Countering Iran means sanctioning terrorist militias

By Michael Pregent and Erica Hanichak, The Hill
September 27, 2018

At the United Nations this week, President Trump took the leaders of Iran to task for, among other things, plundering the nation’s resources “to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.” Iran has perfected the exportation of mayhem to its neighbor, Syria. As the President pointed out, “Every solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria must also include a strategy to address the brutal regime that has fueled and financed it: the corrupt dictatorship in Iran.”

We agree, which is why any comprehensive Iran strategy must include going hard against the terrorist proxy militias supported by its “corrupt dictatorship.” Shia paramilitary organizations trained and funded by Iran control huge swaths of territory throughout Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, where they continue to perpetuate instability and extremist violence, threaten Israel’s security, and undermine Iraq’s fledgling democracy.

Years ago, the United States took key steps to designate some of the fiercest proxy forces operating under the command of the U.S.- sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s elite Quds-Force. Groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah are now listed on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Yet others, including Asaib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) and Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba (Nujaba), still operate freely and grow empowered by the day. Evidence of their terror is clear. During the Iraq War and under the direction of Qais Khazali, AAH conducted attacks on U.S. and coalition forces on behalf of Iran, including a 2007 raid on the Karbala headquarters that killed five American soldiers; likewise, Nujaba leader Akram al-Kabi led several mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone. Declassified interrogation reports show their centrality in attacks on U.S., British, and Iraqi citizens. Even now, Nujaba has declared its intention to “liberate” the Golan Heights from U.S. ally Israel, and works to secure a land corridor between Tehran and Beirut that Iran uses to provide military aid to Lebanese Hezbollah.

Safe from international or financial consequence, AAH has worked its way into the Iraqi Parliament, where it uses the platform for political gain, to boast of its attacks on U.S. soldiers and support Iran’s arms transfers through Baghdad and Damascus to Lebanese Hezbollah. Its rhetoric and violence have additional terror implications by fueling explosive sectarian tensions in Syria, where its and Nujaba’s forces form the vanguard of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal offensives against civilians. The war crimes and mass displacement wrought by these militias has provided sectarian fodder ripe for extremists like ISIS and al-Qaeda to exploit in recruitment.

Lucky for all, it appears the graft isn’t taking — as recent protests in Iraq show, the people have started rejecting Iran’s outsized influence and seek a new start toward a secure and stable society. We must stand by our friends in Iraq and Syria and show that we stand firmly against Iran’s terror.

That’s where Congress can help. On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider the Preventing Iranian Destabilization of Iraq Act (H.R. 4591), key legislation that will sanction Iranian operators who threaten the peace and stability of Iraq and by extension, Syria. Just as important, the committee will incorporate the Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act (H.R. 4238), which has passed in the House without opposition and has a companion bill in the Senate introduced by Senators David Perdue (R-GA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

These measures will give President Trump and Secretary Pompeo additional tools for countering Iran’s favorite method for projecting power abroad. Passage into law would be an important step in the Administration’s stated strategy to degrade Iranian influence in the Levant.

Congress must not delay. For nearly ten years, the executive branch has considered sanctioning these groups and despite threats, they have shown no interest in disavowing the IRGC; playing more “wait and see” will not change that. Even as Iraq struggles to form its government, it is essential to severely limit AAH’s ability to fuse further with the Iraqi state. We must cut off access to financial flows and call these groups what they are.

Like ISIS, Iran’s proxy militias in Syria and Iraq attack civilians, undermine the rule of law, and threaten peace and stability wherever they operate. They are terrorist organizations sponsored by the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and it is time we recognized that fact.

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