The first part in this series covers the Imam Hussein battalions.
The second part covers the Beit al-Moqdas battalions.
The third part covers the the Semnan province Basij.
The fourth part covers the Imam Ali battalions
|Baluch Basij, pictured during the opening of a base in Qasr-e Qand|
Origin and Development
Appendix: Shahid Shushtari
Footnotes / Works Cited
BG – Brigadier General
BG2 – Brigadier General, 2nd Class
Cmdr - Commander
Col. – Colonel
HQ – Headquarters
IRGC [-GF] – Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [Ground Forces]
MG – Major General
SM [HQ] – Shahid Mamar [Headquarters]
SSOB – Shahid Shushtari Operating Base
S&B - Sistan va Baluchistan
Since 2012 these rural bases staffed by personnel from Sunni tribes have tried to assimilate the indigenous population into the state, increase oversight of tribal leadership, and project a kinder, gentler face to a population that had previously suffered under the security forces, and who are uniquely at risk to the appeal of transnational Salafism.
To this end, 60 SSOBs have been built in the remote ethnic-Baluch villages that dot the Kerman and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces. Parallel to the traditional province-based organization, these bases are organized under the supervision of the Shahid Mamar Operations HQ, which itself falls under the regional Qods HQ.
These bases are equivalent to small rural police-stations, providing a modest amount of law-and-order to areas with little existing state influence. More importantly, they also provide employment, and a friendly point of contact between the state and the population.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to gauge the success of this program. State officials are quick to speak of its success, but there are no ways to independently verify these claims. Driven by identity-based mobilization, anti-government attacks continue, and indeed have escalated since 2011 when Tehran was still enjoying a relative calm following the collapse of Jundallah. Similarly, Baluchistan remains one of the most underdeveloped regions in Iran, something that cannot be changed overnight. Yet, these attacks remain limited in scale and it is clear that – Tehran's fears of regime-change aside – they face no real existential threat from the insurgency.
Whether or not these bases will be effective in the long run, they represent a recognition of the challenges facing Tehran in these border areas. Namely, the program recognizes the need to address the legitimate material and identity-based grievances of disenfranchised populations, and that relying on brute force alone risks further inflaming the insurgency.
Origin and Development:
October 18th, 2014 marked the fifth anniversary of the 2009 suicide bombing that killed several high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commanders in the Baluch town of Pishin. The bombing was carried out by insurgents from the now-defunct group Jundallah, which had its roots in the grievances and historical autonomy of the Sunni-Baluch population in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Among those killed in the bombing was BG Nur-Ali Shushtari, who was the deputy commander of the IRGC's Ground Forces (IRGC-GF) and commander of their southeastern Qods HQ. Over his 30 year career, Shushtari was counted among the IRGC's core leadership, and developed a reputation as one of the nation's top counter-insurgents.
Following his assassination, Shushtari's legacy was redeployed by Tehran to articulate their counter-insurgency strategy in the south-east in an effort to counter the increasing perception among many Sunnis that Tehran is an imperial Shia power.
This narrative is characterized by:
a) pan-Islamic Sunni/Shia unity
b) the inclusion of indigenous tribal populations into the security forces
c) the use of infrastructure-development and social-assistance to alleviation material grievances
d) the necessary but not sufficient role of military security
e) persistent attempts by the West and Gulf Arab states to create ethno-sectarian divisions in order to topple the Islamic Republic
In particular, Shushtari's legacy has lent its name to one key aspect of Tehran's counter-insurgency strategy: the Shahid Shushtari operating base. The conceptual origin of the SSOB plan is rooted in descriptions of Shushtari's tactics and his highly personalized approach to internal security.
|Shushtari during the war alongside his deputy and the current |
commander of the IRGC's Qods HQ, Qadratollah Mansouri.
