IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)
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Type of Organization:
Military, terrorist, transnational, violent
Ideologies and Affiliations:
Islamist, Khomeinist, Shiite, state actor
Place of Origin:
Iran
Year of Origin:
1979
Founder(s):
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Places of Operation:
Afghanistan, Europe, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, South America, Syria
Choose a section:
Overview
Also Known As:
Executive Summary:
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is tasked with preserving the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ideals of the 1979 revolution. The IRGC combines traditional military roles with a relentless focus on supposed domestic enemies. The IRGC is Iran’s primary instrument for exporting the ideology of the Islamic Revolution worldwide. It is rigidly loyal to Iran’s clerical elite. The IRGC is Iran’s main link to its terrorist proxies, which the regime uses to boost Iran’s global influence.
Within the IRGC are the Basij militia and the Quds Force (IRGC-QF). The Basij, literally “mobilization,” is a paramilitary organization charged with channeling popular support for the Iranian regime. The Basij is famous for its recruitment of volunteers, many of them teenage children, for human wave attacks during the Iran-Iraq war. Today, the Basij has two missions: to provide defensive military training to protect the regime against foreign invasion, and to suppress domestic anti-regime activity through street violence and intimidation.  After the contested 2009 Iranian presidential elections, for example, the Basij brutally quashed protests and attacked student dormitories.
The IRGC’s Quds Force specializes in foreign missions, providing training, funding and weapons to extremist groups, including Iraqi insurgents, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The Quds Force allegedly participated in the 1994 suicide bombing of an Argentine Jewish community center, killing more than 80 and wounding about 300. In the years since, the Quds Force has armed anti-government militants in Bahrain, and assisted in a 2011 assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. The Quds Force also plays a key role in support of Syrian regime forces in that country’s civil war.
Doctrine:
The IRGC is an Iranian government agency tasked with defending the regime against internal and external threats. Espousing a radical ideology and a paranoid worldview, the IRGC uses secret police methods against its opponents within Iran, and terrorist tactics against its enemies abroad.
Iranian law defines the IRGC as “an institution commanded by the Supreme Leader whose purpose is to protect the Islamic Revolution of Iran and its accomplishments, while striving continuously . . . to spread the sovereignty of God’s law.”
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In the first months after the 1979 Iranian revolution, before its existence was enshrined in law, the IRGC operated as a network of militant activists loyal to revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini. In this role, the IRGC helped to stamp out dissident currents within the revolutionary movement.
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The IRGC views its task as preserving the “Islamic republican” form of government created by Khomeini, and faithfully implementing the instructions of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini after the latter’s death in 1989. Ahead of Iran’s June 2013 presidential elections, IRGC commanders reportedly made clear through public statements that they would only confirm a president who is loyal to Khamenei.
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The IRGC today enjoys the power of a government agency, while still maintaining the zeal and fanaticism of an ideologically motivated terrorist group. The IRGC’s mission combines traditional military roles with a relentless focus on pursuing supposed domestic enemies. According to the Ministry of Defense, the IRGC’s role is to “protect [Iran’s] independence, territorial integrity, and national and revolutionary ideals, under the shadow of the orders given by the Commander in Chief, the Grand Ayatollah Imam Khamenei.”
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Political beliefs considered inconsistent with “revolutionary ideals” are treated as military threats. Then-IRGC commander Jafari stated in 2014: “today’s war is not fought on land or sea, it is fought at the level of belief, and the enemy is investing efforts to gain influence inside the Islamic Republican system.”
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The IRGC’s doctrine combines rigid loyalty to Iran’s clerical elite with deep paranoia about the outside world. In IRGC publications, Iran is portrayed as threatened by American and “Zionist” plots, which are said to be capable of exerting great influence within Iran. Allegations of foreign meddling in Iran provide the justification for terrorism abroad, fueling the high-profile international conflicts that provide the basis for ever harsher crackdowns on internal dissent. The IRGC considers “resistance” to Israel and support for so-called resistance groups among its primary regional goals. IRGC propaganda refers to Israel as a conspiracy against the region backed by the United States and the United Kingdom.
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Through its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terror groups, the IRGC leads what it calls a regional axis of resistance to “speed up the downfall” of Israel and “the liberation of al-Quds,” the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
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The IRGC provides military and strategic aid to its regional proxies. In 2016, for example, the IRGC provided Hezbollah with kits to convert short-range rockets into longer-range missiles, capable of hitting strategic targets inside Israel.
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Over time, domestic repression has come to overshadow traditional military missions, as the IRGC’s influence has spread into every aspect of Iranian life.
