The Basij militia has been blamed for extreme brutality in the violent aftermath of the contested June 12 election in Iran. A Basij commander, who volunteers for one of the Tehran branch of the militia, describes his account of one the bloodiest clashes, on June 20.
Iran's Basij militia is a pro-government volunteer force which comes to the aid of the regime when unrest hits the streets. It was established by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 during the Iran-Iraq war. During the last three weeks the Basij has been called upon by the government to quell the post-election protests, in which at least 20 people were reported to have been killed. The opposition says the figure is much higher.
Mehdi (not his real name) is a 39-year-old Basij commander and a former classmate of one of our Observers from Tehran (who prefers not to be mentioned). Mehdi led a mission in the city centre, close to the Tehran military base, on June 20, one of the most violent days of the clashes.
Later, we moved back and went behind the vans in middle of the street and I ordered my unit to shoot into the ground in the hope of scaring the crowds from coming closer.
I hoped it would never come to shooting them. That night, I had a nightmare in which the protestors threw me on a fire. It's come back several times, and I can see the faces of the people I was ordered to shoot. I've asked a very spiritual mullah to pray for me.
I did it for Islam but it wasn't easy to kill people. We have to remember who they are though - they're deceitful people who are against the Islamic Revolution. You can't expect us to stay calm when they want to overthrow our regime."