US congress seeks to impose sanctions on Shiite militias in Iraq

A bill currently before the US congress and sponsored by Republican senator Ted Poe, contends that the As’aib Ahl Al Haq (AAH) and Harakat Hizballah Al Nujaba (Nujaba) militias have been funded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and mentored by Lebanese Hizbollah.

TOPSHOT - Iraqi forces and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) advance towards the city of al-Qaim, in western Anbar province, on the Syrian border as they fight against remnant pockets of Islamic State group jihadists on November 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

The United States has taken new steps to impose sanctions on Iranian proxy militias operating in Iraq.

A bill currently before the US congress and sponsored by Republican senator Ted Poe, contends that the As’aib Ahl Al Haq (AAH) and Harakat Hizballah Al Nujaba (Nujaba) militias have been funded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and mentored by Lebanese Hizbollah.

Specifically, the bill says AAH “conducted numerous attacks against the United States and coalition forces in Iraq between its inception in 2006 and the United States withdrawal in December 2011. AAH leader, Qais Khazali has pledged allegiance to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei,”

Khazali is believed to be the principal planner of the kidnapping and execution of four American soldiers in Karbala, Iraq  in 2007.

AAH is an Iraqi paramilitary group founded in 2006, while Nujaba is a faction affiliated to both AAH and Kata'ib Hizballah, an oganisation established in 2013 and designated a terrorist group by the US.

The two groups are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known in Arabic as Hashed Al Shaabi who fought alongside the Iraqi against ISIL.

Nujaba is led by Akram Al Kabi, of whom the bill before congress says,  "Kabi participated in multiple mortar and rocket attacks on the international zone, or green zone, in Baghdad in early 2008."

In October, the Nujaba militias took part in operations alongside Iraqi forces and the PMF to take control of disputed areas claimed by both Baghdad's central government and the regional government of Kurdistan. According to Nujaba, its forces were deployed at the Syrian-Iraq border near Rabia.

The bill says that Nujaba claimed to have formed a unit to liberate the Golan Heights from Israel and reports indicate the group is playing a key role in securing a land route between Iran and Lebanon to funnel aid to Lebanese Hizbollah.

The role of the Hashed, (PMF) in Iraq has been a highly contentious issue and will loom large in Iraq's elections next year.

The Iraqi government passed a bill in November 2016 making the Hashed a legitimate part of Iraq’s security forces. Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi himself endorsed the group, declaring it to be "an essential and neutral security entity... within the structure of the Iraqi state and it is here to stay.”

If the bill is passed the US president Donald Trump will have 90 days to impose sanctions.

International human rights agencies claim that all the militias are possibly guilty of war crimes in Iraq and Syria.

The bill quotes Human Rights Watch which in 2015 accused AAH of carrying out, "forced evictions, kidnappings, and extrajudicial killings of Sunni and Kurdish civilians in areas liberated from ISIL."

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW said, “Again civilians are paying the price for Iraq’s failure to rein in the out-of-control militias. Countries that support Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces should insist that Baghdad bring an end to this deadly abuse.”

Last month, at a joint press conference with Saudi foreign minister Adel Jubeir, US Secretary of state Rex Tillerson said it was “time for Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to go home.”

In response, AAH leader Qais Khazali demanded US forces withdraw from Iraq after the defeat of ISIL.

Iraqi forces, backed by the US but supported by the PMF, drove ISIL out of  Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq this year.