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In 2007, following the formal incorporation of the Basij militia into the IRGC, IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said, “The new strategic guidelines of the IRGC have been changed by the directives of the Leader of the Revolution [i.e., Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei]. The main mission of the IRGC from now on is to deal with the threats from the internal enemies. [The number-two priority of the corps] is to help the military in case of foreign threats.”
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The IRGC considers its loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei a religious imperative. At times, the organization’s devotion to Khamenei slips into hero-worship. In 2014, for example, deputy IRGC commander Mohammad Hejazi credited Khamenei with overruling the objections of scientific experts to direct research towards increased accuracy in ballistic missiles, “resulting in proud accomplishments in this field.”
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Organizational Structure:
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
By law, the power to appoint and remove the commander of the IRGC is given to the supreme leader. 
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The supreme leader also appoints clerical representatives to the various units of the IRGC whose guidance and instructions are binding on commanders.
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Iranian law makes “belief and practical obedience to the principle of clerical rule” a condition of membership in the IRGC, further establishing absolute loyalty to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the IRGC’s guiding principle.
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Efforts to normalize the IRGC’s extraordinary role in Iran over the years have resulted in a complex organization chart. Administratively, the IRGC falls under the Joint Armed Forces General Staff, part of the Ministry of Defense. But these layers of oversight do not give Iran’s nominally elected civilian authorities real control over the IRGC, as the entire military remains subordinate to the Supreme National Security Council, which in turn answers to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 
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Scholars who study the IRGC have concluded that “individuals appear to matter more than institutions when considering national security decision[-]making.”
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Consequently, scholars have identified personal networks, often based on ties of family, friendship, or joint service in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War as the key factors in IRGC leadership.
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The opacity of the IRGC’s real command structure helps make Iran an erratic and therefore especially dangerous player in regional affairs.
Basij
The Basij militia, whose name means “mobilization,” is a paramilitary organization tasked with channeling popular support for the Islamic Republican regime. The Basij was created on April 30, 1980, to assist the IRGC in maintaining order.
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The Basij is most famous for its recruitment of volunteers, many of them teenage children, for human wave attacks on Iraqi forces during the Iran-Iraq War in which thousands died. Following the Iran-Iraq War, the Basij assumed a police role in Iran to maintain loyalty to the regime and suppress protests.
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Today, the Basij has two missions: giving military training to regime supporters to prepare them to resist foreign invasion, and helping suppress domestic opposition to the regime through street violence and intimidation. According to the 1980 Iranian law that created the Basij, the militia’s purpose is “to train and organize all volunteers for encountering any threat and invasion against the accomplishments of the Islamic revolution from inside and outside.”
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The Basij presents itself as a popular volunteer association, although it is very much an organ of the state. The group’s “regular members,” said to number more than ten million, are unpaid volunteers motivated by ideological zeal or the hopes of advancement. Its “active members” receive salaries and work full time to organize the volunteer members. According to U.S. government estimates, the Basij comprise 100,000 active members, while hundreds of thousands of volunteers could be mobilized in war.
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The group has been nominally subordinate to the IRGC since the early 1980s, and organizational changes in recent years have increased the IRGC’s direct control over the Basij, apparently to better manage the two groups’ repression of internal dissent.
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The Basij were formally incorporated into the IRGC in July 2008 and report directly to the IRGC commander-in-chief.
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Khatam al-Anbia
Created in 1989, Iran’s Khatam al-Anbia (KAA) is an IRGC-controlled engineering firm that acts as the organization’s construction arm.
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KAA maintains more than 800 subsidiaries, collectively employing more than 40,000 people.
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Approximately 70 percent of the firm’s business is believed to be military-related.
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KAA has played a role in building Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including the country’s nuclear facilities at Qom and Fordow.
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The company has won more than 17,000 no-bid contracts from the government.
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For example, in December 2012, KAA was reportedly set to begin construction of the “world’s tallest dam” in Iran after the government canceled a $2 billion contract with a Chinese firm and turned the project over to the IRGC.
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According to United Against Nuclear Iran, “Through Khatam al-Anbia, the IRGC has succeeded in assuming a dominant role in Iran’s oil and gas industry.”
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Quds Force
The Quds Force (IRGC-QF) is a special branch of the IRGC tasked with achieving sensitive missions beyond Iran’s borders. The IRGC-QF has played an active role in providing training and weapons to extremist groups including Iraqi insurgents, Lebanese Hezbollah, and others. The group’s commander is Brigadier General Ismail Ghaani, who was appointed to the role after the January 3, 2020, assassination of the group’s longtime leader, Major General Qasem Soleimani.
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In addition to overseeing the group’s violent attacks, Soleimani served as an emissary of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, reportedly using a combination of violence and bribes to wield enormous influence over the politics of neighboring Iraq. He was also said to coordinate much of Iran’s support for the Ba’ath regime in the Syrian civil war.
