The following interview with Abbas Zamani (Abu Sharif), operations commander of the Revolutionary Guard, appeared in al-Safir (Beirut), December 1, 1979. The interview took place at the Guards’ operations command north of Tehran, in the complex that served as SAVAK headquarters under the Shah.
What are the tasks of the Guard and what has it been able to achieve in terms of consolidating the new authority in Iran?
At the outset of the revolution, the guard used to attack the Shah’s forces and arrest the remnants of the SAVAK and all those who planned, or were suspected of working against the revolution. The guard also assumed the role of maintaining security in the country after the police, gendarmerie and army institutions had collapsed. It also thwarted the foreign threats from beyond the border, like the plots which were sponsored by Iraq in the southern and western provinces, Khuzestan and Kurdistan.
As for the achievements of the Revolutionary Guards — as naturally happens after every change of regime, anarchy threatened the country but the Guard was able to impose order and prevent the spread of anarchy. It was also able to prevent sabotage, especially in the border area. The Guard’s role at present is to preserve the security of sensitive centers in the country and the political personalities. It is also guarding the ministries and government departments — especially the radio and television buildings. It is also guarding the army barracks and the police stations and plays its role in defending these establishments against any attack. The Guard also plays an ideological role, concentrating its activity on spreading Islamic culture and heritage and carrying out development and construction projects in the less developed parts of the country. The Guard’s tasks are listed in a bylaw and it works according to instructions from the Revolutionary Command Council and the Imam Khomeini command.
Since the victory of the revolution it has been reiterated that differences have arisen among the government organs over the role of the Revolutionary Guards and its tasks, to the effect that these tasks should not conflict with those of the army and the police, for example. What is your view?
The Bazargan government wanted to abolish the revolutionary courts and to prevent the Revolutionary Guards from arresting employees and officers accused of collaborating with the Shah’s regime. It also wanted to use the Revolutionary Guards for solving disputes among civilians. We rejected this because we do not want — nor is it our duty — to confront the people.
The government, for example, asked us to intervene to settle strikes or disturbances which occurred recently. But we told it that this was not our business and that it must solve the internal problems by negotiations with the popular organizations and the trade unions.
This clash in views created a contradiction between us as the Revolutionary Guards and the previous government, in addition to the other contradiction resulting from our hunting down and arresting the counterrevolutionary SAVAK elements and officers.
I would also like to mention that one of the differences that used to come up was the army being prevented from supplying the Revolutionary Guards with the necessary arms and ammunition for its elements and centers. This is despite the fact that the Guard has an official capacity and is sponsored by Imam Khomeini as well as having intervened in all the security crises and acted against any external threats and acts of sabotage endangering the security of the citizens and the country. The police and the gendarmerie did not intervene in these matters, while the army made the excuse that its mission was to defend the country’s border. We alone shouldered all these responsibilities.
Were there any figures within the establishment who were fighting you or working to limit your activity?
Former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan did not want the Revolutionary Guards to continue to function. He did not want to allocate funds or supply the Guard with arms and ammunition. They hesitated in giving us funds and they tried to prevent the expansion of the Guard. Their attempts, naturally, were not public, but were made in secret. They tried to prevent arms from reaching us, hoping to contain the Guard and prevent an increase in its members.
What about the relations with the army and the Ministry of Defense?
Relations with the army and the Ministry of Defense were and still are cold. The Iranian army was founded about 57 years ago. It belongs to the defunct regime and has a royalist organizational setup that has no connection at all with the current revolutionary Islamic setup. It is true that there are a large number of army personnel who believe in the Islamic Revolution, but the army’s organizational setup is not Islamic and neither is its command.
From the beginning, there was an inclination to disband the army. Imam Khomeini was inclined to do so and he believed in it. So long as this army remains essentially impure and contains many counterrevolutionary elements who could stage a military coup, our role as Revolutionary Guards becomes of utmost importance so that we may prevent such a coup. We are now striving to establish a real Islamic revolutionary army.
The army’s present command is not revolutionary. Most of the officers in the army are new officers who have no role to play in the army command. They barely have the rank of major, or lieutenant colonel, or lieutenant, or corporal or captain. The real role is in the hands of the senior officers from the previous regime.
This means that the army might not be able to confront any foreign danger. Iran now faces the possibility of a US military attack. What is your role, and how do you intend to confront any US attack?
If any US attack or landings take place in Iran, joint forces from the army and the Revolutionary Guards Corps will naturally be formed, constituting the so-called people’s army. I say that the Guard can mobilize the entire population in two or three days. We have cadres in all Iranian towns and villages who are able to achieve armed mobilization in a short time. Naturally, the army will play a supporting role in such a case, since it cannot do otherwise because it would be opposing the people’s will.
As you know, the regular army in Iran cannot resist the US Army. Only a people’s army can resist such an attack. By this I mean that the confrontation must take the form of guerrilla warfare, the mobilization of all of the people to resist the US landing by opening fire on the attackers from every Iranian house.
What was the Revolutionary Guards’ roie in the occupation of the US Embassy?
