Iran’s parliament approves bill labeling US army as ‘terrorist’

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Iranian lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that labels all US military forces as “terrorist”, a day after Washington ratcheted up pressure on Tehran by announcing that no country would any longer be exempt from US sanctions if it continues to buy Iranian oil.

The bill is a step further from the one last week when lawmakers approved labeling just US troops in the Middle East as “terrorist”, which was a response to the US designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as “terrorist” earlier this month.

US President Donald Trump‘s administration re-imposed sanctions on Iran, including on its energy sector, in November last year after pulling out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

The US designation against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – the first-ever for an entire division of another government – added another layer of sanctions to the powerful paramilitary force, making it a crime under US jurisdiction to provide the guard with material support.

On Monday, Trump decided to do away with waivers as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran that aims to eliminate all of its revenue from oil exports that the US says funds destabilizing activity throughout the region and beyond.

Hours before Trump’s announcement, Iran reiterated its long-running threat to close the Strait of Hormuz if it is prevented from using the crucial waterway in the Persian Gulf through which about a third of all oil traded at sea passes.

The US Navy has in the past accused Iranian patrol boats of harassing US warships in the waterway.

Iran’s foreign ministry promptly brushed off Trump’s move to stop the oil waivers, saying Iran “basically has not seen and does not see any worth and validity for the waivers”.

But on Tuesday, 173 out of 215 lawmakers at the parliament session in Tehran voted for the new bill. Only four voted against while the rest abstained; the chamber has 290 seats.

The bill confirms Iran’s earlier label of the US Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, and all its forces as “terrorist”.

Any military and non-military help, including logistics support, to CENTCOM that can be detrimental to the Revolutionary Guard will be considered a “terrorist” action, the semi-official ISNA news agency said.

The bill also demands the Iranian government take unspecified action against other governments that formally back the US designation. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel have all supported the Trump administration’s designation.

The lawmakers also requested Iran’s intelligence agency provide a list of all CENTCOM commanders within three months so that Iran’s judiciary can prosecute them in absentia as “terrorists”.

The bill requires final approval by Iran’s constitutional watchdog to become law.

Other than underscoring Iran’s defiance, it is unclear what impact the bill could actually have, either in the Persian Gulf or beyond.

The Revolutionary Guard has forces and wields influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and is in charge of Iranian missiles that have US bases in their range.

The force is in charge of Iran’s ballistic missiles and nuclear programmes and answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is estimated to have 125,000 personnel, comprised of army, navy and air units.

After the 1980s’ Iran-Iraq war, the Revolutionary Guard also became heavily involved in reconstruction and has expanded its economic interests to include a vast network of businesses, ranging from oil and gas projects to construction and telecommunication.

The State Department currently designates more than 60 organizations, including as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), Hezbollah and numerous armed Palestinian groups, as “foreign terrorist organizations”.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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