US sanctions Saddam-era network supporting ISIS

On Monday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions for terrorism-related activities on seven individuals and one company.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – On Monday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions for terrorism-related activities on seven individuals and one company.

The sanctions relate, primarily, to the al-Rawi financial network, which supported the Islamic State, and the Treasury Department’s statement on its actions on Monday reveals some remarkable points.

The origins of the al-Rawi network lie with two Iraqi brothers—Mushtaq and Walid Talib Zughayr al-Rawi—whose work in the money exchange business began in the 1990s

Tight economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq in August 1990, following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. They were maintained after the 1991 Gulf War. Intended by George H.W. Bush to promote Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, sanctions were continued by Bill Clinton, although he essentially abandoned the goal of ousting Saddam.

The sanctions persisted until Saddam was, in fact, overthrown—with the 2003 Iraq war. Those years gave rise to a lot of smuggling and other illicit activity. As the Treasury Department explained, senior members of the al-Rawi network are “seasoned money launderers,” because they got their start in the 1990s, during the Saddam-era sanctions.

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Walid was the “brains” behind the financial operation, the Treasury explained. In October 2018, he was arrested by the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service as part of a series of raids in Erbil and Baghdad, coordinated by the US-led coalition.

It is likely that the Treasury’s designations on Monday, and the information it released, came from the exploitation of computers and other electronic devices seized in those raids.

Mushtaq had been a captain in Saddam’s Republican Guards. In 2007, while US forces were still in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was detained as an insurgent financier.

That same year, the Treasury Department designated another al-Rawi, Fawzi Mutlaq, for “providing financial and material support to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI),” predecessor to the Islamic State. That designation described Fawzi as “Chairman of the Iraqi Wing of the Syrian Ba’ath Party.”

Mushtaq lives now with his family in Belgium. Treasury provided no explanation as to how he managed to secure residency in that country despite his insurgent activities during OIF and his current activities in support of the Islamic State.

The al-Rawi financial network was integrated into the Iraqi government’s financial system. That, almost certainly, occurred without Baghdad’s knowledge, but it underscores the extent to which members of the Islamic State are embedded in Iraqi society. After all, the majority of Islamic State members in Iraq are Iraqi, as both Kurdish and US officials have explained.

A third brother, Omar, and a cousin, Abd al-Rahman, distributed Iraqi government pensions to retirees using an electronic payment system. They then used that work for the Iraqi government to launder money for the Islamic State.

Apparently a very skillful businessman, Walid had “numerous” Iraqi government contracts, and “numerous relatives and associates” invested in his enterprises for a certain rate of return. Mushtaq, for example, invested an eye-popping $900,000 with his brother, Walid.

In addition to Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State held territory, Turkey figures prominently in the activities of the al-Rawi network.

The Treasury Department sanctioned Al-Ard al-Jadidah, a money exchange, with branches in Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, as well as Samsun, a northern Turkish city on the Black Sea coast.

Islamic State members used Al-Ard al-Jadidah to launder funds, and Mushtaq’s 22-year-old son, Muhannad, who was also sanctioned on Monday, moved to Samsun to run the money exchange business there.

One individual sanctioned on Monday—Muhammad Abd al-Qadr Munti Assaf al-Rawi—resides in Erbil, according to the US Treasury Department.

The Islamic State “used Muhammad and his business to transfer money to various countries in the Middle East and Europe,” the Treasury said. In February 2017, Walid al-Rawi used him to transfer “$40,000 to a Turkey-based ISIS financial facilitator, while Muhammed was also used to transfer Mushtaq al-Rawi’s money “to two gold shops in the Gulf” at the rate of “approximately $100,000 per month.”

Editing by Nadia Riva