Washington blacklists Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders over protests

Iraqi Shiite Muslim clerics, supporters of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), demonstrate in the capital Baghdad's Tahrir Square on December 5, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2019

Washington blacklists Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders over protests

  • The sanctions target Qais Al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq Iran-backed militia and his brother Laith Al-Khazali, another leader of the group
  • They also target Hussein Falih Al-Lami, security chief for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday blacklisted three Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders over their alleged role in killings of anti-government protesters in Iraq, the US Treasury Department said.
They are the latest US sanctions to target Iraqi individuals or armed groups with close links to Tehran as Washington ramps up economic pressure to try to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East.
The sanctions target Qais Al-Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq Iran-backed militia and his brother Laith Al-Khazali, another leader of the group.
They also target Hussein Falih Al-Lami, security chief for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Iraq's state umbrella group of paramilitary factions, which is dominated by groups backed by Iran, including Asaib.
The Treasury Department said in a statement that groups led by the three paramilitary leaders "opened fire on peaceful protests, killing dozens of innocent civilians." Reuters reported last month that Lami, known also as Abu Zainab Al-Lami, had directed fighters to open fire on protesters.
Iraqi paramilitary groups deny any role in the deaths of protesters, who have demonstrated against the government for more than two months. Security forces have killed more than 400 mostly unarmed protesters, police and medics say.
The new sanctions also targeted Iraqi businessman Khamis al-Khanjar for alleged corruption, the statement said.
The sanctions freeze any US assets held by the leaders and prohibit Americans from doing business with them.
Senior US Treasury officials said the violent crackdown on protests was "causing even more political instability."
"Iraqis have a fundamental right to a political process that is free from foreign malign influence and the corruption that both comes with it and fuels it," one of the officials said.
They said the militia leaders had been involved in forced disappearances and abductions of activists.
Iran-backed armed groups and politicians have dominated Iraq's state institutions since a US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, plunged the country into years of civil war and destroyed infrastructure.
Iraqi protesters say the groups that dominate the government have kept people poor and jobless through corruption and failed to repair the country despite two years of relative calm after the defeat of Daesh.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said last week he would quit.
Asked about whether sanctions were designed to distance the militia leaders from the process of forming a new government, one of the Treasury officials said: "The timing is quite deliberate... Iraq's people are demanding a government that is free and clear of foreign interference."
Tension between Washington and Tehran has ramped up as US President Donald Trump's administration blames Iran for a series of attacks on oil infrastructure in the Gulf and bases hosting US troops in Iraq. Iran denies involvement in the attacks.
Iraqi paramilitaries have in turn accused the United States and Israel of attacks on their own installations. 


US honors head of France’s Arab World Institute

Updated 28 January 2020

US honors head of France’s Arab World Institute

  • Dr Jack Lang was recognized for promoting the Arab region and cross-cultural understanding
  • First recipient of the Global Cultural Leadership Award from the National Council on US-Arab Relations

WASHINGTON: Dr. Jack Lang, president of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris, on Monday received the inaugural Global Cultural Leadership Award from the National Council on US-Arab Relations.

The honor was recognition for his achievements in expanding knowledge of the Arab region and promoting cross-cultural understanding. It was presented to him at the French ambassador’s residence in Washington by the council’s Founding President and CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony, board Chairman John Pratt, International Advisory Board member Leo A. Daly III, and Executive Vice President Patrick Mancino.

Lang and a delegation from the institute were in Washington for the opening of the IMA exhibition “Age Old Cities: A Virtual Journey from Palmyra to Mosul” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art.

“What Monsieur Lang and the IMA have achieved in highlighting the rich history and culture of the Arab region is considerable,” said Anthony during the award presentation ceremony. “They have done much to showcase Arab contributions to knowledge and understanding that have benefited the world’s civilizations and humankind in general.

“Under Monsieur Lang’s leadership, the IMA has effectively pushed into new territories in storytelling and technology that help further illuminate the innumerable, extraordinary and myriad impacts that Arabs have had on humanity’s endless quest for modernization and development.”

Lang was appointed IMA president by French President Francois Hollande in 2013. He was previously a National Assembly member for more than two decades, including stints as France’s minister of culture and minister of education. He was also mayor of the city of Blois from 1989 to 2000, and served as a special adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The IMA, which is located on the banks of the Seine in Paris, opened in 1987 as a center dedicated to the promotion of Arab civilization, knowledge and art. It contains unique collections and hosts special touring exhibitions. These include “AlUla: Wonder of Arabia,” showcasing Saudi Arabia’s Nabataean archaeological treasure, the dates for which were recently extended after it proved to be incredibly popular.

The National Council on US-Arab Relations was founded in 1983 as a nonprofit, nongovernmental, educational organization. It is dedicated to raising awareness and appreciation of the extraordinary benefits the United States has derived from its special relationships with countries in the Arab region, and vice versa. Anthony and the council are working on plans for an Arab Cultural Institute, similar to the IMA, in Washington.