McNair Paper 48 Chapter 5

Institute for National

Strategic Studies

McNair Paper Number 48 Chapter 5, January 1996



Defense Minister Dr. Mustafa Chamran spoke to the press on October 1, 1979, regarding the roles of the army and the rationale behind a new wave of "ideological purges." He claimed the purges were necessary to change the existing system in the Army which was "an order created and tailored by the satanic regime." To remedy this existing system, he emphasized that "present revolutionary conditions warrant a change in this order so that the army may be brought into line with revolutionary requirements." He also stated that he had initially thought the army could be dismantled in favor of the Revolutionary Guards, but that the internal, ethnic unrest, which he described as "ominous plots hatched by the colonialists" to the extent that "we will never be able to survive without a strong army," made the armed forces a necessity.(Note 1) He coded his comments by stating that although "any request to abolish the army is senseless," that the army needed to conform to "our Islamic standards as well as our revolution's rules." Stating that the purge would be both Islamic and revolutionary, Chamran claimed, "The purge will take place at the very top. At later stages it will embrace lower levels."(Note 2)

The purge of which Chamran spoke was an "Islamicizing," ideological one that "resulted in the discharge of some 12,000 military personnel, the majority of whom were officers, by the time of the Iraqi invasion a year later."(Note 3) This Islamic indoctrination (Islamization) was sanctioned in Article 144 of the Iranian constitution.(Note 4)

In the wake of Chamran's comments, military leaders became concerned not only with their own future, but with that of the military, which had already suffered one

comprehensive purge of its senior ranks immediately after the revolution, when nearly every general was either dismissed, executed, or forced to flee:

Apart from the general dissatisfaction . . . many officers found their orders were being ignored. Islamic committees set up by the men to ensure that the military was run in a "revolutionary" fashion, began to quibble over commands.(Note 5)

Recent exercises and successful actions to quell the rebellion in Kurdistan had boosted morale and restored confidence in the military command structure. The Kurdistan military response not only proved the necessity of the army, it also outlined the inability of the Revolutionary Guards to respond at that time to a "large-scale rebellion." During the Kurdistan campaign, the differences in military proficiency between the army and the Revolutionary Guards were further accentuated when the Revolutionary Guards, ignoring army advice to remain in their barracks, ventured into Kurdish territory. They were promptly ambushed by Kurdish rebels, who annihilated them. At this early stage of their existence, the army's experience and military expertise were recognized as superior to those of the Revolutionary Guards, "whose skills as a fighting force are by no means as advanced as their enthusiasm for Ayatollah Khomeini."(Note 6)

In October, the Iranian Council of Experts approved a constitutional clause granting Khomeini absolute control over the military forces. As the head of the armed forces, he was vested with a wide range of authority over military affairs, although he was required to at least engage in nominal consultation with a military council.(Note 7) The intent of this legal maneuvering was to establish undisputed clerical dominion over the military forces, which included supervision of the officer corps, restrictions on cross-communications between officers and monitoring the activities of senior officers (not unlike the Shah). In his role as supreme religious leader and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Khomeini had the power to "appoint and dismiss the chief of the joint staff of the professional military; appoint and dismiss the commander in chief of the IRGC; supervise the activities of the Supreme Defense Council (SDC); appoint and dismiss the service commanders of the ground forces, the air force and the navy; declare war and mobilize the armed forces."(Note 8)

On November 4, 1979, pro-Khomeini students forcibly entered the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took the American personnel working there as hostages. While it gave Khomeini and his lieutenants a psychological rallying point, the ramifications of this action would later have a tremendous impact on the Iranian military, as one of the U.S. responses was the cessation of sales of military hardware and spare parts.

In November, the U.S. Defense Department issued a statement that the Iranian armed services were "no longer an effective military force." Citing the executions, purges, and desertions, the Defense Department stated that discipline had "virtually disappeared," quoting examples of soldiers refusing to obey orders, as well as a dissolution of the military logistics system, which impeded the flow of spare parts and supplies. Additionally, the breakdown in maintenance and repair capabilities caused by the logistics difficulties had in effect grounded the air force and kept the navy in port.(Note 9)

