U.S. Congress Considers Sanctions Against Iran-Backed Shiite Militia in Iraq

A picture taken on August 2, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement shows one of the group's fighters flying the group's flag as he sits in a four-wheel drive vehicle carrying a recoilless rifle, in a mountainous area around the Syrian town of Flita near …

The United States Congress is considering a bill that would impose sanctions against Shiite militia groups in Iraq that act as proxy forces for Iran.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), would impose terrorism-related sanctions against the Iran-controlled As-Saib Ahl Al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba militias in Iraq. The sanctions are effectively extensions of the sanctions leveled against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by a law signed in August.

“I applaud the Administration’s recent designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for their persistent terrorist activity throughout the world. This is merely the first step. We must continue to push back against Iran’s support for terrorism wherever it may be,” said Rep. Poe.

“For years, Iran has supported a long laundry list of terrorist actors that do its bidding and work to effectively make Baghdad an Iranian outpost,” he continued. “Many of these groups have the blood of hundreds of U.S. service members on their hands, and they take pride in their allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader. Further imposing sanctions on these terrorist groups will put a stop on the Islamic Republic’s objective of ‘exporting the revolution.’”

“The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is Iran’s main vehicle for exporting terrorism and mayhem in the Middle East and beyond. It is important to sanction not only the IRGC and its Quds Force, but to go after affiliate entities such as these two militias,” said Rep. Sherman.

The Kurdish news service Rudaw reports that the two Shiite militia groups have allegedly been “provided training, funding, and arms by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), IRGC-Quds Force, and mentored by Lebanese Hezbollah.”

The leader of the Ahl-Haq militia, Qais al-Khazali, is said to have personally pledged allegiance to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, even though the militia groups (broadly known as Popular Mobilization Forces) are nominally under the control of the Iraqi government.

Khazali is seen as the mastermind behind the abduction and murder of four U.S. soldiers in Karbala, Iraq, in 2007. When U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated last month that it was “time for Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to go home,” Khazali shot back that it was American forces that needed to go home following the defeat of the Islamic State.

Poe and Sherman’s bill notes that the leader of the other militia group, Akram al-Kabi of the Nujaba militia, has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for “threatening the peace and stability of Iraq.” One of the ways al-Kabi did that was by launching mortars and rockets in the Baghdad Green Zone in 2008.

Al-Kabi and other Nujaba commanders have said they take orders from Ayatollah Khamenei and have declared their allegiance to Lebanese Hezbollah. Nujaba also claims it has a mission to “liberate” the Golan Heights from Israel.

“Rights agencies like the UNHCR and Human Rights Watch have alleged the two groups have carried out human rights abuses in Iraq and Syria during the war against ISIS and Syria’s internal conflict. Alleged abuses include execution of civilians during the 2016 siege of Aleppo and extrajudicial killings of Sunni and Kurdish civilians in areas liberated from ISIS,” Rudaw reports.

Rudaw quotes Center for Strategic Research Director Denise Natali of Washington’s National Defense University explaining that somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of the Shiite militia fighters in Iraq are “not problematic” because they are “considered disciplined and part of these Iraqi security forces.” They are very popular with the local population and have indicated they respect the authority of the top Shiite leader in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

That leaves about 50,000 Shiite militia who are problematic, by Natali’s estimation. She described them as “undisciplined, nefarious, IRGC-backed,” and “big troublemakers.”


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