The US Treasury in Washington, DC. File photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The US Treasury on Tuesday blacklisted Harakat al-Nujaba, an Iran-backed militia that is part of the Hashd al-Shaabi.
The group is made up of Iraqis, but is known to have close ties to Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah and has been active in both Iraq and Syria.
Harakat al-Nujaba rejects American military presence in Iraq and its members have said
US forces stationed in the country should be targeted.
The militia was formed in 2013 by Akram al-Kaabi who had previously been a leader within another Iran-backed Shiite militia, the Asaib Ahl al-Haq. He was designated a terrorist by the US Treasury in 2008.
Harakat al-Nujaba claims to have 10,000 members, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and is believed to be playing a role in expanding
Iranian influence across Iraq and Syria as part of the so-called “Shiite crescent.”
In 2017, a bill introduced
into the US Congress sought to impose terror-related sanctions on both Harakat al-Nujaba and Asaib Ahl al-Haq based on allegations they were funded and armed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Iran’s Quds Force, and Lebanese Hezbollah.
Washington’s move against the militia comes amid calls from Iraqi lawmakers for some 5,000 US forces to quit the country. The anti-American sentiment grew after gaffs
made by US President Donald Trump who visited American troops at a base west of Baghdad without meeting with any Iraqi officials and then later said he wanted US forces in Iraq to “watch” Iran.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has defended the US presence, saying they are here at the invitation
Shiite MPs have vowed to table legislation in the parliament demanding foreign troops withdraw from Iraq. Abdul-Mahdi has said he will respect whatever parliament decides.
Iraqi President Barham Salih said on Monday that US forces are in Iraq with a limited mission – to “train and empower” Iraqi forces and nothing more.
“The American elements, or the International Coalition that came to Iraq, came to Iraq based on the invitation of the Iraqi government and on understandings about the mission to train Iraqi forces and empower Iraqi forces in its war against terror,” he told reporters.
“Any action different from this goal and work is absolutely unacceptable on the Iraqi side,” he declared.
Stressing that the issue is a “dangerous national security topic,” he said he hopes it won’t be manipulated for short-term political gain.
ISIS was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017, but the group maintains thousands of members and carries out frequent attacks against civilians and security forces, especially in security gaps between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces in the disputed areas.
Salih said that Iraq’s security and sovereignty must remain the primary focus for decision-makers.
Iraq maintains good ties with its neighbour Iran and has refused to become embroiled in disputes between Tehran and Washington, a point reiterated by the president.
“We want to insulate our country from rivalries and absurd disputes engulfing this region. We want Iraq to be the field where interests meet between countries and the peoples of this region,” he said.
Many analysts are fearful that a premature US withdrawal, like what occurred in 2011, could usher in a new security collapse and give ISIS the opportunity to reform.