The United States has slapped sanctions on a network of businesses that provide financial support to an Iranian paramilitary force that Washington says recruits and trains child soldiers for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The new sanctions, announced on October 16, are part of the United States' economic campaign to pressure Iran over what President Donald Trump's administration describes as its "malign" role in the Middle East, including support for militant groups.
In announcing the sanctions, the Treasury Department said in a statement that a network of some 20 corporations and financial institutions known as the Bonyad Taavon Basij was financing the Basij force, a volunteer paramilitary organization linked to the IRGC.
"This vast network provides financial infrastructure to the Basij's efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers who are coerced into combat under the IRGC's direction," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
The Basij is involved in violent crackdowns and serious human rights abuses within Iran, the statement said.
The militia also recruits and trains fighters for the IRGC's elite Quds Force, including Iranian children as young as 12, who then deploy to Syria to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, it added.
The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch has documented how the IRGC has recruited Afghan immigrant children living in Iran to fight in Syria alongside Assad's forces.
Tehran has given Assad crucial support throughout the war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.
The Treasury said that the Bonyad Taavon Basij uses shell companies to mask its control over multibillion-dollar business interests in Iran's automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries.
It sanctioned Bank Mellat, Mehr Eqtesad Bank, Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Co., and five other investment firms, as well as other entities affiliated with the network.
These include Iran Tractor Manufacturing Co., the Middle East's largest tractor manufacturer, and Mobarakeh Steel Co., the largest steelmaker in the Middle East and North Africa region, it said.
The sanctions prohibit U.S. citizens from doing business with the network or its affiliates and freeze assets they have under U.S. jurisdiction.