The purges continued on January 12, 1980, when four Army officers accused of firing on anti-Pahlavi demonstrators were executed by a firing squad in Tehran.(Note 10) On February 6, Lieutenant General Jamshid Fathi Moqaddam was sentenced to death. The former commanding officer of an army corps was charged with "trying to strengthen the former regime . . . opposing the Islamic Revolution . . . resisting God, His Prophet and the vicar of the hidden imam; and carrying out suppression in the army."(Note 11) On February 7, more monarchists left active duty as 145 officers were discharged from the military. They included 91 admirals, 14 colonels, and an assortment of junior officers, NCO's, and technicians.(Note 12) In the wake of these recent purges, President Bani-Sadr met with the military commanders on February 10 to discuss the reorganization of Iran's armed forces. After the meeting, General Shadmehr, Commander of the Combined Army Staff, stated:

The mission and duties of the army have been established by the constitution. Therefore a group of experts have been asked to reorganize the foundation of the army according to these duties established by the constitution. These experts, by organizing work teams and exchanging ideas, will provide for an organization which will be able to defend the borders of the country, up to the limit of a jihad. This organization will, however, require national assistance for defending the borders of the country.(Note 13)

On February 13, General Shadmehr spoke of a "Cleansing and Purging Bill" from the Revolutionary Council. He stated that the army had been the first of the armed forces to implement this new bill and that the purge was nearly complete. Issuing a warning to any would-be dissidents, he cautioned that persons "who take any action in the future contrary to the path of the revolution will be handed over to a military revolutionary tribunal." Invoking repeatedly the cause of the revolution, he commented on those members of the military who:

are trying, through commotion and clamor, to voice certain things which are neither in line with the principles of Islam nor with the laws of the Armed Forces. Most important of all, they are not in line with the imam's commands and recommendations. . . . What distinguishes the present army from that which existed in the past is that no ideological issue could be voiced in the past . . . in the Islamic Republic Armed Forces, by contrast, political and ideological organizations were created after the victory of the revolution. They are responsible for organizing debates and discussions on various ideologies, providing freedom for everyone to voice their views, and generally enabling people to benefit from an exchange of ideas. All this, however, must take place during off-duty hours. We have, for example, Islamic associations whose job it is to hold off-duty debate and discussions with those who do not know much about Islam with a view to winning them over.(Note 14)

In July 1980, Iranian President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr announced that the Revolutionary Guards had foiled an attempted military coup. He stated that the plotters had attempted to seize an air base in Hamadan Province in order to then later bomb Ayatollah Khomeini's home in Tehran, as well as other facilities.(Note 15) Seventeen army officers were arrested in Ahvaz and immediately placed on trial for their part in the plot. The officers were found to possess leaflets proclaiming the authority of the "National Military Council of Iran."(Note 16)

In the wake of the coup attempt, over 300 military personnel were arrested, including a number of air force pilots and two generals, one from the air force, the other from the gendarmerie. The generals confessed to having contacts with former Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar and described themselves as "nationalists" seeking the separation of politics from the clergy. The result of the attempted coup was a stronger sentiment for further purges of the military, especially a thorough one of the air force.(Note 17)

As an institution, the air force had been very loyal to the Shah because he had ensured that they had been afforded the most advanced technology available to them. Under the Khomeini government, the spare parts to keep the F-14 and F-4 fighter jets flying were in short supply. For this reason, the air force was less favorably inclined toward the rulers of the Islamic Republic than it had been toward the Pahlavis. President Bani-Sadr announced that in the trials of the coup plotters, the plotters would be dealt with "in a resolute manner," stating that "some will be executed." Bani-Sadr also admitted that "constant undermining of the morale of the armed forces, especially through purges," had contributed to the sense of dissatisfaction within the military and added an element of pressure to the lives of the professional military.(Note 18)

On July 20, four of the coup planners (including the air force general and two other pilots) were executed for "plotting."(Note 19) On July 24, 20 soldiers were executed by a firing squad in Tehran for their role in the attempted coup. Ayatollah Khomeini had personally ordered the death penalty for all persons connected with the plot, which, if successful, would have bombed his home.(Note 20) In the wake of these events, Bani-Sadr called for an end to the purges and a strengthening of the army, emerging as an advocate of potent military power.(Note 21) With an eye toward potential future conflicts, Bani-Sadr was also concerned about the concentration of Iraqi forces along the southwestern Iranian border and wanted to assure that an Iraqi invasion would not easily push into Iran due to a weakened, purged military.(Note 22)

On September 8, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered an end to the arbitrary arrest and prosecution of military members by military courts. He further ordered that claims against military members should not be made public until the guilt of the soldier was proven. Khomeini's move was an attempt to improve the sagging morale of the armed forces in the wake of the recent arrests resulting from the coup plot.(Note 23)

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