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Syria-Lebanon-Iran
Which State Security Branch Rules Tehran's Streets?
2009-06-28
But now the question is being raise: what branch of state security is behind the violence against protesters?

Both the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards Corps (or Sepah) were founded in the first year of the Islamic Republic in 1979, following a decree by Iran's first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "From the start, the Sepah was about building a popular army, one that had the duty to protect the Islamic Republic from within," explains Moshen Sazegara, a former founder of the Revolutionary Guards, who later fell out with the regime and currently resides and works as a journalist in the United States.

Today the Sepah is estimated to have 125,000 forces, while the Basij — which by Imam Khomeini's initial intentions was to comprise "twenty million" — numbers up to an estimated six million and is active in most cities, towns and villages across Iran. The majority of Basiji are involved in volunteer services at mosques.

Over the years, however, certain units among the Basij were trained for state control purposes. In 1999, they appeared prominently as shock troops in quelling urban dissent following student demonstrations that initially sought greater freedom for the press. "Increasingly, Sepah used the Basij as a force for indoctrination and in the role of a watchdog group on campuses, factories and even tribal units," says Frederic Wehrey, adjunct senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, who has done several joint-studies on the Sepah. "The aim was to militarize civil society to prevent currents that the Islamic Republic is opposed to."

"These past weeks," Sazegara estimates, "the state has used about 12,000 such plainclothes forces in addition to another 28,000 official police and Sepah forces to control the dissent."

But Sazegara sees the possibility for division. "Many of the commanders in the Sepah have children who are in their twenties and who have joined the recent protests," he told TIME. Since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, the Supreme Leader swapped out most wartime commanders in the Sepah, replacing them, in Sazegara's words, "with a bunch of yes-men."

"There are many Basijis who were in support of Mousavi," says an Iran-based analyst who requested anonymity, himself previously an active member of the Basij. "Many Basijis are upset that the recent violence has been attributed to them."

Former Sepah founder Sazegara concurs, adding that many of the plainclothes controlling the streets and meting out excessive violence to protesters are "intelligence personnel of the Sepah, some of them even with military degrees, but showing up in plainclothes to take on the appearance of the Basij."
Posted by:ed

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