Iraq’s former Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi has condemned recent sanctions imposed by the US on a pro-Iranian militia leader in Iraq.
Qais Khazali, along with his brother Laith, were sanctioned and blacklisted by the US Treasury Department on 6 December for their involvement in the brutal suppression of protests in Iraq last month, in which approximately almost 500 people were killed.
Abdul Mahdi, who resigned late last month, stated today that the Iraqi government rejects and condemns the sanctions, and instead praised Khazali, alongside his pro-Iranian militia Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, for their role in fighting Daesh over the past five years. Abdul Mahdi also condemned the protestors’ insulting of and opposition to various Iraqi government officials such as Hadi Al-Amiri and Iranian leaders throughout the demonstrations.
Khazali’s militia has been actively operating within Iraq since the mid-2000s, and was known to fight against US forces in 2007 before Khazali was imprisoned and held for two years. He then moved to Syria before returning to Iraq to fight Daesh following its emergence and overrunning of much of the country in 2014.
His Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia, consisting of around 100,000 fighters with support from religious figures, has been one of the most prominent groups within the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) – the umbrella group of mainly Shia militias formed, backed and funded by Iran, and which is now officially tied to the Iraqi government.
Rivals of Iran, such as Israel and the US – along with its regional Gulf allies – have become increasingly concerned about the pro-Iranian militias over the last few years in particular, and have resorted to sanctioning, targeting and conducting air strikes against them on the Syrian-Iraqi border.