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General Hossein Hamedani, deputy commander of an IRGC volunteer unit, told an Iranian news agency in 2008 that the IRGC is providing weapons to “liberation armies” in the Middle East, including groups in Lebanon and Iraq.
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Such liaisons are the responsibility of the IRGC-QF.
Training and Recruitment:
General
The IRGC is the third-wealthiest organization in Iran after the National Iranian Oil Company and the Imam Reza Endowment.
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Due to its vast wealth, the IRGC is able to use a very simple recruitment tactic: money. The IRGC attracts young men by paying them up to $265 a month.
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In 1982, the IRGC created its first high school in Tehran to train and indoctrinate young men into the organization. The IRGC opened similar schools throughout the country. Graduates went on to join the IRGC and Basij. The program ended and the schools closed in 1999, but the IRGC announced plans in early 2015 to reopen affiliated high schools.
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The Basij and Quds Force operate under the IRGC and are responsible for the bulk of the umbrella organization’s recruitment. Both groups have developed an organized method of enrollment and training. Both the Basij and the Quds Force strategically place recruiters near holy sites, mosques, schools, and community centers to attract volunteers.
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The IRGC also trains foreign fighters from groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.
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Basij
Training
The Basij is a paramilitary organization operating under the IRGC that relies heavily on volunteers as well as paid members. The Basij constitution highlights the importance of training, stating that one of the force’s most important responsibilities is to train volunteers to “defend the country and the Islamic Republic regime.”
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The Basij is increasingly being used to quell internal unrest in Iran and, consequently, has become highly organized.
The Basij has an extensive membership of regular, active, and special recruits. Each classification is based on the volunteer’s level of training and, to a lesser degree, on his level of commitment.
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The Basij relies heavily on Ideological-Political Trainers (IPTs) to indoctrinate and educate its fledgling members. IPTs are divided into three groups: organizational, non-organizational, and invited members. Organizational and non-organizational IPTs typically hold high school degrees, while invited trainers are usually well-connected and well-educated.
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Trainees are also required to attend at least 18 hours of ideological and political courses on subjects like “Major Islamic Commandments.”
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The next level of training consists of courses that include “Jihad and Defense of the Quran,” and “Fluency in Reading the Quran.” Specialized training courses in areas such as advanced psychological warfare and anti-riot training last even longer but are not mandatory. Only after completing this final level of training can Basij members go to mosques, schools, and factories to organize.
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Basic Basij members are also trained in practical matters such as weaponry, guard duty, civil defense, and first aid.
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IPTs are themselves educated by a network of political guides. IPTs are taught subjects like Islamic commandments, the Quran, the history of Islam, sociopolitical knowledge, and the fundamentals of belief.
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Recruitment
Basij recruitment relies heavily on the cooperation of local and regional mosques. Members are recruited under “clergical [sic] supervision and trusted citizens.” Paid Basij positions are available by application at Basij central offices.
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The Basij also target Iranian schools for recruitment.
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The Iranian parliament passed a 1996 law authorizing the government to create children’s Basij units. The Basij expanded their recruitment activities in Iranian schools after the disputed 2009 presidential elections, when Basij militants helped to violently suppress protests.
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In November 2009, the Basij established 6,000 “resistance centers” in the nation’s elementary schools to promote the ideals of the Iranian Revolution.
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By 2010, the so-called Student Basij included 4.6 million members. These students were divided into units based on age: Omidan (“Hopes”) in elementary schools, Pouyandegan (“Seekers”) in middle schools, and Pushgaman (“Standard Bearers”) in high schools.
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Quds Force
Training
The Quds Force is a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard that oversees weapons and training.
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Basic training can last anywhere from three to nine months and takes place at three main facilities in Iran. The first is the Imam Ali Base near Tehran, which specializes in ground training for foreign fighters. The second is the Wali-e-Assar Base in Shiraz and the third is the “Jerusalem Operation” College in Qom, where trainees study spirituality and ideology. There are other smaller training facilities throughout the country that are used to train armed groups from foreign countries as well.
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The Quds Force helps operate the Manzariyah training center in Iran near the holy city of Qom. The Manzariyah training center recruits from a pool of foreign students studying at a nearby religious seminary.
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Recruitment
The Quds Force sets up recruitment offices near Islamic holy sites to attract a wide variety of devout people from many nationalities throughout the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq. The most important recruitment office is in the “Dar al-Tawahid” hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
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The Quds force helps operate the Manzariyah training center in Iran near the holy city of Qom. The Manzariyah training center recruits from a pool of foreign students studying at a nearby religious seminary.
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The Quds Force also recruits in Iraq, where they reportedly paid Iraqi Shiites up to $150 per month to go to Iran to train during the anti-U.S. insurgency.
