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 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.