As a matter of fact, we played no role in the occupation of the embassy, which was occupied by students supporting Imam Khomeini. The Guard’s role was to protect the safety of the hostages and secure the area. There were signs of a serious plot to explode the situation around the embassy. Our task was to protect the safety of both the hostages and the students.
What about your role in Kurdistan? Several questions were raised abroad about certain practices that occurred there. What is your view?
Following the collapse of the Shah’s regime and the establishment of a provisional Islamic government, leftist Kurds in Kurdistan seized the opportunity and began occupying army and police barracks. In view of the conditions prevailing then in the army, it could not retake the barracks. The Revolutionary Guards established their own centers in Kurdistan. Counterrevolutionary forces besieged one of these centers in Meryan and called on its personnel to surrender their arms. The personnel rejected the demands of the attackers. They resisted and six of them were killed after they were captured. They were killed in an ugly way: Grenades were put in their mouths and were then detonated.
A few days later, counterrevolutionary elements launched another attack on a center in Paveh. The guards were surrounded by about 6,000 gunmen, some of them Iraqi Kurds, who were speaking Arabic and carrying light and heavy weapons. The gunmen occupied a hospital in which there were 25 wounded Revolutionary Guards. They gathered the wounded guards in one place and decapitated them. The gunmen then resumed the fighting and the situation exploded in general.
As a result of this, Imam Khomeini became angry and in his capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces he ordered the army to intervene immediately. He also asked the people to help the guard, and declared the dissolution of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and the punishment of its leaders.
Joint forces of the guard and the army were formed under one command. They entered Paveh and continued their advance toward other towns in Kurdistan. The towns were purged of the counterrevolutionary elements. The guard led the army convoys in combing the roads and raising the morale of the soldiers. The towns were liberated quickly, while the counterrevolutionary elements escaped to the mountains close to the Iraqi border and the army entered the barracks that had been occupied.
Certain political organizations accuse you of attacking their centers in Tehran and of occupying and closing them by force of arms.
We did not attack any political organization in the country. The people and Islamic organizations, such as Fedayi al-Islam, attacked some centers. Naturally, these people adhere to Imam Khomeini’s line and act whenever they notice any violation by any party carrying out sabotage acts. These people staged unarmed demonstrations and entered and closed the offices of some parties and organizations.
We, as Revolutionary Guards, would like to prevent any clash because it is our duty to do so. However, sometimes we cannot stand in the way of the people and cannot prevent millions of them from taking to the street in order to protect the freedom and activity of some organizations.
What is your attitude as Revolutionary Guards toward political organizations in Iran, particularly the leftist ones? There are US leftist organizations which are arming themselves such as the Fedayi Khalq. There are other leftist organizations like the Tudeh Party, which says it recognizes the Islamic Revolution’s constitution and Imam Khomeini’s line. In this case, it is a legal leftist organization that acts and works on this basis. But the danger comes from the US leftist organizations, which receive funds and weapons from the West and falsely speak about a Russian threat to Iran to justify military relations with the United States.
What about the Furqan organization? This is a terrorist organization that has assassinated several top officials and clergy since February 1979.
It is a US organization that aims at striking at the revolution’s leaders and at men of religion. We uncovered some of their cells in Tehran. Undoubtedly, they are well trained. We arrested many of them, but they denied all accusations against them. We set them free for lack of evidence because Islam requires evidence to prove guilt. However, they are under constant surveillance and we have contained their activity.
There were press reports that the Palestinian resistance is giving training to the Revolutionary Guards. What are the nature of relations with the Palestinian resistance?
We know nothing about this, but we have personal and political relations with the Resistance in its capacity as a liberation movement struggling against imperialism and world Zionism. However, there are no organizational or military relations with the Resistance.
Finally, who is Abu Sharif?
I was born in Tehran in 1940. I went to elementary school and then to a teachers university, the college of religion. In 1960, I became a teacher in the Ministry of Education. In 1961, I joined the college of arts, the Arabic language section, from which I graduated as a translator in 1965. In the same year, I was arrested on charges of membership in an Islamic party, which was then known as the International Islamic Party (al-Hizb al-Umami al-Islami). My detention lasted for 18 months. In 1967 I was released from prison. I began studying at the college of education, the Islamic law section, from which I graduated in 1971 and founded with some brothers the Allah Party.
A year before that, I traveled to Beirut to establish relations between the Allah Party and the PLO with the aim of giving us military training. I returned to Iran and then traveled again to Beirut as the party representative there. In 1972, I returned to Iran and was arrested on the Turkish-Iranian border. I was severely tortured with iron rods on charges of armed struggle against the Shah’s regime. After leaving prison, I remained under surveillance for five months. I then escaped to Pakistan on foot through tortuous mountainous areas.
I then arrived in Europe and joined a student organization, leaving for Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. I and other members of the Allah Party joined various organizations. I then left for Paris, where Imam Khomeini was living. I returned to Iran days before the fall of Bakhtiar and formed the Revolutionary Guards.
The Revolutionary Guard was formed by a Revolutionary Council decree following the personal consent of Imam Khomeini. I was asked to supervise the guard as operations commander.