An announcement is expected within weeks that the British government is going to officially declare Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation. The move is said to be supported by Britain’s Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
In recent weeks and on numerous occasions, Cleverly stated that the United Kingdom has sanctioned Iran’s IRGC “in its entirety.” In a speech at Parliament on December 13, 2022, Cleverly said, “The protests in Iran are a watershed moment. After years of repression, the Iranian people have clearly had enough. They are standing up to the authoritarian regime under which they live. Sadly, the regime has responded in the only way it knows: with violence. The UK is committed to holding Iran to account, including with more than 300 sanctions—including the sanctioning of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety.”
On December 27, the British Foreign Office tweeted a short video-address by Cleverly describing the actions Britain has taken against the Iranian regime “because of their international and domestic actions, we are having to do a lot. We are working towards the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal] to try and prevent them acquiring nuclear weapons. We are sanctioning the morality police and sanctioning the judges who have been prosecuting the protesters in Iran. We have sanctioned the IRGC in its entirety.”
The Foreign Secretary’s repeated announcements about current sanctions against the IRGC have increased the government’s credibility as well as the likelihood that the UK will go ahead with formally declaring the IRGC as a proscribed terrorist group. In legal terms it would mean that it will become a criminal offense in the UK under the Terrorism Act 2000, to belong, or profess to belong or support IRGC’s activities in the UK or overseas. Section 12(1) of the Terrorism Act also makes it an offense if a person “invites support for a proscribed organisation.” The support which is invited need not be material support, such as the provision of money or other property, but can also include moral support or approval – “expresses an opinion or belief that is supportive of a proscribed organisation,” Section 12(1A). Under the Terrorism Act, it would also be illegal to arrange or manage meetings in support of the IRGC or to publically display images such as clothing, flags or logos associated with or supportive of IRGC.
In late December of last year, the Iranian regime arrested seven British nationals in Iran over anti-government protests. Despite the nationwide unrests entering their fifth month, the Iranian authorities as well as state-affiliated media are still insisting that foreign influences are behind the street protests, which they refer to as “riots.” Iran blames the U.S. and its allies for instigating the people’s uprising.
Dr. Suzanne Maloney, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, has described the IRGC as “the top exporter of terrorism and a deadly instrument of domestic repressions.”
Nearly five months after the start of anti-regime protests in Iran, a U.S-based human rights monitor said at least 516 protesters have been killed as of January 3, 2023. The IRGC has played an integral role in the brutal suppression and the killing of many protesters. The regime’s very survival is interconnected with the survival of the IRGC.
IRGC is the Most Prominent Entity in Islamic Republic
The IRGC was established on May 5, 1979, just days after the fall of Shah Pahlavi. It was founded as an ideological custodian of Iran’s Islamic revolution. The Guards were set up as a “people’s army” protecting the revolution and helping to consolidate the power of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founding supreme leader. The Ayatollah instituted a state based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist.” The IRGC was also tasked with providing a counterweight to the regular armed forces.
However, the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) drastically transformed the IRGC into a powerful military force which has enormous power in executing Iran’s foreign policy and has control of wide sections of the Iranian economy.
Its command structure is similar to that of Western militaries with highly trained officers and advanced weaponry. It remains a force that is aligned to Iran’s regular armed forces, with at least 190,000 troops under its command. However, since the end of Iraq-Iran war the IRGC steadily rose to become a force more dominant than Iran’s regular armed forces and is behind many of the Islamic Republic’s key military operations. The IRGC’s current commander is Major General Hossein Salami, a figure who repeatedly issued threatening warnings against protesters urging them “to leave the streets.”
The IRGC has ground forces across all of Iran’s thirty-one provinces and is also in charge of commanding the highly trained and brutal Basij paramilitary force, a voluntary militia with about 100,000 fighters. The Basij force is very loyal to velayat-e faqih and has played a vital role in brutally suppressing the protest movement in Iran. Basij units have been deployed in great numbers alongside IRGC units in Iran’s most intense and persistent protest regions: Iran’s Kurdish province and Baluchistan. It is in those two regions that we have seen the highest death toll and number of detainees.
The IRGC also has a naval and air force separate from Iran’s regular military and is responsible for providing Iran’s internal and external security, including protection of the key strategic oil waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s crude oil and petroleum products pass.
In addition, the IRGC is responsible for the development of Iran’s ballistic missile program, which it is the largest ballistic missile force in the entire Middle East, according to the American administration.
The IRGC is Iran's single largest economic actor, owning big enterprises like Iran’s largest construction company and Iran’s main telecommunications company, alongside owning and directing numerous banks as well as controlling 25% of the transactions in the Tehran Stock Exchange. It also has a prominent presence in Iran's civilian institutions, e.g., in energy, infrastructure, agriculture, academia, scientific and research centers and charitable organizations.
The IRGC’s hold on Iran’s security and economy has led to a steady strengthening of its alliance with Mullah Regime since its inception. IRGC’s survival means the continued survival of Iran’s “thugocracy.” Together they have maintained an iron rule over the people of Iran. In addition to maintaining a jackboot on the Iranian people, they also have invested enormously in expanding their control outside Iran’s borders to pursue Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Arab world.
In order to achieve Middle East dominance, the IRGC created a special overseas branch, the Quds Force, which is Iran’s most important foreign policy tool. Others would call it an asymmetric war and terror force that brought death and mayhem to many countries across the Arab world.
The previous American administration under President Trump said that the Quds Force is "Iran's primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting" U.S.-designated terrorist groups across the Middle East - including Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad - by providing funding, training, weapons, and equipment. Quds Force also fund, train and supply weapons to numerous armed Shia militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen and in some parts of Africa. Through IRGC’s Quds Force, Iran is playing a central role in aiding and fomenting unrest via their proxies in countries throughout the Gulf and the Levant region.
The Quds Force has also been accused of plotting or carrying out terrorist attacks, directly or indirectly through its proxies, in many countries across the world. The Quds Force’s previous Major General was Qasem Soleimani who was killed by a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad International Airport alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, on January 3, 2020.
Soleimani was known as Iran’s “shadow commander,” and had led the Quds Force since 1998. He was the mastermind of Iran’s clandestine operations abroad, quietly extending the military reach of Iran deep into foreign conflicts such as those in Syria and Iraq. Soleimani was considered one of the most infamous military operators in the Middle East by the U.S. and its Arab allies. The Quds Force is also the main backer of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis in Yemen.
In 2017, when President Hassan Rouhani was elected for a second term in office in Iran, one of the promises he made to the millions of hopeful Iranians who voted for him was to improve the economic situation by curbing IRGC’s role in Iran’s economy.
Rouhani said the IRGC had created “a government with a gun,” which “scared” the private sector. Despite several attempts, he has failed to strip them from their economic hold on Iran’s economy.
The United Kingdom’s proscribing the IRGC “in its entirety” would be unprecedented and would deal a massive blow to the Iranian regime. If the British government does indeed declare the unlawfulness of IRGC it will be sending a clear signal to the Mullah Regime to stop its barbaric oppression at home and its disruptive behavior in the region. This move would most certainly have a domino effect by paving the way for more countries to follow suit and may eventually lead to the demise of the regime.