Military Wiki
Islamic Republic of Iran Army
ارتش جمهوری اسلامی ایران
Seal of the Iranian Army
Active 1923-present
Country Iran
Size 350,000
Headquarters Tehran
Motto(s) All for one, One for all, All for Iran
Anniversaries 18 April
Equipment 1,595 m.b.t.'s, 1,569+ i.f.v.'s & a.p.c.'s, 2,778+ artillery pieces, mortars, 50 attack helicopters
Commander Lieutenant General Ataollah Salehi

The Islamic Republic of Iran Army (IRIA) is the ground forces of the Military of Islamic Republic of Iran. In Iran, it is also called Artesh, (ارتش) which is Persian for "army." As of 2007, the regular Iranian Army was estimated to have 350,000 personnel (220,000 conscripts and 130,000 professionals) plus around 350,000 reservists for a total of 700,000 soldiers according to the CSIS.[1][2] Conscripts serve for 18 months and have professional military training.[3]

Iran has two parallel land forces with some integration at the command level: the regular Artesh (Army), and the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, also known as the Sepaah (IRGC).



A national army of sorts has existed in Iran since the establishment of the Persian Empire. National armies usually appeared throughout the country's points of strength, while in times of weakness mercenaries and conscript armies were recruited temporarily from fiefdoms. The original core of full-time troops and imperial body guards were called the Immortals, these were established in 580 BC by Cyrus the Great. These were replaced by the Junishapur Shâhanshâh (King of Kings) in the Sassanid Dynasty after a period of disunity and chaos in the country. Following the Arab invasion of Iran and eventual resurgence of Iranian dynasties a new full-time army was formed by the name of Qezelbash in the Safavid Dynasty. The Qajar period saw several attempts to re-model the traditional Iranian military based on western models. These were met with limited success at the time.

Iranian Army
Iranian Army Order of Battle
List of Iranian field marshals
Rank insignia of the Iranian military
Current equipment
Military history of Iran
Historical equipment
Imperial Guard

Pahlavi era

Insignia of the Imperial Iranian Ministry of War

"In 1918 the Qajar armed forces consisted of four separate foreign-commanded military units. Several provincial and tribal forces could also be called on during an emergency, but their reliability was highly questionable. More often than not, provincial and tribal forces opposed the government's centralisation efforts, particularly because Tehran was perceived to be under the dictate of foreign powers. Having foreign officers in commanding positions over Iranian troops added to these tribal and religious concerns."

"Loyal, disciplined, and well trained, the most effective government unit was the 8,000-man Persian Cossack Brigade. It was created in 1879 and commanded by Russian Imperial Army officers until the 1917 October Revolution. After that date its command passed into Iranian hands, and the brigade represented the core of the new Iranian armed forces. Swedish officers commanded the 8,400-man Gendarmerie (later the Imperial Gendarmerie and after 1979 the Islamic Iranian Gendarmerie), organised in 1911 as the first internal security force. The 6,000-man South Persia Rifles was financed by Britain and commanded by British officers from its inception in 1916. Its primary task was to combat tribal forces allegedly stirred up by German agents during the First World War. The Qajar palace guard, the Nizam, commanded by a Swedish officer, was a force originally consisting of 2,000 men, although it deteriorated rapidly in numbers because of rivalries. Thus, during the First World War the 24,400 troops in these four separate military units made up one of the weakest forces in Iranian history."[4]

Following the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925 the new Imperial Iranian Army became a priority. By 1941 the army stood at 125,000 troops—five times its original size—and was considered well trained and well equipped. However, the Iranian Army was focused on internal security operations, rather than, Farrokh says 'rather than fighting well-led and equipped Soviet and Western armies.'[5]

In 1941 the Soviets and British launched the Invasion of Iran (1941), which took place from 25 August to 17 September. London and Moscow had insisted that the shah expel Iran's large German population and allow shipments of war supplies to cross the country en route to the Soviet Union. Both of these proved unacceptable to Reza Shah; he was sympathetic to Germany, and Iran had declared its neutrality in the Second World War. Iran's location was so strategically important to the Allied war effort, however, that London and Moscow chose to overlook Tehran's claim of neutrality. From the south came the British Paiforce, under the command of Lieutenant-General Edward Quinan. Paiforce was made up of the 8th and 10th Indian Infantry Divisions, plus three other brigades. Meanwhile, the Soviets invaded from the north. Three armies, the 44th, 47th and 53rd Armies of the Transcaucasian Front under General Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov, occupied Iran's northern provinces. In response to the invasion, theIranian Army mobilised nine infantry divisions.