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Financing:
IRGC
The Trump administration has claimed that it has forced the Iranian regime to reduce its military spending by 30 percent since the administration began re-imposing financial sanctions in 2017. Iranian officials have dismissed the effectiveness of renewed sanctions.
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Iran’s defense budget ranges from approximately $10 billion to $15 billion annually. Of that, the IRGC receives approximately two-thirds.
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Shortly after the death of Quds Force command Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike in January 2020, the Iranian government increased its budget for the Quds Force by more than €200 million over the following two months.
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The funding increase was part of a bill called “Counter-Measures Against U.S.,” which Iran’s parliament approved by a vote of 229-3.
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The IRGC received a reported 24 percent increase in Iran’s proposed 2017-18 fiscal budget, up from $4.5 billion to $7.4 billion. The IRGC’s allocation represented 53 percent of Iran’s defense budget.​https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2017/03/31/irans-revolutionary-guard-gets-a-raise/. Iran’s military budget has reportedly experienced a 70 percent increase in funding during President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure,
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growing from $3.3 billion in FY 2013-14 to more than $5 billion after Rouhani assumed the presidency in 2013. Ahead of the FY 2016 budget, however, Rouhani reportedly sought to cut the IRGC’s budget in favor of Iran’s army.
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The Iranian parliament rejected the cut and raised the IRGC’s budgetary allocation.
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Rouhani reportedly cut the IRGC’s budget by 17 percent in his proposed 2019-2020 budget submitted in December 2018.
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The IRGC is also Iran’s most powerful economic actor, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which labeled the National Iranian Oil Company “an agent or affiliate of the Revolutionary Guards.”
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According to a 2017 assessment by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, IRGC-linked companies control up to 20 percent of Iran’s economy.
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In July 2018, the city council of Tehran announced that the IRGC Cooperative Foundation, which manages the IRGC’s investments, had embezzled more than $1 billion from the city of Tehran.
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Within the IRGC, the Quds Force exerts control over strategic industries, commercial services, and black-market enterprises.
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According to a 2007 Los Angeles Times report, the IRGC has ties to over 100 companies, controlling over $12 billion.
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These funds are used to exert influence in Iran and Iranian proxies. According to Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, the IRGC is “heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to telecommunications and pipelines – even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a great deal of smuggling. Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They're developing along the lines of the Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It's a huge business conglomeration.”
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After the 2015 nuclear agreement—which opened Iran’s economy to the international market, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s government attempted to restrict the IRGC’s economic power in Iran, open Iran’s economy internationally, and attract foreign investors by canceling government contracts with IRGC subsidiaries. An unidentified IRGC source told Reuters in November 2016 that any U.S. attempt to restrict the Iranian economy from global markets would result in the IRGC regaining its economic control of Iran.
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In March 2016, Khamenei called for the IRGC to play a larger role in creating a “resistance economy” in Iran, independent of the international community.
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In August 2015, Reuters reported that the IRGC stood to benefit from the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran as part of the P5+1 nuclear deal. One beneficiary Reuters highlighted is IRGC conglomerate KAA, which reportedly controls at least 812 affiliated companies worth billions of dollars.
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KAA subsidiary companies have been sanctioned by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations as “proliferators of weapons of mass destruction,” according to the U.S. government.
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The IRGC reportedly controlled one-third of Iran’s economy as of 2010.
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As of November 2016, the group viewed the possibility of renewed sanctions against Iran and the threat posed by ISIS as pathways to limiting foreign investment in Iran and reestablishing IRGC control of the economy.
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In addition to its roles in Iran’s other economic sectors, the IRGC also profits from Iran’s oil industry. On October 26, 2020, the U.S. government sanctioned the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company, and the National Iranian Tanker Company for their financial support to the Quds Force. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has accused Iran of using “the petroleum sector to fund the destabilizing activities of the IRGC-QF.”
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In October 2017, the U.S. government designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization and levied financial sanctions against it for the IRGC’s support of the Quds Force, as well as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban.
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In March 2018, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee began discussing additional sanctions on entities in which the IRGC has a 50-percent-or-less ownership stake in order to punish IRGC front companies.
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The U.S. government designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019, opening the possibility of levying additional sanctions on IRGC-related businesses.
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According to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, “Iran employs a web of front companies to fund terrorist groups across the region, siphoning resources away from the Iranian people and prioritizing terrorist proxies over the basic needs of its people.”
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The United States has since sanction-designated multiple Iranian businesses and their leaders for ties to the IRGC. In October 2019, the U.S.-led Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) jointly designated 25 targets accused of supporting the IRGC and Hezbollah. Included in the sanctions were 21 businesses accused of providing financial support to the IRGC’s Basij militia. The TFTC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
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In March 2020, the U.S. government sanctioned 20 companies based in Iran and Iraq linked to the IRGC.
