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U.S. imposes new Iran sanctions targeting IRGC

Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, listens during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on March 20. Photo by Al Drago/UPI
Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, listens during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on March 20. Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo

March 26 (UPI) -- The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on nearly two dozen Iranian individuals and entities it accuses of violating Iraq's sovereignty and funneling money to an elite Iranian paramilitary group it has previously designated as a terrorist organization.

In a statement, the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control said it designated 20 companies, senior officials and business associates on Thursday for providing support to or acting on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which President Donald Trump designated as a terrorist organization in April 2019.

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Those sanctioned Thursday were also accused of transferring "lethal aid" to Tehran-backed militants Kata'ib Hezbollah and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq.

The Department of Defense has blamed Kata'ib Hezbollah for a deadly rocket attack on March 11 on Camp Taji in Baghdad that killed three coalition soldiers, including two U.S. service members.

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The United States followed the attack with one of their own on targets believed to be in control of Kata'ib Hezbollah as well as imposing sanctions against Iran.

Among the crimes those designated have been accused of include: money laundering through Iraqi front companies, selling Iranian oil to the Syrian regime, smuggling weapons to Iraq and Yemen, promoting propaganda for the IRGC, intimidating Iraqi politicians and using funds and public donations made to a religious institution to support the IRGC's budget.

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"Iran employs a web of front companies to fund terrorist groups across the region, siphoning resources away from the Iranian people and prioritizing terrorist proxies over the basic needs of its people," Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin said.

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In a separate statement, the State Department elaborated that some of those designated have exploited a U.S.-issued sanctions waiver that permits Iraq to import electricity from Iran. The United States said the waiver was being renewed Thursday so Iraq can meet its electricity needs.

"Today's designations underscore that the United States will not tolerate profiteering by malign Iranian actors from transactions that take place under the sanctions waiver, and we will remain focused on sanctioning those who do so for the benefit of the [IRGC] or other designated terrorist groups," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. "Iraq is rich in natural resources and has the ability to reduce its energy dependence on Iran, both for the sake of Iraq's security and the welfare of its people."

The United States has repeatedly slapped sanctions against Iran since May 2018 when Donald Trump pulled out of a multi-nation nuclear accord aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

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The new round of sanctions was imposed a day after the family of Robert Levinson, an American hostage in Iran, said U.S. officials informed them he has died.

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Iran's Foreign Ministry on Thursday said in a statement that Levinson "had left Iran for an unknown destination many years ago," demanding the United States to release what information it has about Levinson's death "without political exploitation."

The sanctions come as the Middle Eastern country is struggling to contain its growing coronavirus epidemic that Iran has said is being worsened due to the U.S. sanctions.

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Mnuchin argued that the sanctions imposed against the country maintain "broad exceptions and authorizations" for humanitarian aid, such as agricultural goods, food, medicine and medical devices.

The United States has said it has repeatedly offered aid to help Iran that it has rejected.

"The United States has and continues to offer humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people to help address the coronavirus outbreak," the State Department said in a release on Monday. "It is unfortunate for the Iranian people that their government has rejected this offer."

On Wednesday, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged governments in a letter to re-evaluate broad sectoral sanctions imposed against countries, including Iran, that are fighting the coronavirus.

According to the World Health Organization, Iran has more than 27,000 infections and 143 deaths due to the virus.

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