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IRGC Designation and the Law of Unintended Consequences

White House Err In Designating Iran's IRGC a Terrorist Organization?

By Steve Schippert | August 17, 2007

The intent in the President's Executive Order to specially designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity may be to increase international pressure to divest from the Iranian regime and injure the elite IRGC. Specially designating the IRGC a terrorist entity will have the desired economic impact. Of that one can be assured. But its eventual effects will likely be more consequential and its overall impact detrimental to our own efforts in the War on Terror by unnecessarily muddying waters that at current are quite clear in a conflict that is otherwise replete with complexities.

The stated aim of the designation is to target the IRGC an its many commercial endeavors financially, bringing international pressure to bear on firms who do lucrative business with the elite Iranian military force. The IRGC's Quds Force is expressly responsible for supporting international terrorist groups such as Hizballah in Iran. David Sands and Kenneth Timmerman detail the enormity of IRGC business dealings. Timmerman says the IRGC military-industry has evolved so much over the past three years that it is closer “to being a military-economic cartel, similar to the People’s Liberation Army in Communist China,” rather than a purely military branch.

The IRGC – and its directing regime – needs to be confronted and challenged. Ralph Peters may be quite right in observing that, while the stated intent is to target the IRGC financially, the administration may be seeking legal justification for airstrikes on IRGC units and posts. If the aim is no more than financial, did we then lack alternative diplomatic means before the specific designation to psychologically impact our allies currently invested in IRGC projects in Iran, such as France, Japan, Italy and others?

The more important question, however, is whether or not we require designating a military branch of a state-actor as a terrorist group in order for such a defense.

That “defense” is not limited to just military strikes, but also financial efforts as those the administration is undertaking now with the terrorist designation. And what's more, it's not as if the designation affects direct and immediate legal or financial consequences for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As Timmerman notes, the Iranian terror trainers have no US holdings that can be directly impacted. So the administration is “clearly counting on the fear factor,” hoping to make international investors “think twice” about their dealings with IRGC projects, such as Iran's southern oil fields.

Designating the IRGC a terrorist organization will likely have precisely the desired economic effect. But can this purely psychological impact (beyond our borders, definitions and laws) not be achieved under the existing “state sponsor of terrorism” umbrella? If not, why not?

Ask precisely how Iran sponsors international terrorism, and it must be concluded that it is almost exclusively through their IRGC and Quds Force. So why separate the IRGC from its commanding regime?

Do we really need to specifically designate Iran's most elite military branch as a terrorist entity to justify such defense against those who are killing our troops in Iraq, both directly and via sponsorship and arms support?

The short answer is “No.” The long answer is more colorful and spoken by soldiers and Marines in the field losing their brothers at Iranian hands. Specially designed Iranian-supplied EFP's claim the bulk of US casualties incurred by roadside blasts. During the last quarter of 2006, “EFP attacks accounted for 18 percent of combat deaths of Americans and allied troops in Iraq.” And the level of EFP shipments is increasing, not decreasing.

But perhaps the most convincing single incident was the Karbala operation of January 20, 2006. The IRGC's Quds Force planned, trained and perhaps directly participated in an attack that ended up with 5 US soldiers killed, four of them summarily executed on the side of the road after being abducted. That attack employed men in American-style uniforms, at least one of them with blonde hair speaking American English, in order to gain entry to the Karbala compound.

What's more, Aviation Week and Space Technology published in a June article that an American reconnaissance satellite discovered an Iranian mock-up of the Karbala compound where the attack took place. It reported that "The U.S. believes that the discovery indicates Iran was heavily involved in the attack, which relied on a fake motorcade to gain entrance to the compound.” Aviation Week added, "The duplicate layout in Iran allowed attackers to practice procedures to use at the Iraqi compound, the Defense Department believes."

'Rogues' within a state – as some have tried to characterize lethal IRGC/Quds Force actions in Iraq - do not build entire mock-ups, coordinate and train foreign actors, and supply vast amounts of precision-milled shaped copper EFP's without the acknowledgment of their state apparatus.

Unless the Bush Administration dismisses a definition of terrorism which in essence includes “an unlawful threat or act of violence committed for a political purpose by a non-state actor,” then the action of designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Quds Force as terrorists by definition sets them apart from the Iranian regime and state. How wise is this?

Ralph Peters says, “Our policy is that we reserve the right to whack terrorists anywhere in the world. Now we have newly designated terrorists.” He's quite right. But do we not also equally reserve the right to defend ourselves against state actors who kill and/or facilitate killing our troops in the field?

Does it matter at the end of the day whether that state actor trains, arms and deploys terrorists or sends their own men to do the job? It shouldn't.

Either Iran is attacking us or they are replete with “rogue” elements who somehow persistently operate beyond the control of – and against the wishes of - the regime who leads Friday prayers in Tehran streets with “Death to America!” chants. The Iranian regime makes no bones about their intent. However, they quite skillfully leave their specific actions just ambiguous enough for us to reliably debate ourselves into inaction. And, as do all nations, we reserve the right to defend ourselves by any and all means against all attackers - states and terrorists alike.

These are not words seeking war. They are, however, words seeking clarity. That said, the special designation of the IRGC and Quds Force is certainly more clarity than in the past, insofar as it identifies the Administration's position and policy. Nevertheless, labeling a sanctioned arm of a state sponsor of terrorism as a terrorist group – lumping it with al-Qaeda and other non-state actors – is perplexing in the sense that it removes clarity from an already elusive definition of what a terrorist group is (i.e. a state or non-state actor).

