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Politics

Iranian Security Forces Sharpen Blades as Discontent Rises

December 20, 2023
5 min read
"The Islamic Republic right now, in my opinion, is just relying on naked repression and if you think about the repression, you have three levels: the police, Basij and the IRGG," Golkar said.
"The Islamic Republic right now, in my opinion, is just relying on naked repression and if you think about the repression, you have three levels: the police, Basij and the IRGG," Golkar said.
In an interview with IranWire, Saeid Golkar, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, explains that Iranian security forces have increased joint training following the 2009 Green Movement protests, which were followed by an increasing frequency of mass demonstrations
In an interview with IranWire, Saeid Golkar, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, explains that Iranian security forces have increased joint training following the 2009 Green Movement protests, which were followed by an increasing frequency of mass demonstrations
Earlier this month, IranWire released video footage depicting joint exercises that involved Iran’s Law Enforcement Force and troops of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
Earlier this month, IranWire released video footage depicting joint exercises that involved Iran’s Law Enforcement Force and troops of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
The drills, which date back to 2016, aimed at enhancing coordination between units of the police and the most powerful paramilitary organization in Iran in cracking down on potential protests
The drills, which date back to 2016, aimed at enhancing coordination between units of the police and the most powerful paramilitary organization in Iran in cracking down on potential protests

Earlier this month, IranWire released video footage depicting joint exercises that involved Iran’s Law Enforcement Force and troops of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The drills, which date back to 2016, aimed at enhancing coordination between units of the police and the most powerful paramilitary organization in Iran in cracking down on potential protests.

In an interview with IranWire, Saeid Golkar, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, explains that Iranian security forces have increased joint training following the 2009 Green Movement protests, which were followed by an increasing frequency of mass demonstrations.

Were you surprised to see the IRGC and the police training together?

It is not very strange. If you know Iran’s security apparatus, you realize that after 1991, when the police force, or NAJA, was shaped out of the urban police, the judicial police, Gendarmerie and the Islamic committee, the commander of the police force always comes from the IRGC. Except for the first one who came from Gendarmery – only for one year.

When they came, they brought a lot of IRGC commanders and ex-commanders to the police with themselves. Current police commander General Ahmad Radan, previously General Hossein Ashtari, and before that [Mohammad Bagher] Qalibaf, all came from the IRGC. Many commanders of the IRGC of that generation came to the police.

Therefore, the relationship between the police and the IRGC is historical and very long. Commanders from both units have been members of the IRGC.

I know that since 2012 this kind of [joint] training has been practiced. Looking into my archive, I can tell it’s been happening since 2012. But you have to remember it was after the [2009] Green Movement since the Islamic Republic lost its legitimacy and capabilities to provide social services. It has also lost the capability to ensure security. This has become evident through the increasing frequency of protests in Iran. Recalling notable instances, such as the 2009 Green Movement, the 2017 demonstrations, the November 2019 protests, and the most recent Mahsa Amini movement.

After each round of the protests, the Islamic Republic tries to upgrade its security forces and make sure that they are prepared for the next round of the protests.

What we are seeing after the 2009 Green Movement onward is the creation of more security force units. For example, after 2009 the IRGC established a Security Unit in each provincial guard unit. There are 32 provincial guards, one for each province and two in Tehran, so they have decentralized the IRGC. After 2019 they realized that they needed to create a specific unit to deal with social protests and political protests; they called it the Security Unit.

Since 2017, they have been trying to do more joint operation preparation for what is happening in Iran. What happened in 2017, 2019 and 2020 and each round the Islamic Republic was ready to suppress all of these protests.

Increased cooperation between the security forces means the Islamic Republic is worried about something… 

Certainly, they became increasingly concerned after 2009, which marked the first significant challenge for the Islamic Republic. If you recall, there were some protests before that. The Islamic Republic consolidated power in 1981 and, subsequently, there were not many protests. We had some in 1993, 1994 and others, but they were relatively small-scaled, primarily confined to certain areas.

In 1998, there were student protests in Tehran and a few cities but, once again, they were limited in scope, with the protesters having relatively modest demands. However, 2009 marked a turning point — the first major nationwide protests that engulfed the entire country. The predominant voices that drove these concerns mostly emanated from the middle class, advocating for political reforms and expressing support for these changes. 

2018 was a significant shift. We now witness a completely altered political landscape, especially in terms of opposition to the regime. Between 2017 and 2020, there has been a gradual transformation. People are no longer simply seeking political reforms, their demands have evolved beyond the political realm entirely. 

They are now calling for a regime change, and those backing this movement come from diverse social classes. This includes individuals from the poorer segments and those hailing from more traditional and conservative families, historically supportive of the Islamic Republic since its inception in 1979. A noticeable shift is underway. Even among traditionally conservative families that historically supported the Islamic Republic until around 2010, there has been a gradual erosion of hope for the future.

Consequently, these individuals are increasingly joining the opposition against the regime. Year by year, the regime is becoming increasingly aware of the situation. Armed with comprehensive statistics and information, they recognize that they have lost the support of Iranian society. Consequently, the regime is responding by intensifying its oppressive measures.

The Islamic Republic right now, in my opinion, is just relying on naked repression and if you think about the repression, you have three levels: the police, Basij and the IRGC.

The police in Iran differ from their counterparts in Western countries. While in the West, the police typically serve a disciplinary and law enforcement role separate from the military, in Iran the police function as a national armed force organization. They play a crucial role in maintaining social order and enforcing the law. However, the more significant components of the Islamic Republic's security apparatus include the Basij and the IRGC.

According to the defense and security doctrine, in the event of an incident or protest in Iran, the first group to be deployed is the police. In the event of protests, the sequence of response involves the police station first, followed by special forces, and then support from the Basij. If these forces are unable to suppress the situation, the IRGC steps in. In 2022, we have evidence that all these forces, including IRGC personnel, Basij personnel, security forces, and, of course, the regular police, were actively on the ground repressing people.

What would it mean for future uprisings in Iran?

In preparation for potential future uprisings, there is a clear trend toward enhancing the capabilities to repress Iranians. This involves both the readiness of security forces and the strengthening of their coercive capacities. It's evident that they are actively working on improving both the willingness and capacity of the special security force members to suppress dissent.

Contrary to some discourse, especially in the West and among certain Iranian groups, there is ample evidence that the IRGC is significantly involved in domestic repression. The IRGC is the backbone of repression in Iran. 

For those interested in analyzing Iran's operational methods, this [footage] serves as a valuable window to understand their approach. It provides insight into the underlying mentality and tactics employed. Examining how they perceive the opposition is particularly intriguing. This sheds light on the reasoning behind the slogans their forces chant [during the training]— about basic necessities like food and employment. It's evident that they are aware of the economic challenges, acknowledging the plummeting economy and the populace's demand for jobs. They are well-informed about the economic grievances and discontent among the people.

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