US sanctions Iranian, Syrian officials for repression, undermining democracy, ahead of democracy summit

The US announced new sanctions on Tuesday that included several against Iranian individuals or government entities. (Photo: Getty Images)
The US announced new sanctions on Tuesday that included several against Iranian individuals or government entities. (Photo: Getty Images)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - On Tuesday, the US announced sanctions against “15 actors across three countries in connection with serious human rights abuse and repressive acts targeting innocent civilians, political opponents, and peaceful protestors,” a statement from the Treasury Department said.

Of the 15 actors, it is notable that all but one are Iranian or Syrian officials (the other is Ugandan.) Moreover, of those 14, nine are Iranian and five are Syrian.

Sanctions were also announced sanctions against four Iranian government entities: two are associated with the Special Units of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces, while the two others are Iranian prisons.

The announcement precedes a major Biden administration diplomatic initiative: a virtual democracy summit, to which over 100 countries have been invited.

They include Iraq. Israel is the only other Middle Eastern country participating in the democracy summit.

Each country is allowed just one speaker, and Iraq will be represented by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. However, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will participate from Erbil, while the KRG Representative in Washington, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, will join from the Iraqi embassy in Washington.

Iranian Sanctions: Repression of Population

Those entities which the US sanctioned on Tuesday include the Special Units of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF Special Units.) They are “the dedicated crowd control and protest suppression unit of Iran’s LEF” and “played a key role in the crackdown on protestors” following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election, the Treasury Department said.

LEF Special Units are regularly used to suppress dissent, the Treasury Department explained, including in November 2019, when they, along with units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij, a paramilitary force subordinate to the Basij, assaulted Iranians protesting against gasoline price increases. Hundreds of people were killed.

The LEF Special Units are headed by the 61-year-old, Hassan Karami, who was among those sanctioned by the US on Tuesday.

Iran’s Counter-Terror Special Forces (NOPO) are a subunit of the LEF Special Units and are, similarly, deployed regularly to suppress protests. The NOPO was also placed on the US sanctions list.

Since 2016, Mohsen Ebrahimi has headed the NOPO, and he was sanctioned on Tuesday as well, as was Seyed Reza Mousavi Azami, who commands a LEF Special Units brigade.

The US also sanctioned the 56-year-old Gholamreza Soleimani, who has commanded the Basij since 2019. In doing so, it joins the European Union (EU) which sanctioned Soleimani last April for his role in the violent repression of the November 2019 protests.

Two notorious IRGC interrogators—Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safdari—were also sanctioned. Hemmatian engaged in “physical beatings and whippings during interrogation of prisoners, resulting in lasting damage, including cracked bones,” the Treasury Department said. He “has also directed and authored the text of televised confessions.” Similar charges were leveled against Safdari.

Brigadier General Mohammed Karami commands the IRGC South-East Quds Operational Base in Zahedan, the capital of the Baluch majority province of Iran, Sistan and Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Baluch are a traditional, Sunni, tribal people, long suppressed on sectarian grounds by the Shi’ite regime in Tehran. For decades, going back to the days of Iraq’s monarchy, Sunni regimes in Baghdad supported the Baluch in their opposition to Tehran. CoSyrianversely, Iran supported the Kurds.

In 1975, when Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran reached an agreement on dividing their riverine border (Algiers accord), the Shah abruptly ended his support for the Kurds, while Saddam ended his support for the Baluch.

The Kurds found refuge where they could, some, including the legendary Kurdish leader, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, arriving in the US, while the Baluch leaders took their refuge in Iraq.

In February 2021, as Amnesty International reported, “Revolutionary Guards, stationed at Shamsar military base, used live ammunition against a group of unarmed fuel porters from Iran’s impoverished Baluchi minority causing several deaths and injuries.”

The Treasury Department cited that report in sanctioning Karami, whom it said was “responsible for the actions of IRGC officers” at the Shamsar base.

Two women were also sanctioned on Tuesday. Leila Vaseghi, governor of Qods city, “was responsible for issuing an order to police and other armed forces during the November 2019 protests to shoot unarmed protestors.”

She was sanctioned by the EU last April, and the new US designation brings Washington into line with Europe.

Soghra Khodadadi is warden of Qarchak Prison, a women’s jail in Tehran, notorious for its abuse of political prisoners. In 2020, the US sanctioned the prison itself. On Tuesday, it sanctioned Khodadadi personally for “ordering and directly participating in a violent attack on December 13, 2120, against prisoners of conscience in Ward 8 along with at least 20 other guards,” the Treasury Department said.

The US also sanctioned Zahedan Prison, where many Baluch are incarcerated, as well as Isfahan Central Prison.

Syria Sanctions: Use of Chemical Weapons, Repression of Population

The US also sanctioned five senior Syrian officials: two Air Force officers involved in the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population, while the three others are prominent figures in Syria’s repressive intelligence and security apparatus.

Maj. Gen. Mohammed Youssef al-Hasouri was involved in the notorious sarin attack on Khan Shaykhun in April 2017, in which the Syrian Air Force struck the town in rebel-held Idlib Province with the poison gas, killing nearly 100 people.

Khan Shaykhun marked the deadliest use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime since a 2013 chemical weapons attack on Ghouta, a Damascus suburb.

That attack killed hundreds of people, making it the deadliest use of poison gas since Saddam Hussein’s regular and repeated use of the banned substances, including in his genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds.

In 2012, President Barack Obama declared Syria’s use of chemical weapons a “red line,” but then did very little, when, in fact, Bashar al-Assad did use chemical weapons against his own people.

By contrast, President Donald Trump responded to the sarin attack on Khan Shaykun with a cruise missile strike on Shayrat Airbase, from where the planes that dropped the sarin had flown.

Hasouri was deputy commander of the Syrian Air Force’s 50th Brigade, which carried out the strike and was involved personally in it, the Treasury Department explained.

Maj. Gen. Tawfiq Mohammed Khadour, who currently commands the 22nd Air Division, headed the Air Force’s 30th Brigade, which launched chlorine bombs in Eastern Ghouta in April 2018.

The Trump administration responded to that use of chemical weapons by bombing, along with France and the UK, two sites in Syria related to its development and production of chemical weapons.

The three other Syrians sanctioned on Tuesday include Kamal al-Hassan, who currently heads Syrian Military Intelligence Branch 227, but who previously headed Branch 235, which is “responsible for joint operations” with Lebanese Hizbollah, the Treasury Department said.

Adeeb Namer Salameh, Assistant Director of Syrian Air Force Intelligence (SAFI), was sanctioned for his brutal and repressive actions against the population in Aleppo. He is also a very corrupt figure, “having received large sums of money in exchange for protecting factories and appointing himself as a partner to major investors in Aleppo.”

Qahtan Kalil is also a senior SAFI official. He heads the Security Committee in the South of Syria and was “one of the SAFI officers accused of direct responsibility for the notorious Daraya massacre, which left hundreds dead in the suburbs of Damascus in 2012,” the Treasury Department said.