The US on Thursday (March 26th) imposed sanctions on a vast network of individuals and front companies based in Iran and Iraq that support the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF).
The network also has been involved in transferring lethal aid to Iran-backed Iraqi militias, and in selling Iranian oil to the Syrian regime and smuggling weapons to Yemen, in violation of US and international sanctions.
These entities and individuals perpetrated or supported smuggling through Iraq's Umm Qasr port, laundered money through Iraqi front companies and smuggled weapons to Iraq, the US Department of the Treasury said.
They also promoted propaganda efforts in Iraq on behalf of the IRGC-QF and its proxies, intimidated Iraqi politicians, and used funds and public donations made to an ostensibly religious institution to supplement IRGC-QF budgets, it said.
Iran-backed militias such as Kataib Hizbullah (KH) and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) have continued to engage in attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq.
"Iran employs a web of front companies to fund terrorist groups across the region, siphoning resources away from the Iranian people," said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin in announcing the new sanctions.
He accused the Iranian regime of "prioritising terrorist proxies over the basic needs of its people".
'Embezzling public donations'
Late IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani appointed the leadership of the Reconstruction Organisation of the Holy Shrines in Iraq (ROHSI).
"Though ostensibly a religious institution, ROHSI has transferred millions of dollars to the Iraq-based Bahjat al Kawthar Company for Construction and Trading Ltd, also known as Kosar Company," the Treasury said.
Kosar Company is an Iraq-based entity under IRGC-QF control that has served as a base for Iranian intelligence activities in Iraq, including the shipment of weapons and ammunition to Iran-backed militias.
It has received millions of dollars in transfers from the Central Bank of Iran, itself sanctioned for its financial support of the IRGC-QF and Lebanese Hizbullah.
"In addition, IRGC-QF officials have used ROHSI's funds to supplement IRGC-QF budgets, likely embezzling public donations intended for the construction and maintenance of Shia shrines in Iraq," the Treasury said.
Also designated is ROHSI head and Soleimani appointee Mohammad Jalal Maab. Maab succeeded Hassan Pelarak, an IRGC-QF officer and company co-owner chosen by Soleimani to serve as his special assistant on an IRGC-QF-led committee focused on sanctions evasions activity.
Pelarak also worked with IRGC-QF officials to transfer missiles, explosives and small arms to Yemen.
Alireza Fadakar, another co-owner of Kosar Company, has worked in Iraq on behalf of the IRGC-QF for several years and is an IRGC-QF commander in Najaf.
Muhammad al-Ghorayfi is an IRGC-QF affiliate and Kosar Company employee who provides administrative support to Fadakar and has facilitated the travel of IRGC-QF officials between Iraq and Iran.
Masoud Shoustaripousti, another co-owner of Kosar Company, has worked in Iraq on behalf of the IRGC-QF for several years and has laundered money for it.
Shoushtaripousti worked with Mashallah Bakhtiari, who used Kosar Company to launder money and worked with officials at the Baghdad-based branch of Iran's Bank Melli to deposit funds for the IRGC-QF in Iraq.
Bank Melli was sanctioned in 2018 for acting as a conduit for payments to the IRGC-QF, which also used it to dispense funds to Iran-backed militias in Iraq.
Evading sanctions at Umm Qasr
The Treasury also is taking action against Al Khamael Maritime Services (AKMS), an Iraq-based company operating out of Umm Qasr port in which the IRGC-QF has a financial interest.
The IRGC-QF leveraged militia contacts to evade Iraqi government inspection protocol at the port, and has charged foreign companies and vessels fees for services at its terminal at the port.
AKMS also worked to sell Iranian-origin petroleum products in contravention of US sanctions against the Iranian regime, the Treasury said.
The Treasury also designated Hasan Saburinezhad, also known as Engineer Morteza, who is involved in the finances of AKMS and worked to facilitate the entry of Iranian shipments into Iraqi ports for the benefit of the IRGC-QF.
Saburinezhad is also involved in IRGC-QF financial and economic activities between Iran, Iraq and Syria, including smuggling along the Syria/Iraq border.
He also runs smuggling routes to help KH and the IRGC-QF smuggle goods into Iraq from Iran, and has assisted KH in funding the acquisition and transfer of goods out of Iran.
Saburinezhad is the managing director and a member of the board of directors of Madain Novin Traders (MNT), an Iran- and Iraq-based company associated with multiple IRGC-QF officials that also has been sanctioned.
Vali Gholizadeh, who has worked with Saburinezhad for the benefit of both AKMS and MNT, is being designated, as is AKMS managing director Mohammed Saeed Odhafa Al Behadili, and Ali Hussein Falih Al-Mansoori, also known as Seyyed Rezvan, deputy managing director and head of its board of directors.
Sayyed Reza Musavifar, who is responsible for the accounts and finances of AKMS, has worked with the IRGC-QF to transfer money to militias including KH and Lebanese Hizbullah. In 2014, Musavifar transferred the equivalent of millions of dollars of foreign currency to senior IRGC-QF officials.
Musavifar is a part owner of Iran-based Middle East Saman Chemical Company, which maintained an account at Rashed Exchange, an Iran-based exchange house used to convert currency for the IRGC-QF.
Additionally, Ali Farhan Asadi is being designated for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, AKMS.
IRGC-QF, militia officials sanctioned
IRGC-QF official Sayyed Yaser Musavir has been deployed to Iraq extensively since early 2014 in support of the IRGC-QF, and has co-ordinated operations between the group and Iraqi militia officials.
In 2019, he co-ordinated with IRGC-QF officials to sell Iranian petroleum products to Syria. In 2018, he co-ordinated propaganda efforts with AAH on behalf of senior IRGC-QF officials.
Mehdi Ghasemzadeh is an IRGC-QF official and is being designated for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.
Shaykh Adnan al-Hamidawi is a KH special operations commander who in 2019 planned to intimidate Iraqi politicians who did not support the removal of US forces from Iraq, the Treasury said.