Treasury Sanctions Quds Force Fronts in Iraq
The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned 20 people and companies in Iraq and Iran with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF), Tehran’s elite foreign operations and terror unit. The designation of these terror networks, which traffic weapons and generate revenue for the Islamic Republic’s destructive activities, underscores the depth of Iran’s influence and networks in Iraq.
Chief among the designations is the Reconstruction Organization of the Holy Shrines in Iraq (ROHSI), which was created in 2003 as a supposed religious charity but in reality is a vector for sanctions busting and advancing regime influence in Iraq. ROHSI has previously worked on projects with a sanctioned IRGC construction firm and, according to Treasury, has been a source of “funds to supplement IRGC-QF budgets, likely embezzling public donations intended for the construction and maintenance of Shiite shrines in Iraq.”
Tehran’s ability to use businesses, religious foundations, and charities to underwrite its malign activities is not new. It is how Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accrues assets to add to his estimated $200 billion off-the-books slush fund.
ROHSI has also funneled money to IRGC-QF–controlled entities in Iraq, such as the Kosar Company, which was also designated. Kosar not only has received money from the sanctioned Central Bank of Iran, but per Treasury, also functions as a forward operating base for Tehran’s intelligence operations and weapons smuggling.
Treasury likewise sanctioned the leader of ROHSI, Mohammad Jalal Maab, noting that the now-deceased IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani appointed him to his position. Jalal Maab replaced Hassan Pelarak, who “worked with IRGC-QF officials to transfer missiles, explosives, and small arms to Yemen,” according to a Treasury statement. Pelarak was pictured alongside Soleimani as late as June 2019. Both Jalal Maab and Pelarak are reportedly from Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman in Iran.
Among the other targets of Treasury’s action was an Iraqi maritime services company tied to the IRGC-QF that sold Iranian petroleum products through Iraq’s Umm Qasr port. The targets also included individuals who transferred money to listed Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Kata’ib Hezbollah. Others violated sanctions by selling oil to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.
In Iraq, the IRGC-QF has supported Shiite militia efforts to kill American and Coalition soldiers, evict the United States from the country, and bend Baghdad towards Tehran’s will. But it has also operated in plain sight. Iran’s current ambassador to Iraq, as just one example, is a veteran of the Quds Force, as was his predecessor. Since the 2003 Iraq war, Iran has worked in overdrive to penetrate Iraq’s politics, society, military, economy, and even its religious institutions.
The IRGC-QF’s material support for terror groups earned it a position in 2007 on the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals list. In 2019, when the State Department designated the IRGC, the Quds Force’s parent entity, as an FTO, the department made explicit reference to the IRGC-QF and its activities. Hardline Iranian outlets have touted the scope of the Quds Force’s operations, which have ranged from Bosnia to Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and Yemen.
The Trump administration should continue sanctioning regime-connected malign actors, including new leaders of pro-Iran groups in Iraq as well as newly formed groups taking credit for rocket attacks against American and Coalition bases. If Tehran and its proxies continue to harm Americans, Washington will have to resort to more coercive measures, including military force.
Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow. They both contribute to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Mark, Behnam, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Mark on Twitter @mdubowitz. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.
This article appeared originally at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).