Pasdaran Power: The US Congress Brands Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps a Terrorist Organisation as It Tightens Its Grip on the Islamic Republic's Economy and Builds Political Muscle
Blanche, Ed, The Middle East
AS THE BUSH administration sinks deeper into the Iraqi quagmire, it has said it plans to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Praetorian Guard of the clerical regime in Tehran, a terrorist organisation because of its alleged support for insurgents and Shi'ite militias in that tormented land.
Many observers see this highly unusual move as part of a wider strategy of tightening Iran's international isolation and setting the stage for US military action against the Islamic Republic, and are questioning the wisdom of taking such a provocative action.
If the administration goes ahead with its plan, it would be the first time the US has proscribed a component of a foreign state's armed forces as a terrorist group. By invoking Executive Order 13244, which President George W. Bush signed 12 days after 9/11, authorising attacks to obstruct terrorist funding, the administration wants to throttle the IRGC's vast business network that has become a key part of Iran's economic life.
On 25 September, the administration's plan got a big boost when the US House of Representatives passed a bill calling on the State Department to add the IRGC to its long blacklist of terrorist organisations because of its alleged destabilising operations in Iraq and other part of the Middle East, including Lebanon.
Few analysts believe that imposing international sanctions on the IRGC, known in Iran as the Padaran-e Enghelab-e Islami, will have any meaningful impact. Iran has been subjected to US and UN economic sanctions for years and these have failed to bring the Tehran regime to its knees. But the political impact could be considerable and potentially dangerous.
"The administration's attempt to coerce and put pressure on this organisation is likely to trigger its antagonism towards further dealings with the US," said Ray Takeyh, an expert on Iran and a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. Warning that the impact of the proposed sanctions would be extremely limited, he stressed that "coercing a pillar of the theocratic regime erodes the possibility of a diplomatic resolution".
Blacklisting the IRGC would threaten the current talks in Baghdad between US and Iranian officials, the first face-to-face talks between the two protagonists in nearly 30 years, and could well provoke an intensification of clandestine Iranian operations, run by the corps' elite Qods Force, in Iraq, the Gulf states and Lebanon.
Iran has threatened to retaliate by branding the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) a terrorist organisation and the supreme leader, Ayatollah All Khamenei, recently made surprise changes in the IRGC's high command, appointing new commanders who have been refining Iran's strategy to counter any US attack.
"The long-term effect of the decision to designate the IRGC a global terrorist organisation, however, may be even more significant. It is easier to put an entity on the terrorist list than remove it," says Dr. Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in the US.
"Future US presidents will likely find their efforts to change Iranian behaviour and resolve US-Iranian disputes more difficult, not only because the designation may put legal limits on how the United States can deal with individuals associated with the IRGC, but also by further entrenching US-Iran relations in a paradigm of enmity."
The Americans have been crossing swords with the Pasdaran since its formation shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Many of the "students" who stormed the US Embassy in November 1979 were revolutionary zealots who became commanders of the IRGC, including the corps' new commander, Major General Mohammed Ali Jafari, appointed in September.
The US has accused the Pasdaran of involvement in a host of terrorist attacks over the years, including the slaughter of 241 Americans in the 1983 suicide bombings of a Marine barracks in Beirut, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers military barracks complex in Saudi Arabia in which 19 Americans perished, as well as the bloodletting in Iraq. …