In this regard, SSOBs are the means by which the Baluch population is to be assimilated into the security forces and the state. By 11/2011, initial preparations had been completed, and the first wave of recruits entered training shortly thereafter.  Reporting is incomplete, but the available documentation suggests the majority of bases were opened in late-2012, and 2013.
The reasons for the creation of SSOBs are consistent with the themes of the Shushtari-narrative outlined above, and include the promotion of:
1) State-tribe security cooperation
2) Shia/Sunni unity
3) Economic development
These three themes are unified by an underlying intent to alleviate the ethno-sectarian grievances that have historically sustained the Baluch insurgency.
|Ex. of sectarian narrative employed by the Baluch insurgent group |
Harakat Ansar Iran in context of wider region's balance of power
Thus, creating an inclusive system for their own Sunni minorities is essential for Tehran to counter this perception. This, in turn, is key to checking a) the rise of an external Sunni coalition dedicated to balancing Tehran, and b) the attractive appeal of Salafi politics to Iran's own Sunni population.
The SSOB program addresses this by assimilating the Sunni population into the state and its security forces. Whenever a base is opened, attending officials inevitably describe them in explicit (non-)sectarian terms, citing the recruitment of Sunni personnel as evidence of the non-discriminatory nature of the Islamic Republic in face of efforts by Gulf Arab and Western states to exploit sectarian divisions. 
For instance, in 02/2013, civilian official(s) from the Sistan va Baluchistan province recognized the existence of legitimate grievances, saying:
“Referring to the recruitment of Baluch youth into the IRGC, the governor of Sistan va Baluchistan said: This positive action has strengthened lasting security in the province
Hatem Naroui stated: The recruitment of Sunni Baluch volunteers for the Basij may be 30 years late, but this positive action helps the province in many different ways.
The head of the security-council in Sistan va Baluchistan stated: Among the results of this good action is to strengthen lasting security and reduce anti-security actions against the Islamic Republic in the south-east border area of our country.
Naroui said: Now, different social-classes of Sunni and Shia of Sistan va Baluchistan, even from distant villages, believe in their border region and [unclear], because the Islamic Republic, unlike the previous regime, values them highly, especially the Baluch youth who are seen as useful in various social and political domains.
He added: Whereas many Baluch youth escaped military service in the past, now they have more love for their homeland's security with recruitment into the IRGC's Basij.” In pursuit of this overarching goal, the IRGC-GF's first objective is to directly promote security by handing responsibility to the indigenous population. This is accomplished by recruiting local personnel, and coopting tribal authority.
Although there is no way to independently confirm such his specific claims, Col. Morvarid, the then-commander of Shahid Mamar HQ, described the effects of this transfer during the opening of a SSOB in Qasr-e Qand County in 11/2012:
This base was formed “with the objective of helping to promote lasting security in the province… Various crimes and anti-security actions in Sistan va Baluchistan have declined 36%, much of which is thanks to the cooperation of the people, tribes, and nomads with the security and military apparatus.” A month later, during the opening of a SSOB in Nikshahr county, he said:
“The participation and cooperation by the population, tribal-leaders, the Islamic Councils, and the provincial nomads with the military, security, and intelligence apparatus has significantly decreased various crimes and anti-security activities in Sistan va Baluchistan. …Elders and tribal-leaders and the population of each region have an important role to play in establishing security in their region by identifying suspects and preventing disputes, and this is the best way to establish lasting security.” Coopting tribal structures allows the IRGC to take advantage of their existing legitimacy in the absence of comparable state institutions. Tribal leaders were initially drawn into cooperation with security forces by offers of economic assistance and other promises of development. These relationships have been maintained by routine consultations taken through official security structures such as the Shahid Mamar Operations HQ.