Against the Allied forces, the Iranian army was overwhelmed in three days, while the fledgling Iranian air force and navy suffered heavy damage. Conscripts deserted by the thousands. His institutional power base ruined, Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his young son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. In the absence of a broad political power base and with a shattered army, Mohammad Reza Shah faced an almost impossible task of rebuilding.[4] There was no popular sympathy for the army in view of the widespread and largely accurate perception that it was a brutal tool used to uphold a dictatorial regime. The young shah, distancing Tehran from the European military, in 1942 invited the United States to send a military mission to advise in the reorganization effort. With American advice, emphasis was placed on quality rather than quantity.

The small but more confident army that resulted from American training was capable enough to participate in the 1946 campaign in Azarbaijan to put down a Soviet-inspired separatist rebellion. During the three years of occupation, Stalin had expanded Soviet political influence in Azerbaijan and the Kurdish area in northwestern Iran. On 12 December 1945, after weeks of violent clashes a Soviet-backed separatist People's Republic of Azerbaijan was founded. The Kurdish People's Republic was also established in late 1945. Iranian troops sent to reestablish control were blocked by Soviet Red Army units. When the deadline for withdrawal arrived on 2 March 1946, six months after the end of hostilities, the British began to withdraw, but Moscow refused, "citing threats to Soviet security," sparking the Iran crisis of 1946. Soviet troops did not withdraw from Iran proper until May 1946, following Iran's official complaint to the newly formed United Nations Security Council.

Unlike its 1925 counterpart, the 1946 Majlis was suspicious of the shah's plans for a strong army.[4] Many members of the parliament feared that the army would once again be used as a source of political power. To curtail the shah's potential domination of the country, they limited his military budgets.

Dramatic reforms brought in a host of western advisors and over the course of more than three decades the army was to become the world's fifth strongest by 1979. Throughout the 1970s the Imperial Iranian Ground Forces , as they were then known, underwent a rapid transformation and increase in strength.

In the early 1970s the Sultan of Oman was fighting the Dhofar Rebellion with British support. As a result of Sultan Qaboos's diplomatic initiatives, the Shah sent a brigade of troops numbering 1,200 and with its own helicopters to assist the Sultan's Armed Forces in 1973. The Iranian brigade first secured the Salalah-Thumrait road. In 1974, the Iranian contribution was expanded into the Imperial Iranian Task Force, numbering 4,000. They attempted to establish another interdiction line, codenamed the "Damavand Line", running from Manston, a few miles east of Sarfait, to the coast near the border with South Yemen (the PDRY). Heavy rebel opposition, which included artillery fire from within South Yemen, thwarted this aim for several months. Eventually, the town of Rahkyut, which the PFLO had long maintained as the capital of their liberated territory, fell to the Iranian task force.[6] The IITF remained in Oman in December 1975, then at a strength of 3,000.[7]

Insignia of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army Ground Force

In 1979 the Army was a largely mechanised and armoured force of about 285,000 troops; Organised in 3 corps, with headquarters in Tehran area, in Shiraz in the south, and in Kermanshah near the Iraq border. There were additional plans for a fourth corps to be established at the Chah Bahar complex at the eastern end of the Persian Gulf.[8]

Its major ground formations included the following:

  • Three armoured divisions (plus one more being organised in Sistan Baluchestan, possibly the 88th Armoured Division): each with six tank battalions and five mechanised infantry battalions,
  • Three infantry divisions,
  • Two Iranian Imperial Guard Divisions and
  • Four independent brigades (1 armoured, 1 infantry, 1 airborne and 1 Special Forces)
  • Army Aviation Command with 200 plus helicopters.

These combat units, backed up by the usual complement of support units, were said to be 85 percent operational.

Islamic Republic of Iran

Immediately after the 1979 revolution a series of purges gutted the core of the army's Western trained senior commanders. The last general to head the Imperial Iranian Army was General Gholam Ali Oveissi, who was assassinated in Paris along with his brother in 1984. He was replaced by General Gharebaghi who allied with the Islamic Republic and dismantled the army. The purges left it poorly prepared when Iraq invaded Iran at the beginning of the Iran–Iraq War.[citation needed]

Iran Iraq War

From July 1985, the IISS started attributing an estimated three army headquarters to the Iranian Army where previously no headquarters above division level has been identified. These were identified by other sources later as the 1st Army (HQ Kermanshah), 2nd Army (HQ Tehran) and 3rd Army (HQ Shiraz).

