The question should not be whether the Trump administration should designate Iran’s Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) as terrorists, but why this was not done long ago. The IRGC’s primary objectives are rooted in combatting the US and the West by conventional and non-conventional methods. Why should proxies, offshoots and branches of the IRGC be designated without holding to account the entity that is pulling the strings?
If we claimed that Daesh should be left alone because it might lash out if we provoked it, we would rightly be laughed at. However, this is the argument being used by opponents of designating the IRGC. Such fears are rooted in the knowledge that the IRGC, directly or through its proxies, will violently retaliate. This is precisely the kind of entity that counter-terrorism legislation was written for.
The IRGC invented modern terrorism. During the 1980s, its proxies were the first forces to exploit suicide bombings as a military tactic since World War II. The mass coordinated attacks, which we today associate with Daesh, were first perfected by the IRGC.
Examples include the simultaneous bombings in Kuwait against Western embassies and oil installations in 1983, and the Beirut blasts that same year that killed over 300 American and international peacekeepers. The blast at the US compound in Beirut was the most powerful explosion for any attack since Nagasaki.
The IRGC’s Quds Force (designated by the US in 2007) oversaw dozens of overseas terrorist operations, from mass casualties in Buenos Aries, to Alkhobar in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US personnel in 1996, and plots on US soil such as the planned assassination of the Saudi ambassador in 2011. However, the real question is whether the IRGC represents a terrorist threat today.
Syria has seen the first major regional use of IRGC forces since the 1980s, reinforced with thousands of militia fighters. Iranian commanders such as Qassim Soleimani wield massive influence over a genocidal regime that has exterminated hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
The latest Amnesty International report shows how 13,000 were executed in one single prison. Industrial-scale killing, comparable with the worst excesses of Nazi Germany, is bankrolled by the IRGC to the tune of around $5 billion a year. Do we now live in a world where there is impunity for such crimes against humanity?
In Yemen, IRGC personnel were designated by the US for providing massive quantities of weapons such as armor-piercing missiles, which allowed an obscure minority group, the Houthis, to annex much of the country. The ensuing chaos allowed Al-Qaeda to extend its grip on Yemen.
The IRGC invented modern terrorism. During the 1980s, its proxies were the first forces to exploit suicide bombings as a military tactic since WWII. The mass coordinated attacks, which we today associate with Daesh, were first perfected by the IRGC.
Terrorist militias whose leaders are part of the IRGC Quds Force hierarchy are today the dominant powers in Iraq. These entities have killed hundreds of US troops, and after the US travel ban they pledged to start attacking American forces again.
Would action against the IRGC impact the fight against Daesh? We have seen pro-Iran fighters sidelined in Mosul because their culpability for war crimes and unsuitability for urban combat make them a liability. These militias hinder the restructuring of the Iraqi Army, which is paying in blood to rid the world of Daesh.
This parallel paramilitary structure undermines chains of command and siphons off resources to terrorist militias. The army struggles to recruit new personnel, yet so many are volunteering for paramilitary bodies that thousands are turned away.
The IRGC is a state within a state, dominating all sectors of Iranian society, including a stranglehold over the economy and control over nuclear installations. Iran is a militarized theocracy.
The IRGC was established in 1979 to shore up the revolutionary regime and export the revolution. Its first task was exterminating domestic opposition with a ruthlessness that would be repeated after the contested 2009 elections. The IRGC exists both to terrorize Iranians and export terrorism overseas.
When more than half the 9/11 terrorists passed through Iran, local authorities helpfully refrained from stamping their passports. Iran remains a safe haven for Al-Qaeda, with atrocities planned from Iranian soil under IRGC patronage, such as the 2003 attack in Riyadh where nine Americans were among the 35 casualties.
Enduring IRGC military support for the Taliban and terrorist groups in Bahrain illustrates a reckless desire to exert control over a bizarre range of actors from behind the scenes, irrespective of the devastating consequences. In Africa, the IRGC operates arms-smuggling networks for a bewildering spectrum of insurgent groups. Destabilizing fragile states goes hand in hand with facilitating terrorist franchises.
Not only does the IRGC exploit the techniques of terrorism, for nearly 40 years it has been the dominant facilitator of terrorism globally, establishing the blueprints for suicide bombings, hostage-taking and coordinated mass atrocities.
The most dangerous terrorists today are indebted to the IRGC’s hell-raising innovations. The Quds Force reciprocally assists these groups when it sees an advantage in doing so. Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi would give his right arm to have a fraction of the influence enjoyed by Soleimani over dozens of terrorist and paramilitary organizations throughout multiple states. The IRGC is not just a terrorist entity, it sets the standard that others merely imitate.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.