US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in Washington DC this week the Trump administration’s “intent to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Qods Force, as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act”. The designation, Pompeo said, would “take effect one week from today”, that is, on April 15. The designation as FTO will impose sweeping economic and travel sanctions.
The IRGC was set up in 1979 after Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution as an ideologically-driven branch of the armed forces of Iran, to protect the newly established Islamic system from hostile foreign powers and internal dissensions. The IRGC is today a 125,000-strong force with ground, naval, and air wings, tasked with internal and border security, law enforcement, and protection of Iran’s missiles. It controls the Basij militia, a semi-government paramilitary force estimated to have up to a million active members. The elite Quds Force or Qods Corps is an elite wing of the IRGC, reporting directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It has perhaps 10,000-20,000 members, and carries out unconventional warfare beyond Iran’s borders, often working with non-state actors such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the Houthis in Yemen, and Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. The Quds Force has been commanded since 1998 by Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani; Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari has been the commander-in-chief of the IRGC since 2007.
Section 219 of the US Immigration and Nationality Act authorises the Secretary of State to “designate an organization as a foreign terrorist organization… if the Secretary finds that (A) the organization is a foreign organization; (B) the organization engages in terrorist activity or terrorism… or (C) …threatens the security of United States nationals or the national security of the United States”.
The State Department has alleged that “the IRGC has been directly involved in terrorist plotting; its support for terrorism is foundational and institutional, and it has killed US citizens. It is also responsible for taking hostages and wrongfully detaining numerous US persons, several of whom remain in captivity in Iran today.”
Among the 67 other FTOs designated by the State Department are the Pakistan-based terrorist groups Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb ul-Mujahideen, Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, apart from al-Qaida and the Islamic State.