On March 7, 2012 the United States Department of Treasury (USDOT) designated Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC QF) Brigadier General Gholamreza Baghbani, “current chief of the IRGC QF office in Zahedan,” as “a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker” under the Kingpin Act. USDOT elaborates in its charges: “Baghbani allowed Afghan narcotics traffickers to smuggle opiates through Iran in return for assistance…. For example, Afghan narcotics traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban on behalf of Baghbani. In return, General Baghbani has helped facilitate the smuggling of heroin precursor chemicals through the Iranian border. He also helped facilitate shipments of opium to Iran.”
The United States military has for some time expressed concern over the Islamic Republic’s efforts at arming the Taliban. Rumors of IRGC involvement in narcotics trafficking are similarly not new. USDOT has designated the IRGC QF for its terrorist activities, as well as several IRGC QF members, most recently targeting deputy commander Esmail Ghaani for his involvement in illicit arms shipments. This is the first instance, however, in which the U.S government has designated an individual linked to the Iranian government as a narcotics trafficker.
The radical change in the U.S. approach is best appreciated when one compares this designation with the Clinton administration’s praise for the Islamic Republic’s purported fight against narcotics trafficking in the 1990s. Mutual cooperation between Iran and the U.S. on this issue has indeed been a favorite theme for pundits advocating positive engagement with the Islamic Republic.
USDOT’s designation of Baghbani may demonstrate the pundits’ naiveté, but it is hardly sufficient to remedy the delusions of those who will argue that Baghbani is a rogue opportunist operating outside of the IRGC QF chain-of-command. Treasury is to be applauded for shining a light on the Quds Force’s role in narcotics trafficking. The next step in erasing any doubt that the Quds Force, and, ergo, the Iranian government, is involved in the global drug trade is to designate the organization under the Kingpin Act.
Ali Alfoneh is a resident fellow and Will Fulton is a Critical Threats Project analyst at AEI.