The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned 20 Iran- and Iraq-based front companies, senior officials and business associates for providing support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), as well as aid to Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq.
They are involved in smuggling through the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, money laundering through Iraqi front companies, selling Iranian oil to the Syrian government, smuggling weapons to Iraq and Yemen, promoting propaganda efforts in Iraq, intimidating Iraqi politicians and using donations made to an ostensibly religious organization to supplement IRGC-QF budgets, according to the Treasury.
“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,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
The designations on Thursday come despite growing calls, including from the United Nations secretary-general and others, for the U.S. to relax its sanctions as Iran battles one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic. An Iranian Health Ministry spokesman told state TV on Thursday that 2,234 people have died, and that there are 29,406 confirmed cases. Tehran banned internal travel amid warnings of a “second wave” of the virus.
The continued use of sanctions on Iran threatens the rest of the world because it inhibits the country’s ability to stop infections from spreading, the head of an Iranian human rights group wrote in an op-ed.
U.S. officials have rejected pressure to ease sanctions.
Mnuchin said Thursday the U.S. “maintains broad exceptions and authorizations for humanitarian aid including agriculture commodities, food, medicine and medical devices to help the people of Iran combat the coronavirus.” Earlier in the month, the Treasury issued coronavirus-related expanded guidance on authorized humanitarian transactions with Iran.
The IRGC-QF, an external force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was designated in April 2019 by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Sayyed Yaser Musavir, an IRGC-QF official, has coordinated operations between the group and Iraqi militias, according to the Treasury. He coordinated with the IRGC-QF in 2019 to sell Iranian petroleum products to Syria, and in 2018 coordinated propaganda efforts with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), the Treasury said. AAH was designated in January as an FTO. Another IRGC-QF official, Mehdi Ghasemzadeh, was also sanctioned in Thursday’s action.
The Reconstruction Organization of the Holy Shrines in Iraq (ROHSI) is an IRGC-QF-controlled organization based in Iran and Iraq whose leadership was appointed by the late IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani, whom the U.S. killed in January in an airstrike, according to the Treasury. Mohammad Jalal Maab, whom Soleimani personally appointed as head of ROHSI, was also sanctioned on Thursday.
IRGC-QF officials have used ROHSI funds to supplement the group’s budgets, likely embezzling donations intended for the construction and maintenance of Shiite shrines in Iraq, according to the Treasury. ROHSI, despite being a religious institution, has transferred millions of dollars to Iraq-based Bahjat al Kawthar Company for Construction and Trading Ltd. (Kosar Company), another Iraq-based organization under IRGC-QF control, the Treasury said. Kosar Company has also received millions in transfers from the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), which was sanctioned in September 2019 under U.S. counterterrorism authorities.
The U.S. also designated a series of people who own or work for Kosar Company.
Hassan Pelarak, a co-owner of Kosar Company, was selected by Soleimani to serve as his special assistant on an IRGC-QF committee focused on sanctions evasion, the Treasury said. He also worked with IRGC-QF officials to transfer missiles, explosives and small arms to Yemen, intensifying the ongoing conflict there, according to the Treasury. Alireza Fadakar, another co-owner, is an IRGC-QF commander in Iraq, the Treasury said.
A third co-owner of the company, Masoud Shoustaripousti, has worked in Iraq on behalf of the IRGC-QF for several years and laundered money for the group, according to the Treasury. He worked with Mashallah Bakhtiari, who has used Kosar Company to launder money and deposited funds for the IRGC-QF at the Baghdad branch of Bank Melli, the Treasury said. Bank Melli was sanctioned by the U.S. in November 2018 for acting as an IRGC-QF conduit for payments.
Muhammad al-Ghorayfi, an IRGC-QF affiliate and an employee of Kosar Company, provided administrative support to Fadakar and facilitated travel between Iraq and Iran for IRGC-QF officials, according to the Treasury.
Separately, the Treasury sanctioned Al Khamael Maritime Services (AKMS), an Iraq-based company operating out of Umm Qasr port in which the IRGC-QF has a financial interest. AKMS worked to sell Iranian petroleum products in contravention of U.S. sanctions, the Treasury said.
The IRGC-QF has used Shiite militia group contacts to evade Iraqi government inspection protocol at the port and has charged foreign companies and vessels for services at its terminal at Umm Qasr, according to the Treasury.
Mohammed Saeed Odhafa Al Behadili, the managing director of AKMS, and Ali Hussein Falih Al-Mansoori, the head of the board of directors and the deputy managing director, were sanctioned for their roles at the company. Al Behadili as of 2018 facilitated shipments and business transactions to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran, and Al-Mansoori has worked with the IRGC-QF on AKMS-related business matters, according to the Treasury.
Hasan Saburinezhad, also known as Engineer Morteza, is involved in the finances of AKMS, facilitating the entry of Iranian shipments into Iraqi ports for the benefit of the IRGC-QF, the Treasury said. Saburinezhad is also involved in IRGC-QF financial and economic activities between Iran, Iraq and Syria, including smuggling activities along the Iraq-Syria border, according to the Treasury. He also runs smuggling routes to help Iraqi group Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) and the IRGC-QF smuggle goods into Iraq from Iran, and has assisted KH in funding the acquisition and transfer of goods out of Iran, the Treasury said.
Shaykh ‘Adnan Al-Hamidawi, a KH special operations commander, planned in 2019 to intimidate Iraqi politicians who didn’t support removing U.S. forces from Iraq, according to the Treasury. KH, an Iran-backed Iraqi militia group, was sanctioned in 2009.
Another man responsible for AKMS finances, Sayyed Reza Musavifar, has worked with the IRGC-QF to transfer money to KH and Hizballah and transferred millions of dollars in foreign currency in 2014 to senior IRGC-QF officials, the Treasury said. He is also a part-owner of Middle East Saman Chemical Company, an Iran-based company that maintained an account at Rashed Exchange, an Iran-based exchange house sanctioned in May 2018, the Treasury said. Ali Farhan Asadi, a fourth man linked to AKMS, was also sanctioned.
In addition, the U.S. State Department announced the renewal of a waiver allowing Iraq to continue transactions related to importing electricity from Iran. The purpose of the waiver, the State Department said, “is to meet the immediate energy needs of the Iraqi people.”
The “designations underscore that the United States will not tolerate profiteering by malign Iranian actors from transactions that take place under the sanctions waiver, and we will remain focused on sanctioning those who do so for the benefit of the IRGC-QF or other designated terrorist groups,” said Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokeswoman.
“Iraq is rich in natural resources and has the ability to reduce its energy dependence on Iran, both for the sake of Iraq’s security and the welfare of its people,” she said.