U.S. Sanctions Iranian Proxies in Iraq

On March 5, the U.S. State Department and Treasury sanctioned Harakat al Nujaba (HAN), an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, and its leader, Akram Abbas al Kabi. The State Department designated them as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. “These designations demonstrate the United States’ unwavering commitment to isolate and deny funding to the Iranian regime’s terrorist proxies,” said the State Department.

Nujaba logo
HAN's logo

HAN, or Movement of the Party of God’s Nobles, was originally formed in 2013 to support the Assad regime in Syria. In 2014, its mission expanded to fight ISIS. HHN leaders have publicly acknowledged Iran’s support. “We do not hide the fact that the technical and logistical support comes from the Islamic Republic at all levels of training, arming and with the provision of advice through the presence of leaders and field advisers from the brothers in the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guards,” Akram al Kaabi, the group’s leader, told Al-Monitor in 2015.

The group believes in velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, the basis of Iran’s clerical rule. It accepts Khamenei, whose picture is featured at the top of its website, as the highest authority. Its leader claimed that he would follow any order—including overthrowing the Iraqi government or fighting alongside Houthi rebels in Yemen--if Khamenei declared it to be a religious duty. Yet HHN spokesman Hashim al Mousawi has also downplayed the group’s loyalty to Khamenei. “We don’t belong to Iran,” he told The Christian Science Monitor.

The group’s logo is a raised fist with an AK-47 rifle, similar to the logos of the IRGC and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. A Quranic verse appears above the rifle: “And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him.”

HAN leader Akram Abbas al Kabi, a cleric, has been involved with multiple militias since 2003. Kabi rose to prominence after the 2003 U.S. invasion. He and Qais Khazali fought the U.S.-led coalition as part of the Mahdi Army, but split with Muqtada Sadr’s forces in 2004. They founded a separate militia, the Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH), in 2006 also to fight coalition forces. (In 2008, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Kaabi for plotting attacks against Iraqi and the U.S. coalition.) Kabi’s focus shifted to Syria in 2011, resulting in the creation of a third militia, the HAN, two years later.

HHN is the latest Iranian proxy in Iraq to be sanctioned by the United States. In 2009, Kataib Hezbollah, or Brigades of the party of God, was also sanctioned. The group dates back to 2004, when the Shiite militias began attacks on the U.S.-led coalition. Five small armed groups united to form this pro-Iran militia in 2007. In 2009, the U.S. State Department designated it a terrorist organization with an “anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology.” The Treasury Department sanctioned the group and its leader, Abu Mahdi al Muhandis. At the time, it was the only Iraqi Shiite militia designated a terrorist organization by U.S. State Department. The following is the press release on HAN’s designation.


State Department Terrorist Designation of Harakat al-Nujaba (HAN) and Akram 'Abbas al-Kabi

Office of the Spokesperson March 5, 2019

The Department of State has designated the Iranian proxy group Harakat al-Nujaba (HAN) and its leader, Akram ‘Abbas al-Kabi, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. Today’s designations seek to deny HAN and al-Kabi the resources to plan and carry out terrorist attacks. Among other consequences, all of their property and interests in property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.

Established in 2013 by al-Kabi, HAN is an Iran-backed Iraqi militia funded by but not under the control of the Iraqi government. HAN has openly pledged its loyalties to Iran and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Al-Kabi has publicly claimed that he would follow any order, including overthrowing the Iraqi government or fighting alongside the Houthis in Yemen, if Ayatollah Khamenei declared it to be a religious duty. Al-Kabi also claimed that Iran supports HAN both militarily and logistically, and stressed HAN’s close ties with IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani and Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, both SDGTs. The Department of the Treasury designated al-Kabi in 2008 under E.O. 13438 for planning and conducting multiple attacks against Coalition forces, including mortar and rocket launches into the International Zone.

These designations demonstrate the United States’ unwavering commitment to isolate and deny funding to the Iranian regime’s terrorist proxies. The United States will continue to stand firm against Iran’s malign behavior and efforts to undermine Iraq’s sovereignty and stability.

Today’s actions notify the U.S. public and the international community that HAN and al-Kabi have committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism. Terrorist designations expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and deny them access to the U.S. financial system. Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement activities of U.S. agencies and other governments.

Click here for more information on pro-Iran militias in Iraq.