This process was described in 05/2013 by the spokesperson for the Shahid Mamar HQ, who underscored the mutually beneficial nature of these consultations, and the incentives for tribes to participate in the program out of self-interest:
“250 tribal-leaders in this region are cooperating greatly with … one another, the Shahid Mamar HQ and the Qods HQ, and they hold advisory-meetings in the field of security weekly and monthly. … This kind of cooperation and coordination has led to security and peace in the region, and a peaceful life for the population. … Last year, tribal-leaders raised issues and problems in a meeting in Iranshahr with Sardar Pakpour – the commander of the IRGC-GF – and very good decisions were made. He stated: The most recent meeting with Sardar Majidi – the representative of the Supreme Leader – was held in the Shahid Mamar HQ ... and tribal-leaders expressed the needs and desires of the population.” 
|One of the pictures released after Shushtari's martyrdom, |
showing him in a meeting with tribal leaders.
Consultation helps build the state's legitimacy by demonstrating Tehran's tolerance of traditional culture and by giving them a stake in the Islamic Republic. However, it also serves to subordinate these previously independent structures to state oversight, making the former dependent on the latter for dispute resolution and their livelihood.
The effect of this consultation can be seen in the initial implementation of the SSOB plan itself in 2011. Rather than direct recruitment by the IRGC, the first wave of recruits were identified by their respective tribal leaders. By gaining tribal endorsement, the government gained the trust of residents who otherwise would have been skeptical of such a program. 
|Local personnel in the background during |
handover of border-guards captured by Jaish ul-Adl
This assimilation of indigenous personnel into state structures also serves to reinforce a key rhetorical element of the Shushtari narrative: intra-Islamic unity, which comprises the program's second major objective.
The program's third objective aims to reduce grievances that spring from a perception of sect-based underdevelopment by alleviating poverty and promoting development. The SSOB program explicitly targets those who have refused to do their mandatory national service.  Media descriptions of this targeted recruitment indicate a sympathy to the reasons for doing so. They note that many of these men already have families and face severe economic challenges as it is, and simply cannot afford to be absent for upwards of two years.
These media reports also note that this absenteeism has cascading effects. The failure to secure proof of service means that they are vulnerable to arrest, can be denied employment, and cannot legally cross the border, all of which force them deeper into the cycle of poverty and crime.
SSOBs address this concern by allowing recruits to serve locally, alleviating both the challenges of conscription, and of avoiding conscription. In addition, their training is reported to include vocational and educational courses, potentially leading to long term economic competitiveness.
Officials are quick to tout the SSOB's role in fostering economic development, citing the number of people hired by bases, and describing their role in creating jobs in local communities. These numbers are couched in sectarian terms, describing the number of jobs created for Sunnis or the number of jobs created for Baluchs.  For instance, by 05/2013, 1,000 Sunni-Baluchs were reportedly employed throughout the Shahid Mamar HQ, with another 700 employed by the HQ itself. 
In addition to direct employment, IRGC officials highlight the role of the security forces in developing public infrastructure, including hospitals, utilities (water/electricity/communications), roads, schools, and agriculture/economic projects.  Indeed, one of the few pieces of this program that can be verified via open-source satellite imagery are the miles of new roads that now snake their way through the mountains of Baluchistan.
Shahid Shushtari Operating Bases are a unique category of Basij, and are not organized according to the the standard 'province-area-zone-base' system. SSOBs haven't replaced these levels, but operate in parallel to them in predominantly Sunni-Baluch areas in southern parts of the Kerman and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces.
|SM HQ Cmdr, Col. Zarifi|
Subordinate to the Qods HQ is the Shahid Mamar Operations HQ (SM HQ). Based out of the city of Iranshahr, the SM HQ is otherwise known as the Salehin Brigade, and has been operational since 04/2012.  Its current commander is Col. Hossein Zarifi, who has held the position since at least 12/2013.  It's previous commander was Col. Barat Morvarid, who is notable for being an active member of the Saberin special forces. 
|Fmr SM HQ Cmdr, Col. Morvarid|
The SM HQ is the primary body responsible for coordinating SSOB activities. It's role is consistently described in terms of managing county-level security through the SSOBs.  A key part of this responsibility is conducting security-consultations with local tribes, which is described above.
