The Trump administration is determining whether to designate Iran’s elite arms unit, the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as a foreign terrorist organization. Officials from both the US State and Defense departments had warned the President to hold off on the order. The State and Defense departments’ hesitation is largely due to the fear of losing Iraq, as Baghdad heavily relies on both the IRGC and the US for military aid. The fact remains that Iraq has already been lost to Shia dominance since former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has favored his own majority, rather than serving beyond ethnic and sectarian lines.
The IRGC has immense influence across the Middle East, most notably in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon the Palestinian territories, and Libya. In addition, the IRGC are placed across South America including Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Venezuela. Since 2007, the United States has designated the Quds Force – IRGC Special Forces – as a terrorist organization. What triggered the call for this label was Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordering a ballistic missile test, a direct violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed under the Obama Administration.
The President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Maryam Rajavi stated that, “the clerical regime must be evicted from Syria, Iraq and the IRGC must be placed on the list of terrorist organizations.”
Kurds are also pushing the new US administration to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Aso Saleh, representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDK-I), mentioned that “all Kurds believe that the IRGC forces are acting in violation of basic human rights by killing civilian people and supporting other terrorist organizations.”
Constant clashes occur between Kurds in Iran and the Islamic regime in a sort of ‘silent war’ due to the lack of access of free media in the region. The IRGC is famously known for assassinating Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in 1989, Secretary-General of the PDK-I in Vienna.
Similar to Turkey’s labeling of the PKK as a terrorist organization, Iran’s war against its own Kurds and the PDK-I has a comparable tone. Tehran strongly believes that it is fighting terrorists who plan to destabilize the country.
The Islamic regime is solely responsible for killing thousands of Kurds in addition to violating Kurds’ freedom and basic human rights. Constantly under the threat of the IRGC, Kurds in Iran are discriminated against, unable to practice their language and teach future generations’ Kurdish history, traditions, philosophies, etc. Article 15 of the Iranian constitution allows for the usage of minority languages, but this is not the reality on the ground.
Iran also publically executes Kurds on a constant basis without legitimate court proceedings. The Islamic regime has been known to murder Kurdish minors, despite the state of Iran being a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to UNPO, Iran “is the only country in the world known to publically execute minors, with an estimated 134 minors on death row.”
Whether the Trump Administration decides to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization or not, it is important to realize that the Kurds will not back down from attaining their rights. The PDK-I is already attempting to reestablish itself in regions in Eastern Kurdistan (Rojhelat) after a 20-year ceasefire due to an agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Kurds openly welcome the outspoken tone against Iran demonstrated by the new U.S. administration.
Should President Trump decide to take a more active role regarding Iran, the administration should keep in mind its allies: Kurds. By politically and military supporting the Kurds in Iran, the US will gain significant leverage over the Islamic regime as they continue to arm Hamas, Hizb’Allah, and many others similar to them. Unlike Turkey, which attains the protection of NATO, Iran is under no alliance and will be encircled by Arab Sunni states like Saudi Arabia. Even Israel would be willing to assist the Kurds so as to undermine Iran’s agenda.
As the Kurds in Syria won the hearts and minds of the international community, the Kurds in Iran have the opportunity to do the same. The Kurds in Iran must be prepared to protect not only fellow Kurds, but other ethnic and religious minorities in the region. The Kurdistan Regional Government should realize that its relationship with Iran is only transactional and should not undermine the Kurds in eastern Kurdistan as it did in north Kurdistan. The KRG must not turn a blind eye to the destruction of the Kurds, an action such as this will inevitably backfire.
By Diliman Abdulkader, Research Associate EMET
Originally published at NRT English