US may apply Caesar Act sanctions to Iraqi militias backing Syrian regime

The US announced new Syria sanctions on Wednesday, the second round of such measures under the Caesar Civilian Protection Act, which was passed by the US Congress in December 2019.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US announced new Syria sanctions on Wednesday, the second round of such measures under the Caesar Civilian Protection Act, which was passed by the US Congress in December 2019.

The sanctions aim at achieving a political settlement of the Syrian civil war, in accord with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, according to US officials.

Some 14 Syrian individuals and entities were designated on Wednesday, even as US officials noted that Caesar Act sanctions could be applied to all individuals and entities, regardless of their nationality, that provide material support to the Syrian regime.

In describing the new measures, Joel Rayburn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Special Envoy for Syria, explained that the US would consider the possibility of designating, under the Caesar Act, those Iraqi militias that are fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime.

“We have seen for a long time the Iraqi militias, the Iraqi militant groups that are sponsored by the Iranian regime, have been dealing with the Syrian regime in a way that would clearly violate both the letter and the spirit of the Caesar Act, as well as UN Security Council resolutions,” Rayburn said, in answer to a question from Kurdistan 24.

“And the Caesar Act is a tool that we will look at to try to deter that activity,” he stated. 

Members of Assad Family Designated 

Three of the four individuals designated on Wednesday are members of the Syrian president’s family. They include Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s oldest son, named after his late grandfather, Syrian president from 1971 to 2000.

Rayburn explained that there was an increasing trend among Syrian officials who have been sanctioned by the US to use adult family members as proxies in order to evade sanctions, Rayburn said, and the designation of the 18 year-old Hafez, was part of the US response.

In addition, a cousin of the Syrian president, Maj. Gen. Zuhair Tawfiq al-Assad, head of the Syrian army’s First Mechanized Division, was also designated, as was the division itself, for its particularly brutal repression of the Syrian people. Zuhair’s 42-year old son, Karam, was also designated.

The first round of Caesar Act sanctions, which were imposed last month, included, for the same reason, the wives of Bashar al-Assad and of his younger brother, Maher, who commands the Syrian army’s Fourth Armored Division. 

Read More: New US sanctions against Syria include families of Bashar, Maher al-Assad 

The sanctions block the US assets of designated individuals and entities, but even more importantly, any party dealing with them is subject to secondary sanctions. Given America’s dominant role in the world economy that has a chilling effect, as many businesses and governments are wary of crossing Washington. 

No impact on Northeast Syria or Syrian Humanitarian Efforts 

The US sanctions “are not intended to harm the Syrian people and do not target humanitarian assistance or hinder our stabilization activities in northeast Syria,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo affirmed in a statement on the new measures.

“We will continue our humanitarian assistance through our international and Syrian partners, even in areas under the Assad regime’s control,” Pompeo added. “The United States has contributed more than $11.3 billion in humanitarian assistance,” since the start of Syria’s civil war, “and will continue to do so.”

Rayburn emphasized that point as well, noting that the Caesar Act included exemptions for humanitarian activity, including food and medicine, but he also affirmed that the policy would be ongoing.

“We will continue these kinds of sanctions designations in the coming weeks and months,” he stated, “and there will be no end to them until the Syrian regime and its allies accede to the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254 and put a stop to their attacks against the Syrian people.”

Editing by John J. Catherine