Iran International: The Commander of the Iranian Army’s Ground Forces, Brigadier-General Kiyumars Heidari has said his troops’ “presence in the field” during nation-wide unrest in November 2019 following increases in fuel prices was an example of his force’s absolute loyalty to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
In an interview published by the website of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on March 10, Heidari became the first army (Artesh) official to speak publicly about its role in the protests. “We were not assigned a particular mission at the time, so we announced our preparedness to the Chief of Joint Staff of the Armed Forces, Brigadier-General [Mohammad-Hossein] Bagheri,” Heidari said. “We told him that this was the best opportunity for us to help our country’s security.”
Heidari stressed that the army’s ground forces had an “effectual role in establishing security in cities that were afflicted with unrest, ” and that the army’s “presence in the field” was a “demonstration of our obedience to the Supreme Leader and the power of the regime.” Heidari went on to say that a report submitted to the leader, who is commander-in-chief of all Iran’s armed forces, had led to “special commands” that the army would “definitely follow in the future.”
The nationwide protests began on the evening of November 15 after an increase in fuel prices and lasted over a week. Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested by security forces during protests that soon acquired political edge, while the authorities shut down the internet for a week to prevent the circulation of messages, videos and images. Security forces used live ammunition, metal pellets and tear gas.
Heidari did not name the cities where forces under his command “helped out” the police and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Soon after the protested ended in most cities, the spokesman of Shiraz City Council, Saeed Nazari, thanked the army for helping guard urban infrastructure alongside the Law Enforcement Forces, the Basij militia and others.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli in a program aired by state-run television (IRIB) on November 25 said the army had been deployed “to guard principal and sensitive locations to relieve the Law Enforcement Force so it could go to various [other] locations.”
A few days later, on December 6, the newspaper Kayhan of London quoted an “informed source” that the army had been deployed on November 16 in Shiraz and in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province. The source claimed that a plan to send only volunteers soon proved inadequate.
According to most translations, Article 143 of the Iranian constitution says: “The Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for guarding the independence and territorial integrity of the country, as well as the order (‘nezam’) of the Islamic Republic. ” Four decades since the constitution was approved, some see ‘nezam’ as meaning the supreme leader.
Article 150 describes the role of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), separately, as “guarding the Revolution and its achievements” and stipulates that the scope of its duties and responsibilities are to be determined by law. Based on this article, the Guards see their role as broader than a traditional military force.
Iran has never officially announced figures for deaths or arrests in November 2019 but Amnesty International reported the killing of at least 304 protesters including at least 23 minors. Reuters on December 23, 2019 claimed three sources close to Khamenei’s “inner circle” had confirmed he ordered officials to stop the protests. According to Reuters, about 1,500 people were killed in the two weeks after November 15.