By 05/2013, the SM HQ was responsible for 60 SSOBs in 18 counties, with a combat strength of 8,000 personnel drawn from “active-duty Basij, combat squads, and [active-duty soldiers from the IRGC-GF]”. 
However, it's unclear how exactly this number corresponds to the strength and distribution of SSOBs. The 8,000 includes personnel not directly affiliated with SSOBs, while SSOBs may employ non-active-duty Basij as well. For instance, Col. Morvarid noted that these 60 bases employed 1,000 people. However, in late-2011, when the program first kicked off, 2,000 personnel had been earmarked for training.  This suggests that the number who could be mobilized for security are distinct from both the number employed for the base's day-to-day functions, and the total active combat-strength of the headquarters.
Exactly which counties make up the 18 total is also unclear. It is assessed with moderate confidence that 10-11 are in Sistan va Baluchistan province, including: Chahbahar, Konarak, Sarbaz, Nikshahr, Zaboli, Sib va Suran, Saravan, Khash, Iranshahr, Dalgan, and possibly Zahedan. The situation is less clear in Kerman province, but the remaining 7-8 counties are likely found in the province's southernmost 'foot' south-east of Kerman city itself.
The location of the 60 SSOBs is similarly unclear thanks to wide variances in local and national reporting. Out of the 60 total, around 17 have been documented, upwards of 14 of those are in Nikshahr county. Some uncertainty arises from imprecise media accounts, and the difficulty in geolocating certain locations.
Documented bases include:
2x Qasr-e Qand District, Nikshahr County
1x Mehban, Central District, Nikshahr County
1x Espakeh, Lashar District, Nikshahr County
1x Hariduk, Lashar District, Nikshahr County
2x Unspecified, Lashar District, Nikshahr County
1x Nikshahr, Nikshahr District, Nikshahr County
1x Chahan, Nikshahr District, Nikshahr County
1x Mohtaramabad, Fanuj District, Nikshahr County
1x Khairabad, Fanuj District, Nikshahr County
1x Bent, Bent District, Nikshahr County
1x Kurandap, Bent District, Nikshahr County
1x Ahuran, Nikshahr/Sarbaz County
2x Zarabad District, Konarak County
1x Kahir, Central District, Chahbahar County
The bases themselves are small and relatively rudimentary. In line with their stated purpose of providing local security, they can be thought of as equivalent to rural police-stations.
|SSOB, Qasr-e Qand|
|SSOB, Khairabad or Mohtaramabad|
Although they are about the same size as the forts dotting the Iran-Pakistan border, these bases are more focused on administration and local-interaction than permanently housing a garrison. Thus, they are constructed in much the same manner as other government buildings. Available imagery shows them as one-two story brick & plaster construction, often with an attached courtyard. According to comments made by Col. Morvarid in 2012, they range in size between 220 and 660 sqm (for reference, the average house size in the US is about 220 sqm). 
|Baluch Basij, Qasr-e Qand|
Notably, available documentation shows that at least some of these bases are not commanded by IRGC officers, but by indigenous locals who don't carry a rank. This does not appear to be a universal pattern, but is worth continued observation.
|Special Company, Qasr-e Qand|
In at least one case, a “special company” of around 70 Basij from SSOB(s) was created in order to provide extra security in the Qasr-e Qand area. 
Appendix: Shahid Shushtari:   
A native of the Khorasan region in NE Iran, Shushtari first cut his teeth as a company commander putting down the 1979 Kurdish insurgency. In this task, he was joined by Qassam Soleimani and other figures who would go on to figure prominently in the Qods Force, the IRGC's foreign-service arm.
