The United States has announced a significant terrorist designation related to Iranian proxies in Iraq.
During a special briefing at the State Department, the US Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Ambassador Nathan Sales, announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “has taken decisive action against Iran-backed militias in Iraq by designating Ahmad al-Hamidawi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (or SDGT).”
The Counterterror Chief then underscored, “By committing violence at the behest of its patrons in Tehran, KH has revealed its true agenda: undermining Iraq’s sovereignty and independence.”
Hamidawi is the Secretary-General of Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), which has been branded as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and as an SDGT by Washington since 2009. The group has openly claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against American and Coalition Forces in Iraq.
“Today, we are intensifying our pressure on this terrorist group. KH remains actively engaged in plotting terrorism against U.S. forces, our partners, and innocent Iraqi civilians,” said Amb. Sales. He pointed out that KH-fired rockets on an air base near Kirkuk killed American civilian contractor Nawres Hamid and injured four US service members in December 2019. Then, he detaliled, “After the United States acted to defend itself against continuous rocket attacks on our military bases and diplomatic facilities, KH and other Iran-backed terrorists stormed our embassy in Baghdad before being repelled by American forces.”
And “That wasn’t the first time KH stormed a diplomatic post,” Sales charged, saying “They also attacked Bahrain’s Embassy in Iraq in June of last year.”
Turning to Iraq’s civilian population, the senior security official asserted that “KH even targets the people it purports to represent, Iraqis. It actively uses violence and terror against innocent civilians to advance the Iranian regime’s goal of turning Iraq into a vassal state. In October of 2019, KH was involved in sniper attacks against peaceful protesters in Baghdad which killed more than 100 people and injured another 6,000. And when Iraqi President Barham Salih met with President Donald Trump in Davos last month, KH took to the airwaves to demand Salih’s resignation with a veiled threat against his life.”
The SDGT designation of al-Hamidawi authorizes the freezing of any property or interests he holds in the US, and all Americans are now prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him. After insisting that from now on the US would hold al-Hamidawi accountable for his crimes, the Counterterrorism Coordinator said “Today’s action will target sources of support for Hamidawi and KH and deny them the resources they need to plan and carry out future attacks.”
Sales said he also wished to emphasize that the designation was enabled by President Trump’s expansion of Executive Order 13224 in September 2019, which he described as “the most significant update to our terrorism sanctions authority since the aftermath of 9/11. Thanks to these changes, we are now able to directly designate the leaders of terrorist groups without having to tie them to specific acts.”
“The United States will continue to expose and isolate terrorists, deny them access to the U.S. and international financial systems, and do everything in our power to preserve the security of the United States,” Amb. Sales concluded.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker then addressed the press conference, where he labelled the KH as “foot soldiers in the Iranian regime’s export of terrorism, corruption, and bribery to Iraq.”
Schenker stressed that the most recent action serves as Washington’s ongoing campaign “to hold accountable those who present a clear and present danger to both our people and the Iraqi people.” Examples he cited as part of that mission included Secretary Pompeo’s designation of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq as an FTO and SDGT, and Qais and Laith Khazali as SDGTs in January 2020; the Treasury’s December 2019 designation of the Khazali brothers and Husayn Falih al-Lami “for their involvement in serious human rights abuses in Iraq;” in addition to the decision by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) financial intelligence and enforcement agency to designate Iraqi politician Khamis al-Khanjar “for bribing government officials and engaging in widespread corruption at the expense of the Iraqi people.”
“What I want to emphasize today is how this terrorist, his (al-Hamidawi) organization (Kata’ib Hezbollah), along with the Khazalis and other terrorists, drain the life and vitality out of Iraq,” said the Near Eastern Affairs Assistant Secretary. “They kill and maim Iraqis and seek to brutally silence or impede any efforts Iraqis make to reform their government. According to the UN, over 600 Iraqis have been killed while protesting for better governance and a brighter future.”
After revealing that Secretary of State Pompeo “communicated to Iraq’s political leaders” that the “US stands with the Iraqis who are fed up with economic stagnation, endemic corruption, and mismanagement,” Schenker told reporters that the Iraqi people “want better from their leaders, and they want accountability…. And they’re demanding their country back.”
Schenker concluded his remarks by reiterating the US Government’s continued support of “Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty,” citing Pompeo’s characterization that “we are a force for good. In Iraq, we’re the largest donor of humanitarian, stabilization, demining, and security assistance, and we want to maintain and expand that role to include helping with economic reform to create jobs for Iraqis and Americans alike.”
“In contrast to al-Hamidawi and those offering brutality and repression, we offer an unparalleled partnership for the Iraqi people,” said the US diplomat.
Assistant Secretary Schenker later responded affirmatively to a reporter’s question whether al-Hamidawi’s designation as a SDGT reflects on Washington’s relations with Baghdad – given that KH is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The “al-Ḥashd ash-Shaʿbī,” as the PMF is known in Arabic, is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization of an estimated 40 militias, predominantly formed by Shi’ite factions although also inclusive of Sunni, Christian and Yazidi fighters.
“Yes,” said Schenker, “Kata’ib Hezballah is a member of the Hashd. It is a constituent group, it’s funded by the Government of Iraq. This is problematic. It’s deeply problematic. And we are certainly concerned about the Government of Iraq’s failure to protect the U.S. diplomatic facility and other facilities throughout the country.”