U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is actively pressuring the Iraqi government to stop embracing Baghdad-sanctioned Shiite militia fighters and politicians backed by Iran who are hell-bent on using their unprecedented political to undermine American interests in the region on behalf of Tehran.
On Tuesday, the New York Times (NYT) reported:
Under plans recommended by [U.S. Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and some White House officials, the State Department would designate Iran’s military Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] as a foreign terrorist organization. It would be a first instance of the United States designating a unit of another government’s military as a terrorist group; American officials said it could put United States troops and intelligence officers at risk of similar actions by foreign governments.
The plans also would designate some Iraqi Shiite militias as foreign terrorist organizations. As a result, the Iranian-trained militias — and Iraqi officials who support them — would be subject to new economic sanctions and travel restrictions.
Officials at the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — which Mr. Pompeo ran in the Trump administration’s first year — oppose designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or the Iraqi militias as terrorist groups, fearing a backlash that could constrain American troops. Qassim Suleimani, commander of the corps’ elite Quds Force and a regular visitor to Iraq, has already been designated a terrorist by the United States.
About a half-dozen American and Iraqi officials, as well as experts familiar with the proposal, shared details of the plan with NYT on condition of anonymity.
Last year, Baghdad legalized the estimated 150,000 fighters from the umbrella organization of mainly Iran-allied Shiite militias— the Popular Mobilizations Forces/Units (PMF/U) — as a component of the U.S.-trained and assisted Iraqi security forces after the militiamen helped the United States annihilate the Sunni Islamic State’s (ISIS/ISIL) territorial caliphate in Iraq.
Iran maintains a heavy influence over its fellow Shiite neighbor Iraq.
The PMF, which includes the Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) factions, considered terrorists by several U.S. officials, have gained control of many of the territories they helped liberate from ISIS and are “enjoying unprecedented military and political power in Iraq” after it won nearly a third of the seats in parliament during the recent elections, the Washington Post revealed in January.
While the U.S. military has refused to take a tough stance against the PMF fighters — at times even praising the Shiite fighters — Pompeo, some White House officials, and several lawmakers have voiced their concerns about the PMF in Iraq.
Despite opposition from the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) officially designated a PMF faction and its leader — Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and Akram al-Kabi — as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Pompeo is also seeking to deem other PMF factions as terrorists, including AAH, which has American military blood on its hands from the first U.S. invasion of Iraq between 2003 and 2011.
Although NYT claims AAH now accepts the U.S. military presence in Iraq, the Shiite group has repeatedly threatened American troops during the anti-ISIS fight.
The inspector general (IG) in charge of overseeing the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department, some American lawmakers, and independent assessments have deemed the PMF a significant threat to U.S. troops, noting that the Shiite fighters have attacked American targets.
PMF fighters have repeatedly called for the complete withdrawal of the nearly 5,000 American troops in Iraq who are there to ensure ISIS’s lasting defeat and help curtail activities at the hands of the U.S.-designated world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism Iran. Moreover, the Pentagon IG found that the PMF is engaged in oil smuggling and drug trafficking that undermines security in Iraq and helps generate funds for heavily sanctioned Iran.
Nevertheless, a Pentagon spokesman told Breitbart News that fighting the Shiite force is not part of the U.S. military’s mission in Iraq.
Breitbart News has long warned about the rise of the PMU’s power and influence, repeatedly asking the Pentagon to reconcile its support for the Shiite troops in Iraq while describing their counterparts in neighboring Syria as a menace, to no avail.
Not all PMF factions are evil. Although the majority of PMF members are Shiite, there are also Kurd, Sunni, and Christian fighters in the organization.
Trump campaigned on a hard-line approach to Iran.
Soon after taking office, news reports surfaced that his administration was mulling labeling Iran’s hard-line IRGC as a terrorist organization, prompting Iran to threaten to attack the United States if Trump moved forward with the terror label.
Trump’s Treasury Department has already sanctioned the IRGC troops as terrorists.