Through the rest of the war, Shushtari developed relationships with other influential Khorasanis, including the current Supreme Leader, whom he had known before the revolution. In 1982, he was tasked with forming the Khorasan-based 5th Nasr Division along with Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf (current mayor of Tehran) and Esmail Qani (current deputy commander of the Qods Force). By 1983 he was the division's deputy-commander, and by 1984 it is reported that Qalibaf gave de facto control of the division to Shushtari. In the final years of the war, he was given command of the IRGC's Najaf HQ. After the war, Shushtari played a key role in defeating the ill-fated Mersad Operation by the Mujahadin-e Khalq that followed the 1988 ceasefire.
By 1991, Shushtari took command of the Fifth Division, and went on to play a major role in internal security operations in NE Iran during the 1990s. This period saw violence from the Afghan Civil War spill over the border, including displaced persons, drug trafficking, and direct attacks. At the same time, Esmail Qani was given command of the IRGC's Samen Alaeme northeast regional HQ in Mashhad, Qassam Soleimani was conducting his own operations in the southeast, and the Qods Force were extending their reach into Afghanistan.
|Shushtari in S&B, pictured with the|
elusive Khaybar rifle.
He held this position for around six months until October 2009, when he was assassinated in a Jundallah suicide bombing in Pishin. Alongisde Shushtari, those killed included BG2 Rajab-Ali Mohammed-Zadeh, who commanded the IRGC in the Sistan va Baluchistan province, Col. Fath Moradi, who commanded the IRGC in Iranshahr County, Col. Abdul-Samad Mirshahrki, who commanded the Imam Ali Brigade, and the IRGC in Sarbaz county.  Also among the dead were a number of the IRGC's Saberin special forces, as well as the tribal leaders that the IRGC were meeting with.
Footnotes / Works Cited:
 The IRGC's Approach to Establishing Security is One of Light, not Power. FNA. 11/05/2009.
 IRGC Construction [Jihad] to be Sent to Sistan va Baluchistan. FNA. 12/30/2009.
 In the Shahid Shushtari Plan, 2000 Absentee Sunni Soldiers to b Absorbed into the Basij. Nabikhabar. 10/31/2011.
 Two Operating Bases Launched in the Mamar Operations HQ in Nikshahr. IRNA. 05/06/2013.
 Attracting Youth to the IRGC Strengthens Security. Nahad. 02/22/2013.
 Shahid Shushtari Operating Base Launched in Qasr-e Qand County. Nikshahr Blog, 11/16/12
 Shahid Shushtari Operating Bases Launched in Mehban Nikshahr. Junaid Blog, 12/21/12
 700 Sunni-Baluchs Are Being Absorbed into Bases of the Shahid mamar HQ. IRNA. 05/28/2013
 Who Were the Internal Enemies of Shahid Shushtari in Sistan va Baluchistan? Zahedan Press. 10/18/2012.
 ibid Nabikhabar, 10/31/2011
 ibid Nabikhabar, 10/31/2011
 Visit by the Commander of the Shahid Herati HQ to the New Friday-Prayers-Leader in Zabol. Oshida. 05/10/2014.
Note: This article corresponds to a seperate sub-regional HQ in Sistan, not the Shahid Mamar HQ in Baluchistan.
 8,000 Basij Operating Subordinate to the IRGC's Shahid Mamar Operations HQ. IRNA. 05/06/2013.
 ibid IRNA, 05/28/2013
 Special Shahid Shushtari Company Opened in Qasr-e Qand County. Tayef-e Hazizi. 12/09/2013.
 ibid IRNA, 05/28/2013
 Opening of Shahid Shushtari Operating Base in Zarabad. YJC. 12/31/2013.
 ibid IRNA, 05/28/2013
 ibid IRNA, 05/06/2013
 ibid IRNA, 05/06/2013
 ibid Nabikhabar, 10/31/2011
 ibid Junaid Blog, 12/21/2012
 ibid IRNA, 05/06/2013
 ibid Junaid Blog, 12/21/2012
 ibid Nabikhabar, 10/31/2011
 ibid Tayef-e Hazizi, 12/09/2013
 Several IRGC Commanders Killed in Attack in South-East Iran. Radio Farda. 10/24/2009.