Born in 1961 in a town near the city of Mashhad in northeast Iran, Ghalibaf claims to have earned a PhD in political geography while being a member of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). He is also known to have undergone Airbus pilot training in France.

Ghalibaf joined the IRGC paramilitary Basij units during the 1979 revolution and went to Iranian Kurdistan as the regime launched a crackdown campaign against dissidents. An IRGC member from the very beginning, he went to frontlines as the Iran-Iraq War began in 1980. 

Throughout the war he was a commander of various brigades, divisions and other senior posts in the IRGC, sending many young Iranians, and even children, into battle and the deadly minefields.

As the war dwindled he played a leading role in the crackdown of Iran’s northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran. In 1990 he went back to the IRGC and was appointed as the unit’s Ground Forces chief of staff. A year later he moved on to the IRGC Joint Headquarters Coordination Office until being promoted in 1994 to deputy commander on the Khatam Al-Anbia Construction Company, a leading firm associated to the IRGC.

That same year he was transferred and appointed as the Basij deputy commander where he played an active role in popular crackdown and establishing bases associated to the “Headquarters of Promoting Virtue and Prohibiting Vice,” an entity known for its human rights violations.

Ghalibaf is also known as one of the main elements behind establishing Basij intelligence teams aimed at identifying resistance cells, arresting dissidents and imposing harsh crackdown on the people.

In 1997 he moved on to become the IRGC Air Force commander, replacing Brigadier General Jalali. During the 1999 student uprising across Iran, Ghalibaf and a number of other senior IRGC commanders had written confidential group letter to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami calling for the government to control the unrest.

He is also known to have made startling remarks in this regard.

“When [the protesters] poured to the streets and headed towards the leader’s house, I was commander of the IRGC Air Force. There is an image of me holding a club and riding a motorcycle in the streets… I was there to round up the protesters. When needed we will come to the streets and use our clubs. We are amongst the club-wielders and proud of it,” he said.

Her served in this post until the year 2000 and was very active the IRGC missile units and expanding their numbers from three surface-to-surface missile units to five brigades, and mainly focusing on further developing the Shahab ballistic missile.

On June 27th, 2000, Khamenei appointed Ghalibaf as commander of Iran’s state police to replace Brigadier General Lotfiyan. Through the span of the next three years he commanded the state police in their crackdown of public dissent across Iran.

Ghalibaf expanded the police anti-riot units, established state police border posts and launched the repressive “110 Police” units. He also imposed several fundamental changes in the police hierarchy and allocated huge budgets to provide these organs more equipment used in popular clampdown.

Ghalibaf participated in the 2005 presidential election and failed to receive a significant number of votes. After this defeat he was selected by the Tehran City Council as the city mayor. In 2013 he once again participated in the presidential election, failing yet again after finishing second. Afterwards, he once again received the majority of the Tehran City Council votes and was appointed as mayor for a third term.