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US sanctions Iran IRGC general, alleging he ordered protest crackdown

Iranians shout slogans during a gathering to mark the victims of the Ukraine Boeing 737 passenger plane in Tehran, January 11, 2020. Image: Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto.

The U.S. government on Friday imposed sanctions on Brigadier General Hassan Shahvarpour of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, accusing him of overseeing a massacre of protestors during nationwide anti-government demonstrations in November 2019.

“General Shahvarpour was in command of units responsible for the violent crackdown and lethal repression around Mahshahr,” Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s top official dealing with Iran, said during a January 17 press briefing in Washington.

The New York Times reported that IRGC forces pursued and killed between 40 and 100 people hiding in a marsh amid demonstrations in the southwestern city of Mahshahr. A provincial official later said 148 people were killed in the city over the five days of protests.

The demonstrations spread across Iran in response to a government hike in fuel prices on November 15.

Hook said the U.S. concluded Shahvarpour’s role based partly on anonymous tips received by Iranian citizens. The U.S. has sanctioned eight other Iranian officials and two judges in response to the November crackdown.

Estimates of the number people killed during the protests vary widely. The United Nations has said some 208 people were killed, while Amnesty International has said the death toll was at least 304. Both organizations have reported thousands of arrests and alleged torture of detainees.

Hook said in December that more than 1,000 Iranians were killed in the uprising, though he later suggested the number was not verified.

The U.S. is engaged in a “maximum pressure” campaign to isolate Iran economically and politically after the Trump administration withdrew from 2015’s landmark international Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Tehran.

Iran’s oil exports, a primary source of government revenue, have plummeted since President Donald Trump’s administration threatened to sanction any government or entity attempting to buy it.

Hook said Friday the administration’s efforts have been “successful at weakening the regime” and its proxy forces. “We should expect to see an enormous budget deficit this year,” Hook said.

The U.S. accuses Iran of destabilizing the Middle East by supporting local militias in Iraq and Syria, as well as backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war.

Washington has also accused Iran of exploiting a concession in the JCPOA in order to expand its ballistic missile program. The nuclear deal does not currently include any provisions related to missiles.

The U.S. military killed IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad earlier in January.

Iran responded by launching ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing American military personnel, though no one was reported killed.