WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – On Monday, the US announced that it was designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Quds Force (IRGC-QF), as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO.)
The “FTO” designation carries specific force in US law. It is a criminal offense to provide material support to an FTO. The FTO designation will take effect next Monday, when it will become a criminal offense to provide material support to the IRGC.
The IRGC is broadly involved in different sectors of the Iranian economy, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized in announcing the new measure, which will require companies to be extremely careful in their dealings with Iran.
“Businesses and banks around the world now have a clear duty to ensure that companies with which they conduct financial transactions are not connected to the IRGC in any material way,” Pompeo warned.
As Brian Hook, Special Representative for Iran, put it subsequently, “We’re adding a layer of additional sanctions on the IRGC to make radioactive those sectors of Iran’s economy that are influenced or controlled by the IRGC.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R, Texas), the leading Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement hailing the latest step against the IRGC.
McCaul explained that since 2015, he had repeatedly called on the State Department to evaluate whether the IRGC could be designated an FTO, while he “plans to introduce a bill” to “address the IRGC’s outsized role in Iran’s economy by lowering the minimum threshold for sanctionable transactions.”
Monday’s designation marks the sharpest departure yet from the Obama administration’s policy of accommodating Iran in the Middle East. In Iraq, the high point of such accommodation was Washington’s turning a blind eye to Baghdad’s assault on Kirkuk in October 2017, an operation engineered by IRGC-QF commander, Qasim Soleimani.
That occurred during the Trump administration, when Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster (USA, Ret.) was National Security Adviser and Rex Tillerson was Secretary of State. They essentially continued the policy of the previous president. However, since April 2018, when Pompeo replaced Tillerson and Amb. John Bolton replaced McMaster, Washington has been much tougher on Tehran, including as regards its influence in Iraq.
However, the extent of the role in Iraq that Tehran has built up over the years, is creating problems for the enforcement of the new measure there.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mehdi just completed a major to Tehran, in which Iranian President Hassan al-Rouhani called for increasing Iran’s trade with Iraq from its current $12 billion per year to $20 billion. When Rouhani visited Baghdad last month, the two countries agreed to build a connecting the Iranian border town of Salamcheh with the Iraqi port of Basra.
Such a railway would facilitate Iranian access to transportation routes to Syria and Lebanon, while allowing Iran to mask its own imports and exports as Iraqi.
Questioned about how the new measure would be applied to Iraq, administration officials provided no clear answer.
Asked about the potential arrest of IRGC members in Iraq, Amb. Nathan Sales, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, responded, “We’re not making any demands of the Iraqi government.”
A senior administration official, asked more broadly about Iraq’s position, responded, “Many countries will face a pretty clear choice,” and we would “urge them to look at what comes with Iranian involvement.”
“You can weigh that in the balance,” she continued, “with what comes with American support, and hopefully we can make that very clear to the Iraqis.”
Iran has strong influence in Lebanon, as well. Asked about possible US sanctions on that country, because of Hizbollah’s role there, and Lebanon’s ties to Iran, Pompeo gave a tough answer.
“In my most recent trip to Beirut, [I] made clear to the Lebanese leadership,” that “America was not going to tolerate the continued rise of Hizbollah,” he said.
“It wasn’t in the best interest of the Lebanese people to have an armed terror group underwritten by the very Iran that we’re speaking about today,” Pompeo continued, while “we made very clear that we were going to continue to evaluate sanctions for all those” involved.