How the IRGC will react to Trump scrapping the Iran deal
Friday the 13th is an ominous day for superstitious people but it took on a whole new meaning for the Iranian regime when US President Donald Trump refused on that day last month to recertify the nuclear deal his country signed with the mullahs under his predecessor.
Trump not only refused to press ahead with the agreement as it stands but took further steps to curtail the influence of arguably the most powerful tool of the ayatollahs in Tehran — the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The US president accused Iran of threatening regional security and stability and described the IRGC as a threat to peace, authorising the US government to blacklist the entire unit as a terrorist organisation that may be subjected to sanctions.
In signs of increasingly successful Arab lobbying attempts in Washington, Trump enraged the Iranian regime by using the term “Arabian Gulf,” accusing Tehran of threatening trade, commerce and freedom of navigation in the strategic waterway. The term “Arabian Gulf” is used commonly in the region, considering that Arabs have historically inhabited both sides of the Gulf, including in multi-ethnic Iran.
Tehran’s reaction was to threaten the United States and its allies with repercussions should the US Congress scrap the deal or reimpose sanctions on Iran that were lifted by former US President Barack Obama.
Those actions served to bankroll Iran’s activities, with a glut of cash assisting the mullahs to expand greatly in Iraq and Syria and to finance regional interventionism and expansionist militarism. Those actions have devastated hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives throughout the Middle East.
Iran is afraid those rapid gains will be rolled back by fresh sanctions, adding strain to a battered oil-based economy.
The reason Iran fears sanctions against the IRGC is because many of the region’s most powerful players are affiliated or directly connected to Iran’s religious military organisation. This is especially so in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq entire government ministries are controlled by IRGC-affiliated groups and in Syria IRGC-sponsored Shia jihadists run amok, slaughtering Syrian civilians with impunity.
Perhaps most crucially, the IRGC’s most successful proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah, would suffer severely if exposed to an all-encompassing sanctions regime.
If Trump were to act on his rhetoric, it would mean that the United States could conceivably impose sanctions on the Iraqi Interior Ministry and federal police, two of many institutions that have been infiltrated by IRGC-linked groups and riddled with Shia extremists from the Badr Organisation.
It could also mean the Trump administration could punish the Iraqi government for cooperating with Iran, which would be particularly painful considering much of Iraq’s military, economic and humanitarian aid comes from the United States and its allies.
This fear arguably led to the rapid reaction of the IRGC in instigating the fall of Kirkuk just days after Trump’s speech. On the night of October 15, before the oil-rich Iraqi city was snatched out of Kurdish hands by the Iraqi authorities backed by IRGC-controlled Shia militants, Iranian spymaster Qassem Soleimani cut a deal with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to withdraw from its positions defending Kirkuk. The move led to the peshmerga’s rapid collapse and defeat.
The IRGC was sending a message to Washington: If the United States thinks it can sanction the IRGC, it will destabilise key American strategic theatres. This is nothing new for Iran, which extensively armed, trained and prepared Shia militants to kill US troops in Iraq and elsewhere to impose their terms on Washington.
While Iranian belligerence and state-sponsored terrorism cowed the Obama administration, it remains to be seen whether Trump will take such behaviour from Tehran lightly.