US sanctions Iran’s Basij network for recruiting ‘child soldiers’

Officials say move coincides with Beirut marines bombing in 1983, and described Iran as ‘not a normal government’

Basij members are seen at Azadi stadium during the speech of the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran October 4, 2018. Handout via REUTERS  -  ATTENTION EDITORS THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY - NO RESALES . NO ARCHIVES
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In what US officials described to be a move coinciding with the anniversary of the 1983 marines bombing in Lebanon next week, the US Treasury announced on Tuesday that it was sanctioning a multi-billion dollar network for Iran’s powerful Basij paramilitary force.

The sanctionstargeted 22 entities including corporations and banks in the Bonyad Taavon Basij network that funds the Basij Resistance Force. Naming Syria as one example of a funder, the Treasury said the Basij "recruits, trains, and deploys child soldiers to fight in IRGC-fueled conflicts across the region." The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is a branch of Iran's military with Quds Forces forming a special unit.

“In addition to Iranian nationals, the Basij also recruits Afghan immigrants to Iran, including children as young as 14-years-old, to join the Fatemiyoun Brigade, a militia made up of Afghan fighters under the control of the IRGC-QF in Syria,” the statement read.


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Some of these Afghan recruits, the Treasury added, “reportedly coerced to fight on the side of the Assad regime in Syria, choose instead to flee to Europe.”  The recruits also include “Pakistani nationals to join the Zainabiyoun Brigade, a militia comprised of Pakistani nationals under the control of the IRGC-QF in Syria.”

Among those targeted are Bank Mellat, Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment, Mehr Eqtesad Bank,  Parsian Bank, Sina Bank, Bahman Group, Tadbirgaran Atiyeh Investment Company, Negin Sahel Royal Company, Mehr Eqtesad Financial Group, and Technotar Engineering Company.

Also on the list are Iran Tractor Manufacturing Co, the Middle East's largest tractor manufacturer, Esfahan's Mobarakeh Steel Co, the largest steelmaker in the Middle East and North Africa region, Iran’s Zinc Mines Development Company (IZMDC).

In a conference call with reporters, a senior US official said the sanctions are part of an economic campaign that the Trump administration is imposing on Iran. They also coincide with the anniversary of the bombing in 1983 in Beirut, the official added.

“Because the economic pain is ratcheting up quite a bit, they aren't feeling that support,” the official said. “We are very interested in increasing the pressure as long as they continue to invest what resources they have in malign activities rather than in the people.

"This Iranian regime is not a normal government … normal governments don't have revolutionary arms that support revolution and wreak havoc with their neighbours. They don't recruit indoctrinate and use child soldiers.”

The Basij was identified by the Treasury as a paramilitary force formed soon after the 1979 revolution, as one of the Iranian regime’s primary enforcers of internal security, and came under the formal authority of the Iran’s revolutionary guard in 2007. It accused of indoctrinating children as young as 12 years old.

American officials said that its actions will target international companies “from Asia to Europe that partner with companies associated with the Basij.”

The new measures are the latest wave of escalatory measures against Iran as the US prepares to snap back its oil-related sanctions on November 4.