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US sanctions Iran networks over child soldiers

October 16, 2018

The US has targeted an Iranian network of businesses that allegedly funded a paramilitary group affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard. The so-called Basij group reportedly trained and deployed child soldiers in Syria.

Image of Iranian and US currency
Image: picture-alliance/U. Baumgarten

The US Treasury on Tuesday announced it was slapping sanctions on a multibillion-dollar business network that financed an Iranian paramilitary group suspected of training and deploying child soldiers.

In a statement, the Treasury said the Bonyad Taavon Basij business network provided a financial infrastructure to the so-called Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary force that works for Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

"This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij's efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC's direction," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

As sanctions bite Iranians turn to gold

The Basij military group is accused of training fighters for the IRGC, including children as young as 12. Those children are  then reportedly deployed to Syria to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real world humanitarian consequences," said Mnuchin.

Major Iranian businesses targeted

Among the businesses targeted in the latest round of sanctions are eight major regional banks and investment firms. 

In its statement, the Treasury also singled out Iran Tractor Manufacturing Co, the Middle East's largest tractor manufacturer, and Esfahan's Mobarakeh Steel Co, the biggest steelmaker in the Middle East and North Africa Region.

Read more: Attack on Iranian military parade may harden domestic and regional policies

Growing insecurity over trading with Iran

Also targeted was Iran's Zinc Mines Development Company, which Treasury described as the country's "preeminent, multibillion-dollar zinc and lead mining and processing holding company."

The sanctions bar American citizens or entities from doing business with the network of companies. It also freezes all assets the network might have under US jurisdiction.

Iran bracing for oil sanctions

Tuesday's sanctions come just as US President Donald Trump is set to impose his second tranche of sanctions on the Tehran regime next month. The phase will target Iran's oil exports and financial sector. That will add extra hurt to Iran's economy, which is already ailing under the first phase of sanctions introduced in August and subsequent withdrawal of European firms from the country.

Read more: EU plan to sidestep Iran sanctions: How will it work?

After withdrawing from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement earlier this year, the Trump administration has been vocal in its intent to punish Iran for its reportedly malign role in the Middle East and support for militant groups.

US officials, however, have refrained from calling for regime change, demanding instead that Tehran fundamentally change its behavior.

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dm/aw (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)