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West Imposes New Sanctions on Iran’s Guards Corps

By Nigar Bayramli January 24, 2023


People rally against the Iranian regime during a meeting of the European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, Belgium, January 23, 2023. / Johanna Geron / Reuters

The United States, European Union and the United Kingdom have imposed fresh sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) over its crackdown on protests in Iran.

On January 23, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation and five of its board members — Deputy Minister of Intelligence and Security Naser Rashedi and four senior IRGC commanders. The Treasury accused the IRGC Cooperative Foundation of having become “a wellspring of corruption and graft” and said its funds have supported the IRGC’s military adventures abroad.

The IRGC was set up shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the clerical ruling system in Iran. It has an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units, and also commands the Basij religious militia, which is often used in crackdowns.

Meanwhile, the European Union also imposed sanctions on more than 30 Iranian officials and organizations, including units of the IRGC, blaming them for a “brutal” crackdown on protesters and other human rights abuses. Foreign ministers from the EU’s 27 member countries agreed on the measures at a meeting in Brussels on January 23.

The new sanctions were imposed on 18 people and 19 entities. Those targeted cannot travel to the EU, and any assets they hold inside the bloc can be frozen.

Some EU governments and the European Parliament have made it clear that they want the IRGC as a whole to be added to the bloc’s list of terrorist organizations. But the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, noted that this could only happen if a court in an EU country determine the IRGC is guilty of terrorism.

The UK also imposed sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities on January 23 over the country’s “brutal repression” of its people. The sanctions included an asset freeze on Iranian deputy prosecutor general Ahmad Fazelian, who the British foreign office said was responsible for an unfair judicial system that used the death penalty for political purposes.

Others sanctioned by the United Kingdom include Kiyumars Heidari, commander in chief of Iran’s ground forces; Hossein Nejat, deputy commander of the IRGC; and the Basij Resistance Force deputy commander, Salar Abnoush. The Basij Cooperative Foundation, linked to the Basij militia, as well as Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of Iran’s law enforcement forces, were also sanctioned.

On January 19, the European Parliament voted through a non-binding motion, calling for the IRGC to be designated as a “terrorist” group. Since then, Iranian officials have strongly criticized the possible listing of the IRGC and warned about its consequences.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi criticized the EU’s “desperate” call, saying that “the new forlorn conspiracy of the enemies of the Islamic Revolution against our powerful IRGC, which is a reaction to the revolutionary movement of our forces in the fight against terrorism, as well as a reaction to the vigilance and insight of the people of Islamic Iran, is doomed to failure, as always.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also criticized the move in a phone call with Josep Borrell, saying it was akin to the EU “shooting itself in the foot.”

In another statement, Amir-Abdollahian said that Tehran does not rule out withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), should the European Union not change its stance regarding the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization. 

“Iran’s reciprocal measure, which will seek to designate European forces as terrorist armies, will leave a significant impact on the regional military alignment,” the minister added.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran also warned the bloc against “the consequences of its heretical actions” for “regional and global peace.”

On January 22, Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib issued a statement condemning the EU for the votes against the IRGC, and highlighted the corps’ status as a “pillar” of Iran’s national security, and praised it as “the largest force fighting against takfiri terrorism” in the region. The minister further reminded EU officials of how Iran had responded to the US when it had designated the IRGC a terrorist organization in 2019, and observed that Europe was geographically closer to the “sensitive West Asian region” than the US. 

In April 2019, former US President Donald Trump listed the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, which is still the only time the US blacklisted another nation’s military. Iran responded by declaring the US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees the US military presence in the Middle East, as a terrorist entity.

Iran’s long-strained relations with the West have deteriorated since talks to revive its 2015 nuclear deal deadlocked and after Tehran unleashed the crackdown on protesters last year. Iran’s ties with the West have also been strained after Tehran’s supply of drones for Russia in its war against Ukraine.