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In May 2020, the Treasury Department sanctioned Iranian-Iraqi national Amir Dianat and his Taif Mining Services LLC company for involvement in the shipment of missiles on behalf of the IRGC-Quds Force and smuggling “lethal aid” from Iran to Yemen.
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Iran also utilizes multiple front companies in and around the Middle East to facilitate the flow of money to the IRGC, which then provides financing to Iran’s terror proxies. In 2018, for example, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on two individuals—Muhammad Qasim al-Bazzal and Ali Qasir—accused of heading international front companies that finance transactions between Hezbollah and the IRGC.
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Bazzal is co-founder of the Syria-based Talaqi Group and a key financier for Hezbollah and the IRGC-Quds Force. Qasir is the managing director of the Talaqi Group. Since 2018, Bazzal has used the Talaqi Group and his other companies to facilitate illicit oil shipments for the Quds Force.
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The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) accuses the IRGC of using the Central Bank of Syria to coordinate financial transfers with Hezbollah. According to OFAC, Iran has created an international network working with Russian companies to provide millions of barrels of oil to the Syrian government. Syria then facilitates the movement of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars to the IRGC, which distributes the money to Hezbollah and Hamas. U.S.-designated Hezbollah official Muhammad Qasir heads the Hezbollah unit responsible for facilitating the transfer of weapons, technology, and other support from Syria to Lebanon. According to the U.S. State Department, Qasir is a “critical link” between Iran and Hezbollah.
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Basij
The Basij received a budget of $310.85 million in the 2015 fiscal year.
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In the 2009-2010 budget, the Basij received $430 million from the government, but also reportedly earned large sums of cash through its control of non-profit foundations created by the Basij and IRGC in the 1980s and 1990s. The Basij is also reportedly a major investor in the Tehran stock exchange.
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Key Leaders

Ali Khamenei
Iranian Supreme Leader

Mohammad Ali Jafari
Head of Islamic Revolutionary Guards: Major General

Qasem Soleimani
Head of Al-Quds Force-Islamic Revolutionary Guards: Major General

Mohammad Reza Naqdi
Head of Basij Militia: Commander
Commander of the IRGC’s Imam Ali Central Security Headquarters

Abdollah Haji Sadeghi
Representative of the Guardian Jurist to the IRGC
Commander-in-chief of the IRGC
Commander of the Quds Force
History
 
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini creates the IRGC to be the “ideological custodian charged with defending the Islamic Republic against internal and external threats.”

Source: Greg Bruno, Jayshree Bajoria, and Jonathan Masters, “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” Council on Foreign Relations, June 14, 2013, http://www.cfr.org/iran/irans-revolutionary-guards/p14324​.





SWIPE TO NAVIGATE
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini creates the IRGC to be the “ideological custodian charged with defending the Islamic Republic against internal and external threats.”
Khomeini calls for the creation of a “twenty million man army.”
The IRGC becomes a major player in Iran’s operations abroad during the Iran-Iraq war.
1980
1979
Violent Activities
IRGC and IRGC-Quds Force
The Council on Foreign Relations describe the IRGC and Quds Force as Iran’s “primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.”
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According to a 2010 Pentagon report, the Quds Force “maintains operational capabilities around the world,” and “it is well established in the Middle East and North Africa and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.”
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Further, the report concluded that if “U.S. involvement in conflict in these regions deepens, contact with the IRGC-QF, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.”
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Illustrating this point, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2012 reportedly ordered the Quds Force to step up attacks against Western targets in retaliation for U.S.-backing of Syrian rebels in that country’s civil war.
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According to a 2013 bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to label the Quds Force a terrorist organization, the Quds Force “stations operatives in foreign embassies, charities, and religious and cultural institutions to foster relationships, often building on existing socio-economic ties with the well-established Shia Diaspora, and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America.”
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The IRGC and IRGC-QF have been accused of the following acts in individual countries:
Afghanistan:
Argentina:
Austria:
On July 13, 1989, Iranian Kurdish dissident Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was shot to death along with Fadil Rasoul and Abdullah Ghaderi after being lured to a supposed negotiation with Iranian government officials. The three Iranians who committed the murders were arrested by Austrian authorities, but later released. Austrian police confirmed that at least one of the suspected killers was bearing an Iranian diplomatic passport.
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However, the suspected killers were allowed to leave Austria and return to Iran “after the Austrian government came under massive pressure from the Iranian government.”
