Archive for the ‘Shiite militia’ category

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media

May 2, 2017

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media, Al-Monitor

People walk outside Lebanon’s Central Bank in Beirut November 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi/File Photo – RTSEJDF

Congress is blaming the State Department and the US Embassy in Lebanon after draft sanctions legislation was leaked to the Lebanese media, setting off a political and diplomatic firestorm.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., began devising a new bill targeting Hezbollah last year amid concerns that the Barack Obama administration was slow-walking implementation of a previous effort that was signed into law in December 2015. Royce shared an early draft with State Department experts for their input, sources on and off Capitol Hill told Al-Monitor, but got burned when a media outlet close to Hezbollah got wind of it. 

The State Department has not officially acknowledged or denied being involved. Royce declined to comment.

As a result of the leak, numerous newspaper articles in Lebanon over the past month have picked apart — and possibly distorted — an unfinalized draft that only a handful of people in Washington have heard about and fewer still have seen. Even House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., a natural ally on sanctions legislation, has yet to see the proposed draft, according to a Democratic aide. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is working on a similar effort in the Senate.

Lebanese officials say destabilizing sanctions would be ill-advised while tiny Lebanon is struggling to absorb more than a million refugees from Syria.

“We are surprised by all the leaks about new sanctions,” Lebanese member of parliament Yassine Jaber, a former economy minister who met with administration officials during the congressional recess two weeks ago, told Al-Monitor in an email. “We don’t see a need for further legislation, we feel that all these leaks about further legislation to come, only hurts Lebanon, its economy and banking sector, at a moment of very high weakness and vulnerability.”

According to Lebanese media accounts, the 20-page draft bill has also caused a panic in Lebanon because of its potential political impact. While the 2015 bill unnerved a banking sector that is one of the pillars of the country’s economy, the new draft has government leaders fretful that Congress is now coming after them.

The Royce draft, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said last week during a meeting with the Washington-based American Task Force for Lebanon, “would harm Lebanon and its people greatly.” Critics are worried that the draft bill paves the way for sanctioning Lebanese allies and political parties that are close to Hezbollah, including Aoun, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement headed by his son-in-law and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and the Shiite Amal Movement of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

In response, the Lebanese government is planning to send a delegation to Washington later this month of government officials, lawmakers and other dignitaries, possibly including Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. The government hopes to have representatives of the private banking sector tag along to play up any potential threat to the financial sector, a Lebanese source told Al-Monitor, but the main concern appears to be with the bill’s political ramifications.

“This is more about the political groups of the speaker, etc., being nervous rather than the issues of the banks,” the source said. “Politicians — and the government, actually — are trying to get the private banks involved in their effort. I can tell you the private banks do not like that: They do not want to come with politicians here.”

The Association of Banks in Lebanon spent $200,000 in the first three months of this year to discreetly lobby Congress about the bill and other matters, according to lobbying records. The banks would prefer to wait until President Donald Trump fills in top spots at the Treasury Department before organizing their annual visit to Washington, the source said.

Hezbollah claims to get all its funding from Iran. US experts, however, have long suspected that much more comes from Lebanese expatriates, illegal activities and other sources, fueling Congress’ desire to crack down on as many funding streams as possible.

The Lebanese source, who has seen a draft of the bill, said it does not designate Hezbollah’s allies as terror groups. Rather, it would require the Trump administration to publicly report on their financial links to the Shiite militia, including estimates of the net worth of some top Lebanese officials.

“Obviously they don’t want their net worth to be mentioned,” the source said. “I totally see how Nabih Berri could be panicking even if his own party knows how much money he has.”

 

Mosul quietly fills with Iran-backed Shiite militias using battle for revenge on Sunnis

April 30, 2017

Mosul quietly fills with Iran-backed Shiite militias using battle for revenge on Sunnis, Washington Times, Seth J. Frantzman, April 30, 2017

An Iraqi Special Forces vehicle displays a Shiite flag bearing the likeness of Imam Hussein and Imam Ali with Arabic words reading “At your service Hussein” in Mosul, Iraq. State

HAMAM AL-ALIL, Iraq — The road to Mosul is littered with the detritus from almost three years of war: burned M1117 armored vehicles, sandbagged berms and trenches from defensive positions once manned against Islamic State fighters, houses pancaked by airstrikes. The long supply line of the Iraqi army stretches through villages, with bulldozers, camouflaged trucks and temporary base camps.

Particularly noticeable are the frequent checkpoints manned by young armed men. But the fighters often aren’t from the Iraqi army or the Federal Police, but are members of various Iran-supported Shiite militias in the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units.

While taking part in the U.S.-backed assault on the Islamic State group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, many of these units fly flags celebrating Shiite religious figures such as the Imam Hussein, and some have posters of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Life in those areas under control of the Shiite militias provides a window into Iran’s influence and the sectarian tensions that still dog Iraq as the campaign for Mosul enters its seventh grinding month.

A tour of these areas shows that Shiite militias and Iran have been empowered in the fight and that Iraq remains a state even more divided along religious and ethnic lines.

