U.S. Sanctions Iran-backed Iraqi Militia Leaders

December 6, 2019

On December 6, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned three Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders for their alleged role in the killing of innocent protestors. Protests erupted on October 1 over government corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services. The demonstrations also targeted growing Iranian influence in Iraq. The Treasury designated Qais al Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al Haq, and Laith al Khazali, his brother and another senior leader of the Iran-backed group. The sanctions also targeted Hussein Falih al Lami, security chief for the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella organization that includes many Iran-backed militias. “Iran’s attempts to suppress the legitimate demands of the Iraqi people for reform of their government through the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators is appalling,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Peaceful public dissent and protest are fundamental elements of all democracies. The United States stands with the Iraqi people in their efforts to root out corruption. We will hold accountable the perpetrators of human rights abuse and corruption in Iraq.”

Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker alleged that the three Iraqis were "directed" by Tehran. “Iraqis have paid a steep and bloody price for the malign influence of Iranian regime,” he told reporters. “Tehran claims it is exporting 'revolution.' It is increasingly clear to us and the people of the region, however, that the theocracy’s top export is corruption and repression," he added. 

The following are press releases by the Treasury and the State Department with remarks by Assistant Secretary Schenker.  

 

State Department Press Release

State Department SealThe United States recently expressed its commitment to using its legal authorities to sanction corrupt individuals stealing the Iraqi people’s public wealth and killing and wounding peaceful protesters. Today, we are honoring that pledge by sanctioning four Iraqis implicated in serious human rights abuses and corruption.  The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Iranian-backed militia leaders Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali, and Husayn Falih ‘Aziz al-Lami, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, for their involvement in serious human rights abuses in Iraq.  Additionally, OFAC designated Iraqi politician Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi for bribing government officials and for widespread corruption at the expense of the Iraqi 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. Those demands deserve to be addressed without resort to violence or suppression.  Human rights abuses and corruption undermine the values that are at the foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies.

As the world prepares to recognize International Anticorruption Day on December 9 and International Human Rights Day on December 10, the United States is doing its part to advance those very same values and to hold to account those who would undermine them through human rights abuses or acts of corruption.

 

Treasury Press Release

Washington – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated three leaders of Iran-backed militias in Iraq that opened fire on peaceful protests, killing dozens of innocent civilians.  OFAC designated Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali, and Husayn Falih ‘Aziz al-Lami pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818 for their involvement in serious human rights abuse in Iraq.  Additionally, OFAC designated Iraqi millionaire businessman Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi for bribing government officials and engaging in corruption at the expense of the Iraqi people.

“Iran’s attempts to suppress the legitimate demands of the Iraqi people for reform of their government through the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators is appalling,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.  “Peaceful public dissent and protest are fundamental elements of all democracies.  The United States stands with the Iraqi people in their efforts to root out corruption.  We will hold accountable the perpetrators of human rights abuse and corruption in Iraq.”

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individuals named below, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually or with other designated persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.  Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons.  In addition, any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 13818 if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States would be prohibited.

QAIS AL-KHAZALI AND LAITH AL-KHAZALI

Qais al-Khazali is Secretary General of the Iran-backed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia in Iraq.  During the late 2019 protests in many cities in Iraq, AAH has opened fire on and killed protesters.  Laith al-Khazali, Qais al-Khazali’s brother, is also a leader of AAH.  Qais al-Khazali was part of a committee of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) proxies that approved the use of lethal violence against protesters for the purpose of public intimidation.

In Diyala Province, Iraq, AAH has been involved in widespread forced disappearances, abductions, killings, and torture, targeting Sunni Iraqis with impunity.  In late 2015, Laith al-Khazali controlled efforts to remove Sunnis from areas of Diyala Province, including killings to drive Sunnis from the area.

Additionally, Qais and Laith al-Khazali had leading roles in a January 2007 attack on an Iraqi government compound in Karbala.  The attack killed five U.S. soldiers and wounded three.

Qais al-Khazali is designated for being a foreign person who is a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to his tenure.

Laith al-Khazali is designated for being a foreign person who is responsible for, is complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in serious human rights abuse.

The IRGC-QF, designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 25, 2007, is a branch of the IRGC responsible for external operations and has provided material support to numerous terrorist groups, making it a key component of Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.  The IRGC-QF’s parent organization, the IRGC, was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 13, 2017, and on April 15, 2019 was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Secretary of State.

HUSAYN FALIH ‘AZIZ AL-LAMI

Husayn Falih ‘Aziz al-Lami (al-Lami) is an Iran-backed militia leader, tasked by other senior militia commanders with suppressing the late 2019 protests in Iraq.  Al-Lami was part of a committee of IRGC-QF proxies that approved the use of lethal violence against protesters for the purpose of public intimidation.  In late 2019, al-Lami was responsible for ordering the assassinations and suppression of protesters in Baghdad.  Al-Lami directed militia fighters who shot protesters in early October 2019, a time when dozens of protesters were killed.

Al-Lami is designated for being a foreign person who is responsible for, is complicit in, or has directly or indirectly engaged in serious human rights abuse.

