By Reza Shafiee
The new round of US sanction on Iran hit where it really hurts i.e. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its arm the Basij Force. The US Treasury Department slapped Iran with fresh sanction on October 16.
It sanctioned the force and 22 other banks, companies and financial institutions directly funneling billions of dollars into IRGC’s foreign adventures. The Basij for decades has been recruiting, training and dispatching hundreds of thousands of child soldiers into wars. Basij now has earned its well-deserved place, as “specially designated global terrorists” on US’s blacklist.
The list sanctions a number of Iranian companies and also freezes Basij assets and blocks US citizens from doing business with the Basij and its conglomerate of banks, investment companies and engineering firms, among other interests.
The new sanctions-for the first time- have targeted Iran’s Tractor manufacturing, the largest in the Middle East and Africa. Ironically, the revenues are used to fuel foreign wars and the leftovers are used to oil the regime’s repressive security forces at home.
“In addition to its involvement in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses in Iran, the Basij recruits and trains fighters for the IRGC-QF, including Iranian children, who then deploy to Syria to support the brutal Assad regime,” the Treasury Department said in a press release. The Treasury Department added that the Basij also recruits among Afghan migrants to Iran.
By targeting the Basij militia- IRGC’s most powerful arm at home – using child soldiers since 1979, the US economically will have the regime on chokehold. Basij is the machine with which the Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini and his financial conglomerate heavily rely on for doing their dirty work.
The Treasury Department’s detailed statement sheds light on highly unethical conduct of recruiting, training and sending child solders to the war. The statement also revels shocking truth of how the IRGC uses children as young as 12-years-old merely as canon fodders in its many wars across the region.
“The Basij recruits and trains fighters for the IRGC-QF, including Iranian children, who then deploy to Syria to support the brutal Assad regime. Since at least early 2015, the Basij has recruited and provided combat training to fighters before placing them on a waiting list for deployment to Syria,” the statement added.
A coordinated effort
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley blasted the Iranian regime for its use of children in the war front. She said in the Security Council: “The use of child soldiers is a moral outrage that every civilized nation rejects while Iran celebrates it.”
Haley added that the regime is using Basij to recruit children to fight in Syria, including Afghan immigrants as young as 14-years-old. She said the group’s funding comes from “multibillion dollar business interests operating in Iran’s automotive, mining, metals and banking industries.”
She hits the nail on the head by adding: “Iran’s economy is increasingly devoted to funding Iranian repression at home and aggression abroad. In this case, Iranian big business and finance are funding the war crime of using child soldiers. This is crony terrorism.”
The US Treasury also added a screenshot of a November 25, 2017 video broadcast by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news agency showing a 13-year old Basij member in the Syrian border city of Abu Kamal.
He said he was a “defender of the shrine,” the euphemism the Iranian government uses for fighters it sends to Syria and Iraq. He names two of his fellow soldiers who were killed in Syria. In the video, the boy speaks about his motivation to join forces in Syria.
Afghan child soldiers in Syria
The same system of sacrificing children continues to this day. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on October 1 last year, the IRGC and its armed Basij units continue to put children of Afghan refugees in Iran in harm’s way, as was witnessed in the currently waging Syrian conflict.
In a repeat of the Iran-Iraq War, the regime reportedly recruited and dispatched schoolchildren to sweep minefields in Syria. The HRW report states: “Afghan children as young as 14 have fought in the Fatemiyoun division, an exclusively Afghan armed group supported by Iran that fights alongside government forces in the Syrian conflict. Under international law, recruiting children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities is a war crime.”
During the Iraq-Iraq war, Khomeini’s regime used hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren as cannon fodder. It has been reported that most young recruits received between one to three months of military training before they were being sent to the war front.
There were reports of nine-year-old children being used in human wave attacks, while others were asked to run over minefields to clear the path. In fact, many child soldiers captured by Iraqis during the Iraq-Iran war were in their early teens.
Iranian child soldiers were sent into the battlefield with plastic keys around their necks. These keys symbolized their so-called permission to enter paradise. Sent ahead of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops and armored vehicles, these children were used as ‘mine-clearers’. Most of them were blown up as they charged across the minefields, thereby clearing the way for the IRGC.
Although there are no reliable records about the actual number of children casualties in the war, a statement made in 1982 by former president of the regime Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani stated that 400,000 volunteers had supplemented Iran’s armed forces.
According to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross at least 10 percent of Iranian prisoners of war were underage children. According to many Iranian military officers captured by Iraqis during the war, nine out of 10 Iranian child soldiers were killed in the battlefields.
Basij Force’s illegal and cynical tactics for mobilizing and indoctrinating Iran’s innocent children to participate in wars abroad, and internal suppression, has been ignored for years by the international community. The steps taken by US Treasury Department are certainly welcomed by the Iranian people as they give strength to their pursuit of freedom.
*Reza Shafiee is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). He tweets @shafiee_shafiee.