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Iran Democracy Monitor - No. 172

Edited by Ilan Berman and Brian Carpowich
February 9, 2017

As part of its new, tougher approach to Iran, the administration of President Donald Trump could soon designate Iran's clerical army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a terrorist group. The White House is now said to be considering a proposal to broaden existing sanctions, which encompass certain individuals and entities connected with the IRGC, into a comprehensive ban on the group. (
Reuters, February 7, 2017) 

[EDITORS' NOTE: A ban on the IRGC, if it does indeed materialize, would have far-reaching effects on virtually every aspect of U.S. policy toward Iran, including the nuclear deal signed last summer between Iran and the P5+1 powers. Among other things, given the IRGC's prominent role in various Iranian economic sectors (such as energy and construction), such a designation could potentially expose foreign companies involved in commerce with the Islamic Republic to onerous new penalties from the U.S. government.] 


Iran's government, meanwhile, is striking a defiant stance against a potential hardening of U.S. policy. In early February, the Aerospace Forces of the IRGC launched massive military drills in the country's northern Semnan province. The war-games, dubbed "Modafe'an Harim-e Aseman Velayat" (Defenders of the Regional Skies), entailed the deployment of multiple missile and signal intelligence systems, and were aimed at "demonstrating Iran's power, intelligence command, and defense readiness to counter any threats," state news sources reported. (Tehran 
FARS, February 4, 2017) 


Lebanon's Hezbollah militia may be the most prominent Iranian proxy now fighting in Syria, but it's hardly the only one. Iran has reportedly recruited some 18,000 Afghan and Pakistani Shi'ites to serve on the Syrian front under the direction of the IRGC, notes a new analysis from the Middle East Institute. This figure, if accurately reported, dwarfs Hezbollah's presence in the country by roughly 13,000. Over the past couple of years, the Fatemiyoun Division, made up of Afghans, and its Pakistani counterpart, the Zainabyoun Brigade, have emerged as powerful militias in their own right, and are now said to boast a significant presence on the Syrian battlefield fighting in support of embattled dictator Bashar al-Assad, the study details. (
Middle East Institute, January 18, 2017) 


In the wake of last year's nuclear deal, Iran - once an international pariah - has experienced a surge of new diplomatic and political contacts. The latest such rapprochement is with the North African Kingdom of Morocco, which officially reestablished full bilateral ties with the Islamic Republic last month with the accreditation of its new envoy to Tehran. The move "signals a new era in relations between the two countries," press reports have said. Diplomatic relations had been frozen since 2009, when Rabat severed ties amid allegations that Tehran was meddling in the country's religious affairs. (
North Africa Post, January 2, 2017) 


Already the world's leading executioner, the Islamic Republic appears to be stepping up its practice of capital punishment. According to Iran Human Rights, a watchdog group that monitors the Iranian regime's domestic practices, 87 people were publicly hanged by Iranian authorities in the month of January - equal to one public execution every nine hours. According to the group, most of those executions were carried out as punishment for drug-related offenses. (
Iran Human Rights, February 3, 2017)

Related Categories: Africa; Iran Freedom Initiative; Iran

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