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Iran’s Minister of Information and Security, Ali Fallahian, later boasted of the assassinations in a televised interview, saying: “we were able to deal vital blows to the cadres” of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Ghassemlou’s group.
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Azerbaijan:
In January 2012, Azerbaijani authorities arrested at least two local men, linked to Iranian intelligence agencies, for plotting to attack the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan and a local rabbi.
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Bahrain:
The government of Bahrain has accused the Quds Force of providing explosives training to Bahraini militants opposed to the government. On December 29, 2013, the Bahraini Coast Guard intercepted a speedboat carrying weaponry and explosives meant for Shiite militants in Bahrain, particularly the 14 February Youth Coalition.
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Following the incident, authorities discovered weapons caches in Bahrain, dismantled a car bomb, and arrested 15 Bahraini nationals.
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Germany:
Four Iranian Kurdish dissidents are assassinated at Mykonos, a Greek restaurant in Berlin. In 1997, a German court issued an international arrest warrant for Iranian Intelligence Minister Hojjat al-Islam Ali Fallahian, after determining that he had ordered the assassination with the knowledge of Supreme Leader Ali Khameini.
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A report by Amnesty International noted that the Mykonos killings constituted part of a broader pattern of murder of Iranian political dissidents, with reports of state-directed assassinations both inside Iran and in neighboring Turkey.
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India:
Delhi Police accused the IRGC of involvement in a February 13, 2012, bomb attack against an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi. According to the Times of India, members of the IRGC had discussed the plan with an Indian journalist in 2011, and the journalist, Syed Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, had been in touch with the IRGC for almost 10 years.
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Iran:
Iraq:
Israel:
Lebanon:
Mexico:
Saudi Arabia:
Syria:
Syria is Iran’s main supply route to Hezbollah in Lebanon
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and thus a strategic asset. As such, the Iranian government has an interest in keeping besieged Syrian President Bashar Assad in power.
Turkey:
United States:
Yemen
The Basij:
While it was involved in the Iran-Iraq War, the Basij was primarily a domestic organization within Iran, where it acted as an extra-judicial police force.
Designations
Designations by the U.S. Government:
October 25, 2007: The Department of the Treasury designates Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Qods Force as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224.
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October 25, 2007: The Department of the Treasury designates Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and their Supporters under Executive Order 13382.
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October 25, 2007: The Department of the Treasury designates Hosein Salimi, commander of IRGC air force; Brigadier General Morteza Rezaie, deputy commander of the IRGC; Vice Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian, in 2007 the most recent former chief of the IRGC Joint Staff; Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, in 2007 the most recent former commander of Basij militia; Brigadier General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, as Individual associated with IRGC, designated under Executive Order 13382.
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September 29, 2010: The Department of the Treasury designates Mohammad Ali Jafari, then commander of the IRGC forces; Sadeq Mahsouli, then Minister of Welfare and Social Security; Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejel, then Prosecutor General of Iran; Saeed Mortazavi, former Tehran Prosecutor-General; Heydar Moslehi, then Minister of Intelligence; Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, then Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces; Ahmad-Reza Radan, then Deputy Chief of Iran’s National Police; Hossein Taeb, then Deputy IRGC Commander of Intelligence, as Human rights abusers under executive order 13553.
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February 2011: The Department of the Treasury designates Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran Prosecutor General; Mohammed Reza Naqdi, commander of IRGC’s Basij Forces, as Human rights abusers under executive order 13553.
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March 27, 2012: The Department of the Treasury designates Esmail Ghani as a Specially Designated National.
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October 13, 2017: The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control labels the IRGC a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for its activities “in support of the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) … for providing support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hizballah and Hamas, as well as to the Taliban.”
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April 15, 2019: The U.S. Department of State designates the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
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March 26, 2020: The U.S. Department of the Treasury designates Sayyed Yaser Musavir as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
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March 26, 2020: The U.S. Department of the Treasury designates Mehdi Ghasemzadeh as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
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Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:
Bahrain designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a group suspected of terrorism on October 23, 2018.
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Canada listed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force as a terrorist entity in December 2012.
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The European Union levied financial sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in March 2012.
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The European Union has also levied financial sanctions on individuals affiliated with the IRGC, including: Qasem Soleimani,
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Chief of IRGC Joint Staff Ali Akbar Ahmadian,
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Basij commander Mohamed-Reza Naqdi,
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IRGC General Commander Muhamed Ali Jafari,
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and IRGC Intelligence Commander Hussayn Taeb.
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On April 12, 2021, the European Union sanctioned IRGC chief Hossein Salami, Basij head Gholamreza Soleimani, IRGC Ground Forces chief Mohammad Pakpour, and IRGC commander Hassan Shahvarpour for their response to the November 2019 demonstrations in Iran.
