemies” were trying to change Iranians’ political beliefs and values and that “infiltrating into [political] currents is more dangerous than influencing individuals.”
Lately, the Basij has also actively recruited Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis to fight in Syria. And on November 24, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the Iranian chief of staff of the armed forces, said Basij could dispatch hundreds of thousands of fighters to Syria if supreme leader permitted. The remark showed that the IRGC intends to widen Basij’s role in regional conflicts. Last month, IRGC’s elite Quds Force commander, Qassem Suleimani, also said Basij forces had been instrumental in exporting Iranian revolution across the region. “Islamic movements such as Hezbollah of Lebanon and Palestinian Hamas received inspiration and spiritual aid from Basij. This is why Iran’s flag would fly in those countries,” he claimed.