New U.S. Sanctions on IRGC Could Affect Kirkuk Conflict

New U.S. sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards could have a bearing on the ongoing standoff in Kirkuk between the Peshmerga and Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hashd al-Shaabi, Kurdish media network Rudaw reports quoting experts.

“The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia. It has hijacked large portions of Iran’s economy and seized massive religious endowments to fund war and terror abroad. This includes arming the Syrian dictator, supplying proxies and partners with missiles and weapons to attack civilians in the region, and even plotting to bomb a popular restaurant right here in Washington DC,” U.S. President Donald Trump stated on Friday in a speech outlining his administration’s new strategy on Iran.

He authorized the Treasury Department to further sanction the IRGC “for its support for terrorism,” but stopped short of declaring the group a terror organization.

The Treasury Department issued a statement on Friday announcing sanctions, arguing that Iran’s pursuit of power, which the IRGC plays a central role in, “comes at the cost of regional stability.”

Among its accusations against the IRGC, the Treasury said the force has transferred military equipment to Iraq and Syria to the Quds Force, which the U.S. has designated a supporter of terrorism.

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), one of the several Kurdish parties engaged in an armed struggle against Tehran, has campaigned for the IRGC to be designated a terror organization, thereby giving greater international recognition and legitimacy to the Kurdish struggle in Iran.

Pundits expect the move will have an effect in Iraq where the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi force has become a dominant force and is currently engaged in a standoff with Kurdish forces near Kirkuk.

“I think it gives a greater power to those of us who want to see a better situation in Iraq, a better situation for the Iraqi Kurds, for all of the Iraqi people, away from the negative influence of Iran. So I think it’s a very positive development,” Alberto Fernandez, former U.S. ambassador to Sudan, told Rudaw in Washington.

Some are hoping to see an immediate effect on the volatile situation unfolding in Kirkuk area.

“This is good for the folks in Kurdistan who now potentially will see the IRGC and the other folks on their borders, who are looking to cause them trouble, and right now causing trouble in Kirkuk. There’s some pretty bad stuff going on there. That may have to stop with the IRGC now being sanctioned as a terrorist organization,” said Jim Hanson, president of Security Studies Group.

As tensions escalate in the wake of Kurdistan’s independence referendum and the Hashd appear to hold great influence over developments, leading the call for Peshmerga to cede control of key sites in Kirkuk, there are growing calls to check Iranian influence.

British MP Jack Lopresti and former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad have both recently called for international engagement to prevent conflict.

In the meantime, Iranian Kurdish armed groups have welcomed the new U.S. strategy on Iran as unveiled by President Donald Trump on Friday. Putting in place further sanctions on the IRGC is a step in the right direction, but the U.S. should not stop there, say the armed groups, mainly present on the Kurdistan Region borders with Iran.

“As the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, we welcome this move by the United States. But we do not see it as strong enough. We hope that it will be followed by more practical actions. We hope that both the United States and Europe will show in practice, through action, efforts to prevent the interferences and adventures of the Revolutionary Guards in the countries of the region,” Soran Nuri of the Iranian Democratic Party of Kurdistan (PDK or HDK), told Rudaw.

Of the many armed Iranian Kurdish groups, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) is by far the most influential. They have had the biggest share of armed clashes with Iranian security forces across the border and inside Iran. They resumed their armed struggle about two years ago under the codename Rasan, meaning resurrection. They say that the Iranian government and the Revolutionary Guards are one and the same.

“Putting sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards amounts to putting sanctions directly on the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is a strong response, especially since Iran was making a lot of threats that they will respond to the United States [if sanctioned], but it turned out that there was no response,” said Tahir Mahmudi, from PDKI.

Iran has been an influential player in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region where these armed groups are stationed. It backs various Shi’ite armed groups. The commander of the Quds force, Qassem Soleimani, visits Iraq and the Kurdistan Region on a regular basis.