The U.S. Treasury Department has slapped sanctions on businesses connected to Iran's Basij militia over the militia's recruitment of child soldiers.
What is the Basij militia?
According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Treasury, "Among other malign activities, the IRGC’s [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] Basij militia recruits, trains, and deploys child soldiers to fight in IRGC-fueled conflicts across the region."
The Basij (from the Farsi word for “mobilization”) is a paramilitary group that was formed after the Iranian revolution in 1979. It was created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, and was originally comprised of fighters who were either too young or too old to join the IRGC.
In addition to fighting on behalf of Iran in other nations, the Basij also enforces Iranian religious codes inside the country. The Basij was used to keep protesters in line after Iran's 2009 presidential election.
It's unclear just how large the force is. While Iran has claimed the Basij boasts a membership of 12 million, the actual numbers are estimated to be anywhere from 300,000 to 4 million.
The Treasury Department news release included a screenshot from a 2017 broadcast by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting news agency that showed a 13-year-old who was allegedly a member of the Basij group that was going to Syria.
The sanctions are on Bonyad Taavon Basij (the Basij Cooperative Foundation), which, the Treasury Department said, is a network of “at least 20 corporations and financial institutions” that “employs shell companies and other measures to mask Basij ownership and control over a variety of multibillion-dollar business interests in Iran’s automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries, many of which have significant international dealings across the Middle East and with Europe.”
In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said: "The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real world humanitarian consequences. This helps fuel the Iranian regime’s violent ambitions across the Middle East."