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Saudi Arabia designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a group suspected of terrorism on October 23, 2018. Saudi Arabia also designated Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Quds Force member Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul Reza Shahlai.
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The United Nations designated several individuals affiliated with the IRGC, including Qasem Soleimani on March 24, 2007;
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Mohammad Reza Naqdi on March 3, 2008;
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and IRGC Air Force Commander Salimi Hosein on December 23, 2006.
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Associations
Ties to other extremist groups:
The IRGC-Quds Force provides training, logistical assistance and material and financial support to many extremist groups. For example:
 
Taliban
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The U.S. government has accused the IRGC’s Quds Force of providing logistical, financial, and material support to the Taliban.
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General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hasan Mortezavi, senior IRGC members, were designated on August 3, 2011 as terrorists under Executive Order 13224 for providing financial and material support to the Taliban.
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On October 23, 2018, the Treasury Department and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) designated IRGC officers Mohammad Ebrahim Owhadi and Esma’il Razavi for providing support to the Taliban. The TFTC is an international organization that includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
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In 2010, ISAF General Stanley McChrystal stated that Iran was training Taliban insurgents and providing them with weapons. This was corroborated by a Taliban commander who stated that Iran was training Taliban fighters in “small unit tactics” because they “both want to kill Americans.”
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The U.S. government has accused the IRGC of providing the Taliban with 107mm rockets.
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On October 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the IRGC for its support of the Taliban and other groups.
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Hamas
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The U.S. government has accused the IRGC’s Quds Force of providing logistical, financial, and material support to Hamas.
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IRGC head General Mohammad Ali Jafari admitted in November 2012 to transferring missile technology and other military assistance to Hamas.
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Khaled Meshaal, the former head of Hamas’s political bureau, has traveled to Iran to improve ties and receive increased material support. “We [Hamas] stretch our hand of cooperation for materializing the Palestinian cause, because Palestine is an essential issue that needs more efforts,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, told Al-Manar television, a network affiliated with Hezbollah.
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On October 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the IRGC for its support of Hamas and other groups.
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Hezbollah
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The Iranian government uses the IRGC Quds Force to transfer cash and weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
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On October 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned the IRGC for its support of Hezbollah and other groups.
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Israeli authorities have accused the IRGC of directly arming Hezbollah. On November 4, 2009, Israel intercepted merchant vessel FRANCOP carrying 36 containers (60 tons) of weapons to Hezbollah. The cache includes 122mm katyushas, 107mm rockets, 106mm antitank shells, hand grenades and light-weapon ammunitions.
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The weapons transfer was reportedly coordinated by the IRGC, given its bases in Lebanon and financial support for Hezbollah, which is estimated at $100-200 million annually.
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An Iranian IRGC commander and six Hezbollah fighters were killed on January 18, 2015, by an Israeli strike, indicating increased cooperation between Iran and Hezbollah.
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Israel has subsequently targeted multiple Iranian targets in Syria that it says were aiding Hezbollah.
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IRGC officials have openly stated their military and financial support for Hezbollah. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has helped Iraq, Syria, Palestine and the Lebanese Hezbollah by exporting the technology that it has for the production of missiles and other equipment, and they can now stand against the Zionist regime, the ISIL [Islamic State group] and other Takfiri [apostate] groups and cripple them,” IRGC aerospace force commander Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said in February 2015.
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In October 2018, IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari pledged that Iran would “stand side by side the Lebanese Hezbollah until Israel is totally annihilated.”
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Palestinian Islamic Jihad
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The IRGC has provided Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with “training, logistical assistance and material and financial support,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
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The IRGC reportedly began sending support after PIJ was exiled to Lebanon in 1987.
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South American terrorist networks
According to a 2010 Pentagon report, Quds Force members are actively developing terrorist networks in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America to attack the United States in the event of a breakdown in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West.
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The report further claims the Quds Force engages in “paramilitary operations to support extremists and destabilize unfriendly regimes.”
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Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command
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The Iranian regime has been a long-time benefactor of the PFLP-GC, providing logistical, financial, and material support, according to the U.S. government.
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Iran and the PFLP-GC were the prime suspects in the aftermath of the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103.
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U.S. officials have said there is “no question” about ties between Iran and the PFLP-GC.
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Los Zetas
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The IRGC reportedly plotted with Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas in 2011 to blow up the Israeli embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli Embassies in Argentina.
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According to a 2010 Pentagon report, Quds Force members are actively developing terrorist networks in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America to attack the United States in the event of a breakdown in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West.
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The report further claims the Quds Force engages in “paramilitary operations to support extremists and destabilize unfriendly regimes.”
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Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (“the Virtuous”) is an Iraqi Shiite militia that has fought against ISIS as part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in both Iraq and Syria.
