US sanctions pro-Iran militia in Iraq as terrorist group
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US State Department, on Tuesday, designated a major pro-Iranian militia in Iraq as a terrorist organization.
Calling Harakat Hizbollah al-Nujaba (Movement of the Noble of the Party of God) an “Iranian proxy group,” the State Department named Nujaba and its leader, Akram Abbas al-Kabi, an Iraqi cleric, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), while the Treasury Department announced sanctions on them.
Nujaba claims to have some 10,000 fighters. It was first formed in 2013, under Iranian auspices, to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the early years of the Syrian civil war. In 2014, when the so-called Islamic State overran one-third of Iraq, Nujaba militiamen were also enlisted in the newly formed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) to fight the Sunni terrorist organization.
Nujaba is “funded by, but not under the control of the Iraqi government,” the State Department explained. It has “openly pledged its loyalties to Iran and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.”
“Kabi has publicly claimed that he would follow an order, including overthrowing the Iraqi government or fighting alongside the Houthis in Yemen, if Ayatollah Khamenei declared it to be a religious duty,” added the statement from the State Department.
In the early years of the Trump administration, under its first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Washington accommodated Iranian influence in Iraq, continuing the policy of the Obama administration. However, under Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo the State Department has been much more actively engaged in countering Iran in Baghdad and elsewhere.
Last May, as the US withdrew from the Iranian nuclear accord, Pompeo outlined twelve conditions that Tehran had to meet in order to get US sanctions lifted. They , “Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.”
The US Congress has long pushed for designating Nujaba, as well as another Shi’ite militia, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH, League of the Righteous), as terrorist organizations.
AAH is headed by another Iraqi, Qais al-Khazali. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Khazali was prominently involved in carrying out Iranian-backed attacks on coalition forces. He was arrested in 2007 and detained at Camp Cropper. However, he was released in 2010, in exchange for a British hostage that AAH had seized.
While Khazali was in detention, Kabi became the acting head of AAH. Later, Kabi broke away from Khazali to head his own group.
In Iraq’s elections last May, Khazali won 15 seats in Iraq’s parliament. Designating him and AAH now as terrorists might well cause political problems for Washington, particularly as Shi’ite groups are agitating for passage of a bill that would require US forces to leave Iraq.
Last year, while on a trip to Lebanon, Kabi visited the tomb of Imad Mughniyeh, a high-ranking figure in Lebanese Hizbollah. Mughniyeh was involved in numerous attacks on Americans and other foreigners during Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s.
The Hizbollah leader was killed in Damascus in 2008 in a targeted car bombing, widely thought to have been the work of Israeli intelligence.
“We in the Iraqi resistance stand with [Lebanese] Hizbollah,” Kaabi proclaimed at Mughniyeh’s tomb on the tenth anniversary of his death, “and we will stand with Hizbollah in any Israeli attack or action against it.”