If we cannot affect the same pressure on such terror-training and -supplying organs of a state identified as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” then perhaps we need to revisit our self-defined and sanctioned actions against such state sponsors rather than shoe-horn their specific military branches into the definition of a terrorist group.

We cannot simply re-classify or redefine the actions of those who kill us and openly seek to destroy us. When a state's military conducts regular attacks upon another, it is by definition an act of war. We may not like it. We may even try to redefine it. And we may ultimately decide that such provocation does not warrant an in-kind response. But it is what it is, regardless. We need not conflate the “non-state” or “sub-national” definition of a terrorist group in order to justify targeting – militarily or financially - any state or group that kills or seeks to kill our civilians or soldiers.


“the IRGC military-industry has evolved so much over the past three years that it is closer “to being a military-economic cartel, similar to the People’s Liberation Army in Communist China,” rather than a purely military branch.”

You mean others also have an industrial-military complex?! Gee, we can’t allow that----it’s an American invention. Someone should call Cheney right away and inform him that other nations are establishing a military prowess with strong capitalistic tendencies. Why this could start a trend!

Come on, Speare. You know that comment is too cheap for you, popular as it may be in certain circles.

Name a company that the United States Army or any other branch owns and operates.

There is a difference between populist paranoia and actual military ownership. You know that, and that's what is being brought up.

Here's the point... The IRGC is an elite military service within Iran. Its recruits don't even know they are being observed and recruited until they are approached, which is well into the game.

Once in, they and their family are segregated into a wholly separate community, where they are treated, as Revolutionary Guardsmen, as truly above the rest of Iranian society.

These companies exist to reward years of service with 'jobs' with high pay and little work, a retirement, so to speak. And the profits from these companies feed IRGC opetations, such as Quds Force work abroad --- Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, etc. Far, far more to it than that, but this is a comment, not a dissertation.

The president's intent is to financially strangle these companies and choke off international funds that feed it via joint projects.

An absolutely intelligent aim. I only question conflating the 'non-state' portion of the definition of 'terrorist group' to achieve this.

Does this not now give undue credence to int'l cries of 'Terrorist USA' when civilians are included among the dead when bombing al-Qaeda high-value-targets? Why, we just named a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces.

Is the USAF next?

Why lend them credence at all? Iran is the premiere state sponsor of terrorism. If we cannot wield this effectively enough to net the same financial effect on the IRGC without traveling this road, then our diplomatic skills are woefully lacking.

I do, however, applaud loudly the lean-in on the IRGC.

And your cry of the US 'military industrial complex' is far wide of the mark.

"Wide left," I'd say, as football season approaches.

Firstly, Iran's nuclear program is legal. Secondly, the USA has trashed the NPT by making a nuclear deal with NPT non-signatory India, so there is no reason for Iran to adhere to this now defunct treaty. Thirdly, with all the IEDs in Iraq that the USA claims that Iran is supplying to the Iraqi resistance, the USA has not managed to furnish one skerrick of evidence to support this allegation, very similar to the bogus WMD allegation that was the pretext for the illegal war on Iraq. What right does the USA have to threaten Iran with an attack? I believe that if the USA does indeed attack Iran, there will be a bloodbath on US soil, not just in Iraq and other places where Americans happen to be. The USA has already been beaten in Vietnam and Iraq, but so far has escaped war on its home turf. I get the feeling that Iran would already have agents and forces in place in the USA that will launch attacks that will make 9/11 look like a picnic. And you know what? The USA will deserve it for its belligerence and its bullying.

It's truly amazing. All the American accusations of Iran being behind the attacks on US personnel in Iraq and literally no Iranian has yet been captured. The USA arrested five Iranian diplomats with not even a peashooter between them and this is somehow evidence that Iran is involved in Iraq. If, as the USA constantly claims, Iranians are fighting in Iraq, where are they? I'll tell you where they are - in the same place as Saddam Hussein's WMD - in the wild imagination of George W Bush's pea-brain.

“Come on, Speare. You know that comment is too cheap for you”

As my kids would say, when it comes to cheap, that’s my middle name, but my comment wasn’t cheap, it was sarcastic and by no means disparaging of the effort to undermine the IRGC. When DDE said, “Beware the military-industrial complex” or words to that effect, he wasn’t just making idle chatter. Even you have to admit there is, in some situations, undue influence by industry upon materiel acquisition by the military.

Well, sure there is at times, Speare. Though I must say, the sarcasm was lost on me, clearly.

That said, there's a far cry difference between influence and ownership. My only point, and one made w/o recognizing sarcasm.



Perhaps then you can explain the capture of Ali Musa Daqduq?

Perhaps you can explain the capture of the IRGC/Quds Force payroll that included hundreds in Iraq?

Perhaps you can explain the 'wiring diagram' of Quds' Iraqi networks in Iraq found on the laptop of one of Iran's "diplomats"?

Perhaps you can explain the capture of EFP's made on their way across the Iranian border?

Or, way off topic, perhaps you can explain why Iran's nuclear weapons program had been clandestine until its 2003 revelation by dissidents well placed? Or their massive acquisitions from the illicit AQ Kahn network?

All the work of American imagination?