The Iranian regime’s first response against pro-Mousavi protesters last week was not the Revolutionary Guard but its volunteer branch, the Basij militia, CNN reports. Iran says the militia, created by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, numbers 12 million; the actual count is probably a smaller—but still effective—300,000. “Basij members made up with zeal what they lacked in military professionalism,” an expert said.
Militia members were first to take on election protesters. “There are Basij bases throughout the city and beyond, and they were able to respond quickly,” the expert continued. For their trouble, the Basij receive some money and a sense of authority, though the price is often great. During the Iraq war, they were used to clear minefields. “Cannon fodder is a fair way to characterize them,” said the expert.