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The 10,000-man-strong group is loyal to Iran and reportedly answered directly to Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, whom al-Nujaba has praised in online media for fighting the United States and ISIS. Al-Nujaba has declared that it and Hezbollah are “the twins of the resistance.”
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In March 2017, the Quds Force reportedly developed a new branch of al-Nujaba called the Golan Liberation Brigade, named for the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. That November, the leader of al-Nujaba, Sheikh Akram al-Ka’abi, told media that his group and the Golan Liberation Brigade stood ready to “participate in any war with the Syrian Arab Army to liberate the Golan if the Syrian state agrees or requests so.”
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Al-Nujaba claims that multiple special forces comprise the Golan Liberation Brigade. A March 2017 al-Nujaba video featured columns of its soldiers marching with a banner declaring that “Israel will be destroyed.”
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Ties to foreign governments/leaders:
Syrian government
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Iran has threatened to use the IRGC to repel foreign attacks on Syria.
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The IRGC has “several hundred” operatives in Syria advising the Syrian army and fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war.
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In October 2018, IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif pledged that IRGC forces would remain in Syria as long as Tehran finds it “effective and useful” and as long as the Syrian government demands it.
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The U.S. Treasury Department has also accused Iran of using its oil industry to aid the Assad regime in Syria. According to Treasury, Syrian national Mohammad Amer Alchwiki and his Russia-based Global Vision Group aid the delivery of oil from Iran to Syria as well as financial transfers from Iran to its terrorist proxies.
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Venezuela
The IRGC plays a central role in Iran’s supportive relationship with Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. In April 2019, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered to send the IRGC to Venezuela to protect Maduro in light of growing opposition as Venezuela struggles with food and medicine shortages.
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Despite U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, Iran began shipping gasoline to the South American country in May 2020.
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In July 2020, an IRGC-linked grocery retailer opened in Venezuela. According to the U.S. government, any Iranian business must receive authorization from the IRGC to operate overseas.
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In August 2020, Maduro announced he was considering buying missiles from Iran.
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That October, U.S. officials threatened to destroy any weapon shipments from Iran to Venezuela.
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Media Coverage
Media coverage/analysis of group
The international media, for the most part, agrees on the brutal nature of IRGC’s domestic action, condemning the Basij...
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Rhetoric
Mohsen Rezaee, former IRGC chief, January 14, 2020
“Today, the nations of the Resistance Front have come closer together more than ever, and they will do anything to take revenge … and they will continue their activities until the full expulsion of American soldiers and military men from the region.”
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Ismail Ghaani, 2017
Referring to Iran’s intervention in the Iraq war to supply Shiite militias against American troops:
“Americans have suffered more losses from us then we have suffered losses from them…America, under the pretext of Sept. 11 attacks, which it carried out itself, invaded Afghanistan and mobilized young Muslims and deployed them to Afghanistan so that they can later attack Iran.”
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Ismail Ghaani, 2017
Warning U.S. President Donald Trump Against Conflict With Iran:
“We are not a war-mongering country. But any military action against Iran will be regretted…Trump’s threats against Iran will damage America…We have buried many…like Trump and know how to fight against America.”
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Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the IRGC, September 24, 2018
In response to an attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, Iran, two days earlier, which Salami blamed on the “triangle” of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel:
“We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge. You have seen our revenge before... you will see that our response will be crushing and devastating and you will regret what you have done.”
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Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC, October 11, 2018
“Iran is going to stand side by side the Lebanese Hezbollah until Israel is totally annihilated. If Iran is threatened outside its borders, Tehran would not hesitate to retaliate extraterritorially.”
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Ramezan Sharif, IRGC spokesman, October 13, 2018
Addressing Iranian media on the IRGC’s presence in Syria:
“This fabricated crisis has been led from abroad with the purpose of instigating insecurity in Syria and creating a safety margin for the Israeli regime.”
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Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the IRGC, April 20, 2018
“Israel: Don’t trust in your airbases; they’re within reach.” (Tweet)
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Ali Fadavi, commander of the IRGC navy, April 22, 2018
“The Americans have little information about Iran’s Naval power and they understand our real power when either their vessels are sunken or entangled in a terrible situation.”
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Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC-QF, September 16, 2015
“The US officials believe that any reconstruction of their hegemony should be started from where had been their debacle, and this is Middle East, where the Islamic Revolution has extended its scope of influence. The US policies today have significantly changed compared to those in the past; in an attempt to revive its power, the US has been working on four major policies; the first is reinvigorating the US status through UN-mediated devices and other purportedly legitimate means such as human rights in the region; the second issue is to bring stability to Zionist regime; now any country with relations to Zionists is champion of trust for the US.”
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Daily Dose
Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.
Fact:
On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.
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