US FINALISES BILL ON SANC­TION­ING IRA­NIAN-BACKED MILI­TIAS IN IRAQ

▶ The bill also aims to pe­nalise in­di­vid­ual Iranians who threaten the peace, sta­bil­ity or re­con­struc­tion of coun­try

The National - News - - NEWS - MINA ALDROUBI

The US Congress put the fin­ish­ing touches on a draft bill to coun­ter­act the grow­ing in­flu­ence of Iran-backed mili­tias in Iraq.

Un­der the Pre­vent­ing Desta­bil­i­sa­tion of Iraq Act, the US will sanc­tion “Ira­nian per­sons that threaten the peace or sta­bil­ity of Iraq or the gov­ern­ment of Iraq”.

Asaib Ahl Al Haq and Harakat Hezbol­lah Al Nu­jaba mili­tias, which are funded by Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, will be sub­jected to the sanc­tions and their funds frozen.

The two groups are part of the Pop­u­lar Mo­bil­i­sa­tion Forces, known in Ara­bic as Hashed Al Shaabi, that sup­ported Iraqi gov­ern­ment forces in the fight against ISIS.

They were for­mally in­te­grated into the se­cu­rity forces last year af­ter the ex­trem­ists were de­feated.

The bill re­quires the US pres­i­dent to im­pose sanc­tions on “any for­eign per­son that the pres­i­dent de­ter­mines know­ingly com­mits a sig­nif­i­cant act of vi­o­lence that has the di­rect pur­pose or ef­fect of threat­en­ing the peace or sta­bil­ity of Iraq”.

Sanc­tions also ap­ply to those who un­der­mine Iraq’s democ­racy or ef­forts to pro­mote eco­nomic re­con­struc­tion, po­lit­i­cal re­form and pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to its peo­ple.

Al Haq was founded in 2006, while Al Nu­jaba is a fac­tion af­fil­i­ated to Al Haq and Kata’ib Hezbol­lah, an or­gan­i­sa­tion set up in 2013 and des­ig­nated by the US as a ter­ror­ist group.

The chief of Al Haq, Qais Khaz­ali, has pledged al­le­giance to Iran’s supreme leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei but has de­nied re­ceiv­ing sup­port from Iran.

Khaz­ali is be­lieved to be the prime plan­ner be­hind the kid­nap­ping and ex­e­cu­tion of four Amer­i­can soldiers in Kar­bala in 2007.

Un­der the bill, the Se­nate must ap­prove the draft be­fore it is sent to the White House. It also calls on the US pres­i­dent to iden­tify peo­ple and groups in Iraq that should be in­cluded on the list of ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions, and to im­pose sanc­tions on them.

It calls on the State De­part­ment to pub­lish and main­tain a list of armed groups re­ceiv­ing as­sis­tance from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard.

It will pave the way for sanc­tions against all Afghan and Pak­istani fac­tions fight­ing in Syria along­side Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad’s regime, which is partly funded by Iran.

Tehran calls it­self the leader of the Axis of Re­sis­tance, sup­port­ing the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, Shi­ite mili­tias in Iraq, Hezbol­lah in Le­banon and the Houthi rebels in Ye­men.

Khaz­ali called on the Iraqi gov­ern­ment to pro­vide a more for­mal, long-term bor­der pro­tec­tion role for the mili­tias.

“Se­cur­ing Iraq’s bor­ders with Syria is among the most im­por­tant du­ties of the Pop­u­lar Mo­bil­i­sa­tion Forces right now,” he said on Satur­day.

“The Daesh threat against Iraq won’t end as long as Syria is un­sta­ble. The PMF proved it is the mil­i­tary side most ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with Daesh. Maybe the armed forces can in­vest the PMF in du­ties that in­clude bor­der se­cu­rity.”

Some Iraqi MPs have called for dis­arm­ing the forces. They say the mili­tias are re­spon­si­ble for abuses in­clud­ing ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and dis­plac­ing non-Shi­ite pop­u­la­tions, and in ef­fect re­port to Tehran, not the gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad.

A for­mer forces com­man­der, Hadi Al Amiri, leads the sec­ond-largest po­lit­i­cal group in par­lia­ment.

The forces are es­ti­mated to have 150,000 mem­bers in to­tal and in­clude groups that fought the US mil­i­tary af­ter the 2003 in­va­sion that top­pled dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein, and peo­ple against whom Wash­ing­ton has im­posed Iran-re­lated sanc­tions.

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