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US imposes sanctions on Iraqi airline, pro-Iranian militia leaders

Iran's flag (Dreamstime/TNS)

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

The U.S. Treasury Department on January 22 designated Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad and its CEO for “supporting” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Lebanon.

The department said in a news release that Fly Baghdad for several years had supported the operations of the IRGC’s’ Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and its proxies, including Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), a militia group with close ties to the Quds Force, by delivering materiel and personnel.

“Fly Baghdad flights have delivered shipments of weapons to Damascus International Airport in Syria for transfer to members of the IRGC-QF and Iran-aligned militia groups on the ground in Syria, including the Syrian Arab Republican Guard, Lebanese Hizballah, KH, and the KH-affiliated Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade,” the Treasury said.

In addition, Fly Baghdad CEO Basheer al-Shabbani was designated by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for owning or controlling — directly or indirectly — Fly Baghdad, the department said. OFAC also identified two Iraqi-registered aircraft owned by Fly Baghdad as blocked property.

OFAC also imposed sanctions on KH leaders Hossein Moanes, the head of KH political party Harakat Hoquq; Riyad al-Azzawi, a drone operator; and Awqad al-Hamidawi, who handles the group’s businesses and financial portfolio.

In addition, Al-Massal Land Travel and Tourism Company, which is managed by Hamidawi, was designated for allegedly laundering money for the militia.

“Iran and its proxies have sought to abuse regional economies and use seemingly legitimate businesses as cover for funding and facilitating their attacks,” said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The sanctions freeze all property and interests owned by the individuals and companies in U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit people in the United States from dealing with them.

In a separate statement, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the IRGC-QF and Iranian-aligned militia groups “pose a significant threat to the Middle East region.”

U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria have increasingly been targeted by Iranian-backed militias since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. The conflict broke out broke out after Hamas extremists launched a cross-border attack on October 7, killing just over 1,100 Israelis, mainly civilians.

The most recent attack on U.S. personnel came on January 20, when missiles and rocket struck Iraq’s Ain al-Asad Air Base, which houses U.S. troops. The U.S. Central Command said several personnel were “undergoing evaluation for traumatic brain injuries” following the attack.

The so-called Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy says the group emerged in October 2023 and is made up of several Iranian-backed armed groups.