KHAMIS FARHAN AL-KHANJAR AL-ISSAWI

Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi (al-Khanjar) is an Iraqi businessman and millionaire who enjoys significant power on a regional and international level.  According to a former senior Iraqi government official, al-Khanjar’s influence has been mostly due to his willingness and ability to use his wealth to bribe others.  Al-Khanjar has reportedly planned to spend millions of dollars in payments to Iraqi political figures in order to secure their support.

Al-Khanjar is designated for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

GLOBAL MAGNITSKY

Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, on December 20, 2017, the President signed E.O. 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” in which the President found that the prevalence and severity of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, has reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.  Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.  The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.

 

Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker On Iraqi Global Magnitsky Designations 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER:  Today the United States is sanctioning three Iraqis for their involvement in the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iraq, and a fourth for corruption and bribery.  

Treasury designated Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali, Husayn Falih ‘Aziz al-Lami, pursuant to Executive Order 13818 for their involvement in serious human rights abuses in Iraq.  Additionally, OFAC designated politician Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi for bribing government officials and engaging in widespread corruption at the expense of the Iraqi people. 

According to the UN, over 400 Iraqis have been killed while protesting for better governance and a brighter future.  For several months, the Iraqi people have led a patriotic quest for genuine reform and transparency in government.  They have gone to the streets to raise their voices for a just government with leaders who will put Iraq’s national interests first. 

Frankly, without that commitment from Iraq’s political leaders, it makes little difference who they designate as prime minister.  As I said last week, Iraqis are fed up with economic stagnation, endemic corruption, and mismanagement.  They want better from their leaders, and they want accountability.  

Iraqis are also demanding their country back.  Three of today’s designees – al-Lami, Qais al-Khazali and Laith al-Khazali – were directed by Iranian regime when they or the armed groups they lead committed serious human rights abuses.  Iraqis have paid a steep and bloody price for the malign influence of Iranian regime.  Tehran claims it is exporting “revolution”.  It is increasingly clear to us and the people of the region, however, that the theocracy’s top export is corruption and repression. 

… 

QUESTION:  How worried are you about Iran – Iran’s involvement in the negotiations for the formation of the new government in Baghdad, and will you be ready to work with any prime minister if he’s – you feel he’s too close to Iran? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER:  Well, okay, there’s two parts to that question.  Listen, the United States Government will work with anyone in the Iraqi Government who is willing to put Iraqi interests first.  Right.  This is a sine qua non.  But we see in the process of establishing a new government or determining who the next prime minister will be that Qasem Soleimani is in Baghdad working this issue.  It seems to us that foreign terrorist leaders, or military leaders, should not be meeting with Iraqi political leaders to determine the next premier of Iraq, and this is exactly what the Secretary says about being perhaps the textbook example of why Iran does not behave and is not a normal state.  This is not normal.  This is not reasonable.  This is unorthodox and it is incredibly problematic, and it is a huge violation of Iraqi sovereignty. 

... 

QUESTION:  Yesterday in a briefing, a senior official said Iraq is limited in what they can do in terms of sovereignty.  How you are planning to help them?  What is the U.S. strategy, just only sanctions? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER:  We’re doing sanctions.  We’re working to help Iraq Government strengthen institutions.  We are encouraging neighbors not to meddle and undermine these institutions within the country and to corrupt politicians.  So we are doing what we can.  We are 5,000 miles away.  We are the leading provider of foreign assistance to Iraq, and we work very closely with the Iraqi Government.  But as Adil Abdul-Mahdi has said, Iran is our neighbor; the United States is our friend.  I believe we are a force of good there, but we are also 5,000 miles away.  We are helping fight ISIS in Iraq, and we are helping to build a capable security apparatus, and we are trying to hold accountable those who are killing protesters, inciting violence, and undermining the basic rights of the Iraqi people.  

At the same time, we are helping the Iraqi people by doing things that the Iraqi people are demanding that their government has not been successful with.  We have, over the past four months, I believe, rehabilitated some 500 schools, 100-plus hospitals, 50 water treatment facilities.  That’s over – sorry, over the past four years.  So we are doing things that create a better environment for the government to be able to handle difficult problems. 

… 

QUESTION:  Thanks.  The sanctions against the three people who are linked to Iranian-backed militias, I’m wondering if the State Department is also considering sanctions or Treasury considering sanctions against the sovereign government forces of Iraq that have cracked down on the Iraqi people.  And secondly, I just want to clarify something.  When you’re talking about the maximum pressure campaign and how that has spawned more aggressive actions by Iran, would you include its crackdown on its own people?  Is the maximum pressure campaign a driver for these protests in Iran? 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER:  Well, I’ll start with Iran.  Listen, I think that the sanctions have put additional pressure on the Iranian Government financially, forcing it to make more difficult choices, and so maybe this has brought into clearer relief for the Iranian people just how corrupt and I think callous their leadership is to the needs of the Iranian people, that they would be prioritizing at a higher level, for example, sending missiles to the Houthis or backing the Assad regime in Syria or funding Hizballah to several hundred – $700 million a year perhaps rather than providing basic services to their own people.  So I think this has exacerbated an already frustrated situation for an already frustrated people. 

As for whether the United States Government will sanction the institution of the security forces in Iraq, we don’t comment on things like that.