The Trump administration is preparing to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, the Wall Street Journal Friday quoted U.S. officials as saying.
The WSJ said this step that would vastly escalate the American pressure campaign against Tehran but which has divided U.S. officials.
The decision, which could be announced as early as Monday following months of deliberation, would mark the first time that an element of a foreign state has been officially designated a terrorist entity, according to the WSJ.
The designation will be accompanied by an alert to U.S. forces to warn of possible retaliation the WSJ also said.
Iran warned Saturday that it could respond in kind, listing the US military as a terror group.
“If the Revolutionary Guards are placed on America’s list of terrorist groups, we will put that country’s military on the terror blacklist next to Daesh [Islamic State],” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the head of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, tweeted.
In 2017 IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari had said such action by Washington would lead the Guards to “consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world.”
The Wall Street Journal said that the Pentagon and the CIA had reservations about the move, saying it would increase risks for US troops without doing much more to damage the Iranian economy.
The impending decision to designate the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization comes after a surprise announcement from the State Department’s Brian Hook last week, who revealed that Iran is responsible for the deaths of more than 600 American service members in Iraq, higher than the previous estimate of 500, according to Washington Examiner.
A spokesman for the Defense Department told the Washington Examiner the exact figure is 603.
Commander Sean Robertson said the casualties were from improvised explosive devices, rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and small-arms and sniper attacks by Iranian-backed militants.
Republican Senator Ben Sasse spoke in support of the move, saying “A formal designation and its consequences may be new, but these IRGC butchers have been terrorists for a long time.”
A GOP aide told the Washington Examiner that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, “is well-known to be planning an even broader set of sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for this Congress that will build on his last effort, in which redundant sanctions for their activities would be layered on.”
Cruz has been a prominent voice pushing for the Revolutionary Guard to be designated a terrorist group, introducing bills during both the Obama and Trump administrations. Cruz first introduced the IRGC Designation Act in 2015, saying that “for more than three decades, Iran’s IRGC has been a leading proponent of radical Islamic terrorism around the globe.” He introduced it again in 2017, saying: “It is time to call this enemy by name and speak with clarity and moral authority.”
Cruz had also pushed the Pentagon for answers on this issue. A spokesperson for Cruz told the Washington Examiner: “Sen. Cruz has been fighting for years to get Americans as much information as possible about the hundreds and hundreds of Americans killed by Iran in Iraq. The Obama administration downplayed the scope and nature of these murders in the interest of promoting its diplomacy with Iran, including the Obama nuclear deal.”
The Obama administration entered into the Iran deal in 2015, to much criticism from Republicans. Following the U.S.’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained the Trump administration’s reasoning by labeling Iran an “outlaw regime” that couldn’t be trusted and saying that “the Iranian regime will do whatever it takes to maintain its grip on power and spread its revolutionary ideology.”
Pompeo says that “the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a normal state” because “normal states do not support terrorism within their armed forces” like Iran does with the Revolutionary Guard.
“It’s important for the Trump administration to continue making public all of the ways that our foreign policy was subordinated to the Iran deal, including secret side deals which have never been made public,” Cruz’s spokesperson said. “The administration must also immediately cut off the resources the ayatollahs are using to attack us.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who also called for answers on Iran’s involvement in the killing of American soldiers, told the Washington Examiner: “Anyone who served in Iraq knows that Iran has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers on its hands. I commend Secretary Pompeo for releasing this information to the American people. The ayatollahs’ outlaw regime must continue to face consequences for the murder of American troops.”
Set up after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran which overthrew Iranian monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the IRGC is Iran’s most powerful security organization.
The IRGC is in charge of Iran’s ballistic missiles and nuclear programs. Tehran has warned that it has missiles with a range of up to 2,000km, putting Israel and US military bases in the region within reach.
The IRGC has an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units and answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.