Iran's Revolutionary Guard, labelled a 'terrorist group' by Trump, is one of the most elite forces in the world with over 125,000 soldiers
In an unprecedented move, the United States on Monday designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, thereby sparking a massive debate online regarding the country's foreign policy.
The group, which boasts of vast economic resources and answers only to Iran's supreme leader, is the first foreign government entity to be labeled a terrorist organization by the US. "This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a state sponsor of terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft," President Donald Trump announced, placing the group in the same category as the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Explaining the controversial decision, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the designation is intended to isolate Iran and deflect its financial resources from being used to fund terrorism in the Middle East. However, several critics have upheld the potential for Iranian retaliation and jeopardizing the safety of US troops in two key countries in the region as a result of the hardline policy decision.
Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council, said, "This move closes yet another potential door for peacefully resolving tensions with Iran. Once all doors are closed, and diplomacy is rendered impossible, war will essentially become inevitable."
The IRGC was formed during Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution as a paramilitary organization to safeguard the government's policies. Furthermore, the force operates independently of the regular military and has widespread economic interests across the country. According to estimates, the group may have significant influence over almost 50% of the Iranian economy, including sectors such as shipping and banking.
While Iran has been designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the US for the longest time, and more than 60 organizations within the state are now considered "foreign terrorist organizations", none of them had been part of the state's military wing.
That said, quite a few proponents of tougher engagement with Iran have welcomed Trump's decision.
"Thank you, my dear friend, US President Donald Trump," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted. "Thank you for answering another of my important requests that serves the interests of our countries and of countries in the region."
Origins of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
During the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini created the Revolutionary Guard in parallel to Iran's existing armed forces in a bid to consolidate all power under his regime. IRGC was called to defend the country during its eight-year war with Iraq the following year. After the conflict, the guard saw a marked increase in its ideological, economic influence and security footprint in the homeland.
What's more? The group is guarded by the constitution in that it answers only to Iran's supreme leader. It boasts of anywhere between 125,000 and 150,000 members, including the Quds Force - an elite wing of the IRGC that supervises foreign operations.
Beyond that, the IRGC has overseen Iran's ballistic missile program and conducted a series of tests since Tehran struck a milestone nuclear deal with world powers back in 2015. US officials have repeatedly complained that while the accord does not specifically ban such tests, they violate the spirit of the deal, leading Trump to pull America out of the deal and impose heavy economic sanctions on the country.
Many have argued that the IRGC has now grown too big to fail, especially after Iran's President Hassan Rouhani routinely failed to restrict the group's extensive powers at home. Furthermore, the guard even defied orders from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year, after he instructed the outfit to privatize some of its enormous powers at home and thereby loosen its hold on the economy.
IRGC's elite wing - known as the Quds Force - is responsible for recruiting and training thousands of fighters for the Revolutionary Guard. Leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani made international headlines last year after joining hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad to fight Islamic State militants who considered Shiites as heretics in comparison to Sunnis.
According to US officials, Soleimani was responsible for teaching Iraqi militants how to manufacture and deploy lethal roadside IEDs against US troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, these allegations have been repeatedly denounced by Iran.