- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2007

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which faces the prospect of severe U.S. financial sanctions as a “terrorist organization,” represents a tempting target given its multibillion-dollar commercial empire ranging from oil fields to honeybee farms.

Bush administration officials yesterday insisted that no decision had been made on the terrorist designation, but acknowledged privately that the move to sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was under active consideration and, if approved, could be announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice within the month.

The United States took the lead in pushing two U.N. Security Council resolutions last year imposing sanctions on Iran over suspicions it was developing nuclear weapons programs. Guard commanders were among those targeted.

U.S. officials are pressing for a new round of sanctions, but also are considering unilateral actions.

“You don’t want to give people a heads-up” before issuing such sanctions, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

“I will say, though, that we are confronting Iranian behavior across a variety of different fronts on a number of different ‘battlefields,’ if you will.”

The U.S. terrorist designation would freeze any U.S. assets of the IRGC, but financial analysts say its greater practical effect would be to discourage companies and banks from other nations from working with the corps’ various subsidiaries.

Iran’s Foreign Affairs Ministry dismissed the threat of sanctions against the IRGC as part of an American “psychological-propaganda war against the Islamic republic” that “lacks any professional value,” according to the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency.

The IRGC, formed specifically to preserve the Islamic republic after the ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the 1979 revolution, has long been a player in the Iranian economy.

The force, which is separate from Iran’s regular military services, is authorized by the constitution to own and develop commercial enterprises in peacetime.

But the IRGC’s financial scope has expanded dramatically with the election of Islamic hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005.

According to a survey by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, the IRGC’s engineering arm, known as the Ghorb Khatam, won a string of major contracts from the Ahmadinejad government, including a $1.2 billion deal to build part of the Tehran subway, a $1.3 billion oil pipeline contract, and a no-bid $2.09 billion commission to develop parts of the vast South Pars natural gas field.

Brig. Gen. Abdolreza Abed, the Ghorb chief who is also IRGC deputy commander, said in a rare June 2006 interview in a state-owned Iranian newspaper that the total worth of the company’s 1,200 projects prior to the big new deals was about $3.5 billion.

U.S. officials say such profits matter because it is IRGC’s foreign military arm, known as the Quds Force, that is suspected of providing funds, training and equipment to anti-U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exile group that staunchly opposes the Tehran regime, yesterday produced its own inventory of IRGC commercial enterprises.

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