The request to designate the Iran regime’s Revolutionary Guards as a terror group is rooted in the belief among Iranians and their Resistance that the IRGC poses a threat to regional stability and global security.
Iranians view the IRGC as a repressive and oppressive organization that suppresses dissent and supports terrorism abroad. The IRGC sponsors and supports several terrorist groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq.
In recent years, the IRGC has also been implicated in the development of Iran’s ballistic missile program and is involved in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. This has led Iranians to call for the IRGC to be designated as a terror group by the European Union (EU) and other international organizations.
But what exactly is the IRGC?
Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the new regime created the ‘Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution,’ also known as the Revolutionary Guards. Its primary mission was to promote the regime’s ideology and to suppress dissidents and to export terrorism and fundamentalism. The IRGC reports directly to the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
The Revolutionary Guards is often viewed as a “state within a state,” given its status as the most influential pillar of the Islamic Republic’s leadership. It maintains autonomous units for the Army, air force, and Navy, as well as specialized units for conducting operations abroad. Additionally, the Basij volunteer militia falls under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Guard and is based in mosques throughout the country. The Basij play a crucial role in quelling protests, as they are armed and deployed in plain clothes to suppress demonstrations violently.
In addition to its military and militia units, the Revolutionary Guard possesses a cyber army and a “Centre for Monitoring and Combating Organized Cybercrime.” The organization also maintains its own intelligence agency, which operates separately from the regime’s official intelligence service and reports directly to the office of the supreme leader.
The IRGC pulls the strings in the Economy
In recent decades, the Revolutionary Guards have significantly increased its economic power, wielding control over the country’s infrastructure and assets. The organization owns a construction conglomerate called Khatam-al-Anbia, which is involved in many strategic infrastructure projects and multi-billion-dollar investments. Initially established in the late 1980s to assist with rebuilding efforts following the war against Iraq, the company has since expanded its economic influence, particularly during Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s presidency from 2005 to 2013.
Presently, the IRGC operates large-scale commercial enterprises involved in manufacturing automobiles, constructing highways, railways, and subways, and playing a key role in the oil and gas industry. The organization also builds dams and is active in mining. It is difficult to determine the exact proportion of the Iranian economy that the IRGC controls, as comprehensive statistics and data are unavailable.
The Quds Brigade, a unit of the IRGC, is tasked with foreign operations and primarily works to support pro-regime forces in the region. Since the 1979 Revolution, the regime’s leadership has sought to spread its fundamentalist ideology throughout the Middle East. In Iraq, the Quds Brigade has provided support to the regime’s proxy Shia groups, while in Syria, it has sided with the Assad regime. The unit also assists organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The Quds Force has been on the US sanctions list for more than a decade.
In addition to terrorism, the IRGC has been implicated in money laundering schemes. The country’s economic system is riddled with corruption, and some of its financial institutions are involved in money laundering activities. The Revolutionary Guard’s extensive economic influence, particularly through its construction conglomerate Khatam-al-Anbia, has also raised concerns about potential money laundering activities.
Iran’s regime tries to evade international sanctions and conceal its illicit financial activities through various means, including the use of front companies, shell corporations, and falsified documents. The regime’s involvement in money laundering has not only enabled it to finance its support for terrorist organizations but has also undermined global efforts to combat financial crime and promote transparency in international finance.
If the EU were to designate the IRGC as a terror group, it could have significant economic and political implications for the regime. The designation along with sanctions on the IRGC and its affiliates would make it more difficult for them to conduct business internationally. It could also strengthen the hand of the Iranian people, who are the first victims of the IRGC and want nothing more than democratic regime change in their country.