The battle for Mosul, once a city of more than 2 million residents, began in mid-October. In a lightning assault in 2014, the Islamic State, a radical Sunni Muslim group, took the city, expelled Christians and massacred Shiite and other minorities, and dynamited shrines and archaeological sites as part of its Salafi policy. When the Iraqi army began its campaign last fall, Mosul’s population had been reduced to around 1 million people.

Complicating the battle has been the presence of thousands of fighters allied with the Popular Mobilization Units. Composed of numerous militias that answered a 2014 fatwa by Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to fight the Islamic State, the units have many leaders with shadowy pro-Iranian pasts.

Qais Khazali was a follower of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who attacked U.S. troops in Karbala in 2007 and now runs the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia. Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, fought alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, also fought with the Iranians in the 1980s.

In December, the PMU was incorporated as an official paramilitary force of the Iraqi government. But fears remain that its role in northern Iraq will inflame tensions with Sunni Arabs and the Kurdish population.

In an October speech, Mr. Khazali called the battle for Mosul the “revenge for the killing of Hussein.” He was referring to a historic killing that Shiites blame on Sunnis and tying it to the modern sectarian war with the Islamic State.

“If they exact widespread revenge against the Sunnis and expel them, this might create a conducive environment for ISIS to come back,” Kawa Hassan, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Brussels-based EastWest Institute, told a European Parliament hearing in November.

Quietly expanding

The worst fears of mass revenge killings and expulsions have not been realized in or around Mosul to date. Instead, Shiite militias are more quietly extending their presence and visible control in a new part of the country, as a tour of the region repeatedly demonstrates.

Driving out of the Kurdish autonomous region from Irbil, the closest major city to Mosul, one leaves the Kurdish flags behind and immediately enters the uncertain terrain of militias. In the Christian town of Hamdaniyeh, the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, a Christian militia paid by and affiliated with the PMU, guards the entrance and exit. Its members are relaxed and friendly. Most of them live in the Kurdish region, where they fled the Islamic State and have only recently returned.

After Hamdaniyeh, the road crosses hillocks and fields with long-dilapidated chicken coops and the militias are from a Shabak unit. The Shabak are a local minority, some of whom are Shiite and recently joined the PMU’s Badr Organization.

For some Shabak and Iraqi Christians, the PMU are liberators. Last year, the PMU released a video showing the church bells of Mosul ringing again, sending the message that they would liberate the city from the Islamic State and make it safe for Christians. Militia members hand out “Imam Hussein” flags to children in local hamlets.

But in some Sunni Arab villages, there is obvious fear of the militia members who wander the streets, rifles over their shoulders, peering into mud-caked compounds.

Leaving the Shabak behind, the road skirts the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which Islamic State fighters blew up in 2015. A floating pontoon bridge over the Tigris is all that connects the western and eastern sides today. Airstrikes have demolished the old bridges.

The pontoon bridge is in such bad shape that it washed out during flooding in April and took days to repair. Civilians trod this road, and Iraqi nongovernmental organizations bring food to some of the estimated 160,000 civilians who have fled the battle of Mosul for refugee camps.

One car flying a white flag drove by with a corpse in the back, transported for burial across the river.

But each civilian vehicle, often packed with people, must pass a strict checkpoint on both sides. The checkpoint stops are tense. Soldiers and militia members ask where the Arab passengers are from and check the cargo. They are looking for Islamic State fighters. A Shiite flag with the sketch of a sword dripping blood flutters on the bridge.

As the road from the Tigris nears Mosul, it merges with a large highway that runs to Baghdad and the presence of the militias appears to thin out. The Iraqi army and Federal Police take the lead at checkpoints. Many vehicles of the Iraqi armed forces display Shiite flags, but the militias are not playing an official role in the battle for the city — only in rural areas around it.

A massive new United Nations camp at Hamam al-Alil is largely unoccupied. A giant sign by the PMU indicates that Shiite militias control access to the camp and claim they are “confirming the [safety]” of the camps and will provide aid equally.

The Shiite militias know that they are viewed by many with suspicion and are accused of discrimination and sectarianism. When a reporter tries to enter an older part of the Hamam al-Alil camp, militia members wearing black balaclavas and masks with skulls on them block the way.

Civilians in these neighborhoods have transitioned from Islamic State rule to another form of religious rule, with militarized checkpoints controlling their movements. A young man who fled one of these villages when the Shiite arrived and now lives in a reformatory in Irbil said the Shiite militias don’t belong in his Sunni village or northern Iraq.

In many ways, civilian life has an air of normalcy — even in Mosul with the sound of gunfire in the background. Women in black abayas wait for food to be distributed. Men stand around smoking, observing. Children play, some with visible burns from the war.

Most of these people have lived with years of war. Since the 1980s and particularly since 2003, they have witnessed rounds of violence. In January 2008, for instance, the city was hit by more than a dozen attacks a day, including improvised explosive devices, car bombs and shootings.

By contrast, life under the Islamic State was relatively peaceful for many pious Sunnis, many of whom greeted the takeover warmly in 2014.