In 1987, and on the verge of the end of the Iran–Iraq War the Artesh was organised as follows:[4]

  • Three mechanised divisions,
    • Each of which composed of three armoured and six mechanised battalions organised into three brigades
  • Seven infantry divisions,
  • One special forces division composed of four brigades,
  • One airborne brigade,
  • One air support command,

and some independent armoured brigades including infantry and a "coastal force."

Post Iran Iraq War

A new cadre of commanders, shaped by their experiences in the war, drastically reduced reliance on foreign supplied equipment and training[citation needed]. Following the war the military pursued a dramatic restructuring, much of it under total secrecy.[citation needed] While still only a mere shadow of its pre-revolutionary self, the Artesh rapidy re-asserted its abilities and started to grow again.[citation needed]

Some time between 1992 and 1995 the IISS determined that an additional army headquarters was raised (making a total of four). Later, some time between mid-1997 and mid-1999, the listing changed to that of four corps. The Jaffee Center's Middle East Military Balance 99-00 also lists the four corps the IISS also attributes.bich

Status as of 2006/08

Jane's reported in 2006 that the Army was commanded via three army level headquarters with 15 divisions.[3] The IISS reported in the Military Balance 2008 that there 12 Corps level regional headquarters, five armoured divisions with some independent brigades, seven infantry divisions with some independent brigades, one special forces brigade, two commando divisions with some independent brigades, plus an airborne brigade. There were also six artillery groups, and aviation forces.[9] The number of divisions reported has not changed for some years. Often reported formations include the 23rd Special Forces Division, established in 1993-1994, and the 55th Paratroop Division. Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments reports that the 23rd Special Forces Division is amongst the most professional formations in the Iranian Army, with 5,000 personnel, all of whom are believed to be regulars.

The regular armoured divisions, including the 92nd Armored Division, are sub-divided into three brigades. says on its page on the Iranian Army:[10]

  • "Force structure, order of battle, and unit identifications for Iranian forces differ greatly among sources. It is unclear which identifications are accurate. The evolution of Iranian units over time is somewhat opaque, and rather dated wartime designations are often published, sometimes confusing brigades with divisions. During the Iran–Iraq War some brigades formed the nuclei of new divisions, and may have reverted to that status with the end of the war."
  • "The regular army also has a number of independent brigades and groups, though there is almost no reliable data on the size and number of these smaller independent formations. These include one logistics brigade, an infantry brigade, an airborne brigade, special forces (Takavar) brigades, and five artillery brigades/regiments. There are also coastal defence units, a growing number of air defence groups, between four and six army aviation units, and a growing number of logistics and supply formations."
  • "There are a variety of other reports of doubtful veracity. Some sources claim that small light formations in the regular army include an Airmobile Forces Group created after the Iran–Iraq War. This formation is said to include the 29th Special Forces Division, which was formed in 1993-1994, and the 55th Paratroop Division. Other sources claim that the commando forces of the regular army and IRGC are integrated into a Corps of about 30,000 soldiers, with integrated helicopter lift and air assault capabilities. These airborne and special forces troops are said to train together at Shiraz."

Many of these assessments appear to be sourced from research conducted by the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, for example, an updated military balance report dated 2012.

Most soldiers of the Iranian Army are well trained and determined, but their equipment is outdated or obsolete. They primarily use outdated Western-style equipment or newer, locally produced equipment, which is lower quality. Commanders generally appoint men to high level positions based on loyalty, rather than military skills.[11]

Since 2010 Iranian Army has undergone a reorganization process called Thamen alaeme general structure plan (طرح جامع ساختاری ثامن الائمه), this plan includes transformation from division centric towards brigade centric model, repositioning of Army bases, adding new units and increase in mobility of army units. To that effect it has sheered off some brigades from existing divisions as well as establishing new brigades alongside of them. By March 2012 31 new independent brigades have been established throughout the army.[12][13]

Commander of the Iranian Army's Ground Forces is the Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan.

