Iranians are buying passports from foreign countries to evade U.S. sanctions, and Iraq is becoming a veritable supermarket of phony papers for Iranian travelers, according to a Fox News report Wednesday.
One source for the Fox report was an “Iraqi insider” who said Baghdad makes it easy for enterprising Iranians to buy passports and “continue doing business with the West” despite renewed American sanctions:
One longtime Iraq-based, Western security expert stressed the Iranian influence inside Iraq has become “significantly heightened” since the ISIS [Islamic State] onslaught, along with the establishment of a “Shia corridor” that enables unprecedented access—from Tehran through Baghdad, onto Damascus and then Beirut, posing a direct threat to Israel’s security.
Several counter-terrorism specialists in the U.S. also affirmed that security concerns over the passport issue have been heightened in recent months.
“It is going on, and it is not difficult to do—especially if you have a friendly government helping you out,” noted a former intelligence official currently working as a counter-terrorism consultant in the Middle East. “Iran has many allies in high-level positions in Baghdad.”
Selling passports to Iranians is such a lucrative racket that three Iraqi officials may have been assassinated over the past three months because they would not go along with the scheme.
Iraqi officials denied they were selling passports to Iran, although one of them qualified his denial by saying Iranians can legitimately obtain Iraqi papers through a “long procedure” if their fathers happen to be Iraqi nationals.
Afghanistan’s passport agency is reportedly open for business as well:
According to one Afghan government official, the problem is most evident in the border province of Herat, where national identification cards can be easily purchased on the black market, or through unscrupulous channels, thus making it significantly easier to obtain a passport under false pretenses.
One Kabul authority said Iranians have been known to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 to acquire all the needed documents—beginning with a national identification card—which then allows them to apply for a second passport.
Fox News added that even if Iraq and Afghanistan tightened up their passport operations, a number of smaller countries are quite willing to sell passports to almost anyone, and Iranians tend to be among their best customers. Several larger countries became more circumspect about issuing second passports to Iranian nationals after President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
Reuters reported in June that Iranians have been snapping up passports from the Comoros Islands in Africa. After the Comoros government inexplicably canceled 155 passports in January for being “improperly issued,” Reuters discovered 100 of them were issued to Iranians, including a number of senior executives in vital industries like oil and precious metals.
Comoros began selling a large volume of passports in 2008 to raise money for its cash-strapped government. It began forging strong ties with Iran around the same time, under the leadership of Iranian-educated President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi. Some island residents took to calling Sambi the “Ayatollah of the Comoros.”
The sale of passports reportedly netted over $260 million for Comoros, which equals over 40 percent of the entire national Gross Domestic Product, but a good deal of the money went missing.
Iranian-born Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was arrested in March at Dulles airport in Washington, DC, on charges of conspiring to funnel $115 million in Iranian cash through Venezuela and into the U.S. financial system. Sadr is known for using passports from other countries to establish business interests around the world. At the time of his arrest, he held two valid passports from St. Kitts and has used Kittian passports with different birth dates to set up companies in the United Kingdom. Every single Iranian in his large organization reportedly has a passport from another country.
Security officials told Fox News they were concerned about Iranian businessmen purchasing passports so they can do business in defiance of sanctions: Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) might well decide to help terrorists procure passports that could get them into the United States.
Rep. Pete Roskam (R-IL) told the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday that Iran is keenly interested in developing active espionage networks and sleeper cells in the United States. Roskam said the two Iranian agents arrested recently for spying in California are only “the tip of the iceberg.”
Roskam said Iranian operations on U.S. soil are “incredibly provocative and an indication of where the Iranian regime is.”