Iran: July 26, 1999

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The Basiji militia announced that it was seeking permission from the government to expand its membership from five million to twenty million (nearly all adult males of military age.) The Basiji were formed during the 1980-88 war with Iraq and were noted for their religious fervor and fearlessness in the attack. Often ill-trained, the Basiji were used for human wave attacks to wear down Iraqi defenders, then better trained Revolutionary Guard or regular army troops would come in and finish the job. During and after the war, the Basiji were used as a form of religious police, to make sure everyone dressed and acted in a properly Islamic manner. The Basiji are the principle source of muscle at the local level for the religious fundamentalists, although many join just to avoid any trouble with the religious authorities.

July 23; The commander of the Revolutionary Guard (Rahim Safavi) came out in support of the reform minded president (Mohammad Khatami.) This was surprising as it was troops and paramilitaries of the Revolutionary Guard that provided the muscle to drive recent student demonstrations off the streets. What this does spotlight is the deep divisions in Iranian society over what direction the nation should take. It is often forgotten that the Islamic fundamentalists took over the government in the first years of the 1980-88 war with Iraq. When the revolution took over in 1979, there was no talk of an Islamic republic, complete with religious police prowling the streets ready to discipline anyone thought lacking in public piety.

 

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