Rank Order

  1. Sarbaz
  2. Sarbaz 2
  3. Sarbaz 1
  4. Sarjookhe
  5. Goroohban 3
  6. Goroohban 2
  7. Goroohban 1
  8. Ostovar 2
  9. Ostovar 1
  10. Sotvan 3
  11. Sotvan 2
  12. Sotvan 1
  13. Sarvan
  14. Sargord
  15. Sarhang 2
  16. Sarhang 1
  17. Sartip 2
  18. Sartip 1
  19. Sarlashgar
  20. Sepahbod (currently there is no holder)
  21. Arteshbod (currently there is no holder)


Iranian made Zulfiqar tank

Iran's main battle tanks include an estimated 100 or possibly more, indigenous Zulfiqar MBTs, 480 T-72S, 150 M-60A1s, 75 T-62s, 100 Chieftain Mk 3/Mk 5 MBTs, 540 T-54/T-55/Type 59s, and 150 M-47/M-48s.[14]

The Zulfiqar is the defence industry of Iran's most recent main battle tank, named after the twin-pointed legendary sword of Hazrat Ali.[citation needed] Born as the brainchild of Brigadier General Mir-Younes Masoumzadeh, deputy ground force commander for research and self-sufficiency of the armed forces, the vehicle has been developed from major components of the American M-48 tank. One of the features which has drawn the attention of the Defense Ministry is that indigenously-made parts have been used in it. The prototypes of the tank were tested in 1993. Six semi-industrial prototypes were produced and tested in 1997. The IISS estimates that around 150 Zulfiqar 1's are now in service.[15]

The main attack helicopter of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army is the AH-1J Sea Cobra. The number of AH-1Js in service was estimated by the IISS in 2009 as 50,[16] though 202 were delivered before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Iran also operates an unknown number of the Panha 2091, which is an unlicensed, locally-made upgrade of the AH-1J.[17]

The main transport helicopter of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army is the CH-47C Chinook. The number of CH-47C´s in service was estimated as 20 though 57 were delivered before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Islamic Republic of Iran Army lost one of them in 2011.

See also

  • International armed forces/military rankings of Iran


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website

  1. "Iranian Armed Forces". CSIS. 25 July 2006. p. 14. 
  2. "How big is Iran's military?". 28 September 2009. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Jane's World Armies profile: Iran". Jane's Defence News. 29 August 2006. Retrieved 2010-02-13. [dead link]
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Library of Congress Country Studies, Armed Forces: Historical Background, 1987
  5. Kaveh Farrokh, Iran at War: 1500-1988, Osprey Hardcover, released 24 May 2011; ISBN 978-1-84603-491-6. Page Number required (Unclear from G-Books).
  6. Allen, Calvin H.; Rigsbee, W. Lynn (2000). Oman under Qaboos: From Coup to Constitution, 1970-1996. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7146-5001-2. , pp. 72-73, see also John Akehurst, We won a war: the campaign in Oman 1965-1975, 82.
  7. Area Handbook for the Persian Gulf States, 396.
  8. "Ali Neshat". Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  9. IISS Military Balance 2008, p.242
  10., Iranian Army, accessed August 2012
  12. "Introducing of 10 new army achievements". March 2012. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  13. "Unveiling of new army achievements". April 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  14. International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2009, Routledge for the IISS, London, 2009, p.245
  15. "How big is Iran's military?". International Institute for Strategic Studies. 28 Sep 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  16. IISS Military Balance 2009, p.245
  17. "Panha hovers between repair and manufacturing". Jane's Air Forces News. 27 August 2001. Retrieved 2010-02-13. [dead link]

Further reading

  • Richard A. Gabriel, ed (27 September 1983). "Fighting Armies: Antagonists in the Middle East - A Combat Assessment". Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-23904-5.  - includes army order of battle as of 1978-79
  • Steven R. Ward, Immortal: a military history of Iran and its armed forces, Georgetown University Press, 2009, ISBN 1-58901-258-5, ISBN 978-1-58901-258-5
  • Kaveh Farrokh, Iran at War: 1500-1988, Osprey Hardcover, released 24 May 2011; ISBN 978-1-84603-491-6.
  • Gregory F. Rose, The Post-Revolutionary Purge of Iran's Armed Forces: A Revisionist Assessment, Iranian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2/3 (Spring - Summer, 1984), pp. 153–194.
  • Ẕukāʼ, Yaḥyá, The Imperial Iranian Army from Cyrus to Pahlavi, Imperial Iranian Armed Forces Committee for the Celebration of the 2,500th Anniversary of the Founding of the Persian Empire, 1970.
  • Peter Oborne and David Morrison, A Dangerous Delusion, 2013. Review by Michael Axworthy, The Daily Telegraph, 27 Apr 2013.

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