Ira­nian Guard has a vast fi­nan­cial port­fo­lio

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By David R. Sands

Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, which faces the prospect of se­vere U.S. fi­nan­cial sanc­tions as a “ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion,” rep­re­sents a tempt­ing tar­get given its multi­bil­lion-dol­lar com­mer­cial em­pire rang­ing from oil fields to hon­ey­bee farms.

Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials on Aug. 15 in­sisted that no de­ci­sion had been made on the ter­ror­ist des­ig­na­tion, but ac­knowl­edged pri­vately that the move to sanc­tion Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps (IRGC) was un­der ac­tive con­sid­er­a­tion and, if ap­proved, could be an­nounced by Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice within the month.

The United States took the lead in push­ing two U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions last year im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Iran over sus­pi­cions it was de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons pro­grams. Guard com­man­ders were among those tar­geted.

U.S. of­fi­cials are press­ing for a new round of sanc­tions, but also are con­sid­er­ing uni­lat­eral ac­tions.

“You don’t want to give peo­ple a heads-up” be­fore is­su­ing such sanc­tions, State De­par tment spokesman Sean McCor­mack said.

“I will say, though, that we are con­fronting Ira­nian be­hav­ior across a var iety of dif­fer­ent fronts on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ‘bat­tle­fields,’ if you will.”

The U.S. ter­ror­ist des­ig­na­tion would freeze any U.S. as­sets of the IRGC, but fi­nan­cial an­a­lysts say its greater prac­ti­cal ef­fect would be to dis­cour­age com­pa­nies and banks from other na­tions from work­ing with the corps’ var­i­ous sub­sidiaries.

Iran’s For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry dis­missed the threat of sanc­tions against the IRGC as part of an Amer­i­can “psy­cho­log­i­cal-pro­pa­ganda war against the Is­lamic repub­lic” that “lacks any pro­fes­sional value,” ac­cord­ing to the state-owned Is­lamic Repub­lic News Agency.

The IRGC, formed specif­i­cally to pre­serve the Is­lamic repub­lic af­ter the ouster of Shah Mo­hammed Reza Pahlavi in the 1979 revo­lu­tion, has long been a player in the Ira­nian econ­omy.

The force, which is sep­a­rate from Iran’s reg­u­lar mil­i­tary ser­vices, is au­tho­rized by the con­sti­tu­tion to own and de­velop com­mer­cial en­terpr ises in peace­time.

But the IRGC’s fi­nan­cial scope has ex­panded dra­mat­i­cally with the elec­tion of Is­lamic hard-liner Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad as pres­i­dent in 2005.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by the Brus­sels-based In­ter na­tional Cri­sis Group, the IRGC’s en­gi­neer ing arm, known as the Ghorb Khatam, won a string of ma­jor con­tracts from the Ah­madine­jad gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing a $1.2 bil­lion deal to build part of the Tehran sub­way, a $1.3 bil­lion oil pipe­line con­tract, and a no-bid $2.09 bil­lion com­mis­sion to de­velop parts of the vast South Pars nat­u­ral gas field.

Brig. Gen. Ab­dol­reza Abed, the Ghorb chief who is also IRGC deputy com­man­der, said in a rare June 2006 in­ter­view in a state-owned Ira­nian news­pa­per that the to­tal worth of the com­pany’s 1,200 projects prior to the big new deals was about $3.5 bil­lion.

U.S. of­fi­cials say such prof­its mat­ter be­cause it is IRGC’s for­eign mil­i­tary arm, known as the Quds Force, that is sus­pected of pro­vid­ing funds, train­ing and equip­ment to anti-U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Le­banon and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

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