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Recruitment of Child Soldiers Supports Notion of Tehran’s Worsening Behavior

 

Richardson was more upbeat than many other US politicians, including the vast majority of the Republican Party, regarding the prospects for long-term success on the agreement’s basic goals of limiting Iran’s progress toward acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Nevertheless, he also cautioned Western policymakers against excessive optimism regarding the possibility of that deal leading to a more general warming of relations with the Islamic Republic.

Breitbart published excerpts from his interview on the same day, noting that he said “Iran’s behavior is not changing internally” in the wake of the January implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Richardson emphasized that significant tension persists between Tehran and Washington, and that the White House’s apparent tilt toward Iran had also invited tension between the US and its traditional Gulf Arab allies.

Implying that Arab anxiety is justified on the basis of Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region, Richardson added, “I still think the nuclear deal was good, but anyone that expects a betterment of relations in the short run, it’s not going to happen.”

This sentiment has been supported by a range of incidents since the July 14 conclusion of JCPOA negotiations. Many commentators have observed a marked increase in anti-Western rhetoric coming out of the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and to a somewhat lesser extent from the administration of President Hassan Rouhani, who spearheaded the nuclear agreement on the Iranian side.

Apart from speeches and propaganda broadcasts, the regime’s persistent anti-Western ideology has also been expressed through the arrest and imprisonment of journalists with supposed links to the West, through the January incident in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps seized two small American naval vessels and held 10 sailors prisoner for a day, and through a series of ballistic missile tests accompanied by Tehran’s declared refusal to abide by UN Security Council resolutions calling on the Islamic Republic to avoid work on weapons capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

On Thursday, CBN News pointed out that both the US and Russia, a close partner of Iran, had indicated that they believe an April 19 Iranian launch, which authorities claimed was an attempt to send a satellite into orbit, was actually another ballistic missile test. If so, it was the sixth recorded launch since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, following on that took place in October, one in November, and three in March. The provocative nature of the March launches was included by the inclusion of messages on the side of the missiles saying “Israel must be wiped out.”

President Rouhani and other Iranian government officials have made it clear that they refuse to compromise on Iran’s missile development. Supreme Leader Khamenei went even further in the wake of the JCPOA, directing his subordinates to avoid all negotiations with the West on issues unrelated to the existing agreement. However, this has not kept Iran from participating in international talks on such issues as the Syrian Civil War, although Tehran’s delegates have arguably abided by Khamenei’s orders in the sense that they have steadfastly refused to discuss key points such as the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Tehran has maintained that it considers the removal of the Assad government to be a red line, even though international sentiment has largely turned against that government and in favor of moderate rebels groups, following accusations that Assad used chemical weapons early in the conflict, followed by the recurring use of barrel bombs on civilian populations, causing most of the 250,000 deaths and millions of displacements that have occurred so far during the five-year conflict.

Apart from resisting a negotiated solution during international talks in Geneva, the Iranian regime has also taken a leading role in the active defense of Assad, deploying its own Revolutionary Guards to the Syrian battlefield and also recruiting and directing Shiite militias to participate in the conflict alongside the remnants of the Syrian army. This expansion of Iranian influence has also been observed in the civil war in Yemen, on route to which three shipments of Iranian arms have been intercepted in as many months.

All of this provides support for arguments from Governor Richardson and others, claiming that the Iranian regime’s internal behavior and desire for regional dominating haven’t changed. Furthermore, some staunch critics of that regime insist that it’s behavior has considerably worsened under the presidency of so-called moderate Hassan Rouhani and since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations.

Throughout that time, the exiled Iranian resistance group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran has been tracking the nature and extent of Iranian military involvement in the Syrian Civil War. The NCRI has noted a steady increase in deployments of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, such that several thousand fighters are in Syria today, where their activities no doubt go well beyond Tehran’s official claims regarding advisory missions to the Syrian military.

But along with some global security analysts, the NCRI has also observed escalations in the Iranian regime’s tactics for recruiting fighters to join the fight in something other than an official IRGC capacity. Initially, these efforts seem to have focused on appealing to religious sentiment by asking people to defend an important Shiite shrine in Syrian. Later, however, Tehran began offering promises of monetary compensation and Iranian permanent resident status to impoverished Afghan refugees, as well as recruiting directly from Afghanistan and Pakistan to form divisions made up entirely of these ethnic groups.

Now, the NCRI concludes that even these efforts have been inadequate to keep up with the levels of recruitment that the regime needs in order to continue its nearly unilateral defense of the Assad government. On Thursday, the resistance organization’s website reported that Iranian state media had begun broadcasting a video produced by the propaganda arm of the IRGC’s Basij civilian militia, which featured a group of children singing in praise of Iranian operations in Syria, as part of an apparent effort to recruit children to participate in the war.

The NCRI translated several lines of the song, including, “On my leader’s orders I am ready to give my life,” and “my path is through the sacred shrine but my goal is to reach Jerusalem.”

Shahin Gobadi of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee said of the video, “After having attempted to deploy its IRGC forces and foreign militias including Afghans, Lebanese and Iraqis, and even its regular army units, the regime has resorted to recruiting children to the war fronts,” adding, “the regime has already used up all its strategic resources, and it is in a far more fragile state.”

The apparent child recruitment drive joins a range of other indicators that have been cited in recent months to support the notion of worsening behavior on the part of the Iranian regime. Perhaps most prominent among these are reports of a skyrocketing rate of executions within the Islamic Republic, accounting for nearly 1,000 hangings in 2015 alone, and approximately 50 since April 10.

In the midst of unprecedented state visits among Iran and several European nations, a variety of international human rights organizations have raised this and other Iranian human rights issues in order to urge Western governments to limit their pursuit of closer relations with Iran until such time as the regime’s behavior improves.

The NCRI’s Shahin Gobadi told The Washington Times on Friday that the recruitment pitch for teenagers is the first time Tehran has turned to children volunteers since its long war with Iraq in the 1980s.

 

“In the Iranian regime’s lexicon, ‘defending the sacred shrine’ is the equivalent of deploying the forces of the IRGC and, more recently, the regular army to Syria to defend the Assad regime as it massacres the people of Syria. This is while the majority of the Iranian regime’s casualties are near Aleppo, which is several hundred kilometers away from the holy Shiite shrines near Damascus,” Gobadi said.