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US hits Iran-linked Iraqi militias with sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers opening remarks at an event hosted by the Department of State’s Energy Resources Governance Initiative, at the Palace Hotel, in New York City, New York on September 26, 2019. (State Department photo by Ron Przysucha)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has imposed sanctions on three Iranian-linked Iraqi militia leaders for allegedly assisting the violent repression on protests that have swept the country.

The announcement came amid renewed violence in Baghdad, which claimed the lives of at least 12 people.

“The Iraqi people want their country back. They are calling for genuine reform and accountability and for trustworthy leaders who will put Iraq’s national interests first,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on December 6.

The United States sanctioned three Iraqis — Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali, and Hussein Falil Aziz al-Lami — who are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashed al-Shaabi, a Shi’ite militia movement close to Iran.

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Iraqis have been taking to the streets of Baghdad and the country’s Shi’ite-majority south since early October to demand more jobs, an end to endemic corruption, and improved public services.

Some 430 people have been killed across Iraq in the crackdown on protests, which eventually led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, a close ally of Iran.

The three militia leaders were designated under a U.S. law that will ban them from travel to the United States and seize any assets they have in the country.

Washington also placed sanctions on an Iraqi politician, Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi, on bribery charges.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security and medical officials say unknown assailants shot at protesters in Baghdad’s Khilani Square late on December 6, killing 12 people and wounding 30.

The attacks came one day after several suspicious stabbing incidents which left at least 13 wounded in the Iraqi capital’s Tahrir Square, the focal point of Iraq’s leaderless protest movement.