Militiamen in Iraq fight under the banner of Kataib Hezbollah. Photo: AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United States Congress has taken the first steps to impose "terrorist sanctions" on Iranian-proxy militias operating in Iraq.
Hezbollah al-Nujaba and As-Saib Ahl-Haq are alleged to have been "provided training, funding, and arms by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), IRGC-Quds Force, and mentored by Lebanese Hezbollah."
Rep. Ted Poe sponsored the bill
on Friday which will first be referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The text also claims Ahl-Haq leader, Qais al-Khazali, "has pledged allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei."
Ahl-Haq “conducted numerous attacks” against US and Coalition forces since its inception in 2006, according to the bill.
Rights agencies like the UNHCR and Human Rights Watch have alleged the two groups have carried out human rights abuses in Iraq and Syria during the war against ISIS and Syria’s internal conflict. Alleged abuses include execution of civilians during the 2016 siege of Aleppo and extrajudicial killings of Sunni and Kurdish civilians in areas liberated from ISIS.
The two Iraqi Shiite militias are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which is officially under Iraqi government control.
Nujaba, made up of Iraqis, is known to have close ties to Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah. They participated in operations in October when Iraqi forces and the PMF took federal control of disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil. The group stated it was deployed at the Syria-Iraq border near Rabia.
Ahl-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali in October demanded US forces withdraw from Iraq after ISIS is defeated in the country, reacting to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s earlier remark that “Iranian militias” in Iraq should “go home.”
If the bill passes the House and Senate and US President Donald Trump signs it into law, the president will have 90 days to impose sanctions.
Typically, US sanctions are enacted through the Department of Treasury and people and entities are forbidden from transacting with them.
The European Parliament's delegation to Iraq has called for "Iranian proxy Shiite militias forces" to leave Iraq.
"These batallions, such as Kataib Hezbollah, have no place in a free and democratic Iraq, and only help to inflame the already fragile situation," read a statement from David Cambell Bannerman, the chair of its delegation to Iraq.
Kataib was founded by Abu Mahdi Muhandis in 2007. The brigade killed one American civilian in an improvised mortar attack at a base southeast of Baghdad in February 2008. They joined the PMF in May 2016.
"Their immediate withdrawal is the only option," added the European statement.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called the PMF – who are primarily comprised of Hashd al-Shaabi fighters – "the pride of Iraq."
Denise Natali, the Director of the Center for Strategic Research at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., believes the majority of the PMF are not problematic.
"The vast majority... 70 percent on the low end, 90 percent on the high end, responded to a fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Sistani. They are considered disciplined and part of these Iraqi security forces," she said at an Atlantic Council think tank event on October 10. "Those are not ISIS. And according to the people I've talked to in Baghdad, they aren't going anywhere... They are revered."
However, up to about 50,000 of the Shiite militiamen are not accountable, according to Natali.
"It's the 15-30 percent that are concerned – those who are the undisciplined, nefarious, IRGC-backed. They are the big trouble makers," said Natali.