Republican opponents of a new Iran deal are increasingly convinced the agreement is vulnerable and are focusing on a concession that could see sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reversed, according to sources familiar with the Republicans' thinking.
The removal of IRGC sanctions has reportedly stalled talks in Vienna and is threatening to derail the accord at home. In the aftermath of a classified Senate briefing on the deal held last week that left members of both parties fuming, Republican staffers on Capitol Hill are circulating declassified U.S. military information detailing how IRGC-backed militias are responsible for killing more than 600 Americans in Iraq, according to a copy of that document obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
With the Biden administration facing increasing pressure to waive IRGC sanctions so that a deal can be finalized, the extent of Iran’s bloodshed in Iraq is taking on renewed significance, congressional sources and former U.S. officials who reviewed the declassified intelligence told the Free Beacon.
The focus on IRGC sanctions comes alongside a growing list of vulnerabilities that Republican leaders see derailing the agreement in Congress, including carveouts that will let Russia cash in on a multibillion-dollar contract to build up portions of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Republican congressional leaders in both chambers told the Free Beacon in recent days that some Democrats are privately concerned about the new deal, jeopardizing support for the agreement before it is announced.
"The United States possesses overwhelming evidence that the IRGC is and was involved in terrorist activities, prior to and following the signing of the 2015 JCPOA," one senior congressional aide told the Free Beacon, speaking only on background to discuss internal Republican deliberations. "The thought of the Biden administration lifting terrorism sanctions on the IRGC as a concession for them to join a new nuclear deal is not only shameful, but downright foolish. It would undermine U.S. credibility and pose an incredible risk to Americans and our allies around the globe. This would be another disgraceful capitulation by this administration to Iran and no deal is worth endangering our national security."
While portions of the declassified information have been reported in the press, the Free Beacon obtained a full document prepared in 2019 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency detailing the IRGC-backed militias' role in murdering scores of Americans. Classified versions of this information prompted the Trump administration in 2019 to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, a decision that is likely to be reversed as the Biden administration inches closer to finalizing a revamped nuclear deal with Iran.
"Iran-backed Shia militants probably have been responsible for at least 603 U.S. personnel killed in Iraq," according to the document, which details attacks by Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq. "The casualties, which occurred primarily in Baghdad and southern Iraq, represent 17 percent of the total 3,534 U.S. personnel killed in action in Iraq between May 2003 and January 2019."
These deaths "were the result of explosively formed penetrator (EFP), other improvised explosive device (IED), improvised rocket-assisted munition (IRAM), rocket, mortar, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), small-arms, sniper, and other attacks in Iraq," the document reveals.
IRGC-backed attacks have not abated since the information was first released. Iranian militias have conducted 127 rocket and mortar attacks against U.S. and coalition forces since April 2018 and attacked coalition convoys 340 times. Since April 2021, as negotiations over a new nuclear deal were taking place, Iranian forces conducted 14 known drone strikes against U.S. bases.
Still, the Biden administration is reportedly promising Iran it will remove the IRGC from the U.S. blacklist in return for assurances from Iran that it will cease these attacks.
Nathan Sales, a senior State Department official under the Trump administration who played a principal role in designating the IRGC a terrorist group, said removing the organization from U.S. terror lists "would be a colossal mistake."
"The IRGC has perpetrated terrorism around the world—just last week it claimed responsibility for a missile attack near the U.S. consulate in Erbil, Iraq—and it has the blood of hundreds of Americans on its hands," Sales told the Free Beacon. "It doesn’t matter if the administration leaves other terrorism sanctions on the IRGC in place. The [Foreign Terrorist Organization] designation is the gold standard of terrorism sanctions: Revoking it would make it harder to prosecute the IRGC’s operatives and supporters, and harder to keep them from entering our country."
Matthew Zais, former director for Iraq at the White House National Security Council under former president Donald Trump, said he and other officials pushed to declassify information on the IRGC’s terror machine in order to demonstrate why the organization must be classified as a terror group due to its anti-U.S. operations in Iraq.
"It was unfortunate but important to release official figures of Americans killed by Iran to facilitate honest dialogue for why the IRGC was and is a terrorist organization of the highest order and needed to be designated," Zais told the Free Beacon. "Iran killed at least 602 U.S. forces during the Iraq war alone. This is undisputed. The same was necessary to have honest dialogue about why many of the IRGC’s militias deserved designation."
The declassified military information provides a window into how Iran’s IRGC operates in Iraq and targets U.S. forces.
Between 2004 and 2011, "448 U.S. personnel were killed in EFP and other IED attacks in areas where Shia militants operate," according to the document. During that same time, IRGC-tied militants killed 142 American in RPG, rocket, mortar, or small-arms attacks.
Additionally, between 2007 and 2011, 13 Americans were killed in Baghdad and southern Iraq by rocket munitions "used solely by Iran-backed Shia groups," according to the military information.
"The number of U.S. casualties by Iran-backed groups declined after 2007, however, the proportion of overall U.S. fatalities caused by Iran-backed Shia militants increased sharply," according to the declassified intelligence. "Iran-backed Shia militants caused 77 percent (17 of 22) of all U.S. casualties in Iraq in 2010, 32 percent (24 of 75) in 2009, and 40 percent (90 of 225) in 2008." Iran-backed forces were responsible for 91 percent of American casualties in Iraq in 2011.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who participated in recent briefings with the Biden administration about the deal, said it is increasingly clear the new deal will do little to constrain Tehran’s nuclear program.
"It does not appear Iran will have to make any significant concessions that would take it off the inevitable path of obtaining a nuclear weapon," Johnson told the Free Beacon. "But it would free up tens of billions of dollars for Iran, lift sanctions on designated terrorists, may remove the IRGC FTO designation, and deliver more cash for the release of additional hostages Iran has taken. At a minimum, President Biden should submit any deal he strikes with Iran to the Senate as a treaty requiring debate and ratification before any of its provisions could take effect."