“This too shall pass,” seemed to be the overall feeling in and around Mosul. Saddam came and went, then the Americans, the jihadis, the Americans, the Islamic State and now the Shiite militias. If Shiite militias continue to hoist flags over Sunni mosques in the city and the militias continue to man dozens of checkpoints in the rural countryside, then it is likely only a matter of time before insurgent attacks begin again.

Mosul assault – a military Tower of Babel

October 17, 2016

Mosul assault – a military Tower of Babel, DEBKAfile, October 17, 2016

mosul_offensive_declaration_16-10-16

The underlying US rationale for embarking on this high-wire operation is President Barack Obama’s aspiration to achieve Mosul’s liberation before his departure from the White House in January, in the hope that this landmark success will provide a major distraction from his administration’s failed policies in Syria.

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Sunday night, Oct. 16, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, supported by a bevy of generals, announced that the military operation to recapture Mosul from its two-year occupation by the Islamic State had begun.

Three formally approved participants are taking part in the operation, DEBKAfile’s military sources report:

1. American special operations, artillery and engineering units – equipped with floating bridges for crossing the Tigris River – plus the US air force for massive bombardment to crush enemy resistance.

2. Iraqi army armored divisions, special ops forces, regular troops and anti-terror police units.

3. The Iraqi Kurds’ Peshmerga.

The Iraqi prime minister pledged formally that only Iraqi fighters would enter Mosul, i.e. no Americans, Kurds or other non-Iraqi forces.

It was a pledge that neither the Iraqi Sunni and Shiite combatants nor the Kurdish and Turkmen fighters trusted him to uphold, after similar promises went by the wayside in the US-led coalition battles fought in the past two years to retake the Iraqi towns of Ramadi, Tikirit, Baiji and Fallujah from ISIS.

The first forces to enter those cities were by and large pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militias, especially the Bader Brigades and the Popular Mobilization Units, under Iran’s supreme Middle East commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Nonetheless, despite the ravages they wrought in those Sunni cities, US air support was forthcoming for their advance, while in Washington US officials pretended they were helping Iraqi government army units.

With regard to the Mosul campaign, Obama administration officials and military officers, like the Iraqi prime minister, insist there will be no repetition of the Iranian-backed Shiite invasion and conquest of yet another Sunni city, where a million inhabitants still remain.

mosul_offensive_17-10-16

They don’t explain how this will be prevented when those same pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite forces are already massing northeast of Mosul, near the Iraqi-Syria border, and standing by for the order to advance into the city.

Tehran quite obviously has no intention of being left out of the epic capture of Mosul.

Neither is another uninvited party, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. He too has positioned a Turkish military concentration in Iraq, in defiance of strong objections from Washington and Baghdad. Turkish troops stand ready to move forward to do Erdogan’s will and achieve three strategic goals:

a) To actively frustrate Kurdish Peshmerga entry to Mosul, although its 15,000 fighters out of the 25,000 invasion force are a vital element of the spearhead thrust into the city. Ankara has warned that if Kurds set foot in Mosul, Turkish troops will follow.

b)  To block the path of Syrian Kurdish YPG militiamen from entering Iraq and linking up with their Iraqi brothers-in-arms.

c) To provide backing, including Turkish air support, for the Iraqi Turkmen militias still present in the Turkmen quarter of Mosul.

DEBKAfile’s military sources count six assorted military groupings taking part in the liberation of Mosul. They have nothing in common aside from their determination to drive the Islamic State out.

They are utterly divided on the two main aspects of the offensive: How to achieve their common goal and what happens to Mosul after the Islamist invaders are gone.

The underlying US rationale for embarking on this high-wire operation is President Barack Obama’s aspiration to achieve Mosul’s liberation before his departure from the White House in January, in the hope that this landmark success will provide a major distraction from his administration’s failed policies in Syria.

The Islamic State might have been expected to take advantage of the prior warning of the offensive for a stand in defense of the Iraqi capital of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s caliphate and so exploit the conflicting interests of the invading force.

But ISIS leaders decided against waiting for the combined offensive. Indeed, according to DEBKAfile’s sources, thousands of jihadis made tracks out of the city two or three months ago, relocating the bulk of their combat strength and institutions in two new locations: in the western Iraqi desert province of Anbar at a site between the Jordanian and Saudi borders and eastern Syria. Several hundred fighters were left behind in Mosul to harass the US-Iraq-Kurdish armies as they advance into the city and exploit the invaders’ discord to retain a foothold in Mosul.

US praises role of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Baiji operation

October 22, 2015

US praises role of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Baiji operation, Long War Journal, October 22, 2015

Over the past several days, US officials have celebrated the capture of Baiji from the Islamic State. While doing so, they have praised the role that Iranian-supported Shiite militias have played in capturing the strategic central Iraqi city. These are the same militias that are responsible for killing hundreds of US soldiers just a few years ago, and many of these militia leaders are listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Additionally, the US is continuing to provide air support to aid these groups.

Both the US military and the Obama administration’s Deputy Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (the outdated acronym for the Islamic State) issued statements that praised the role the Shiite militias played in recapturing Baiji.

Brett McGurk, the Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL [another acronym for the Islamic State], tweeted that the “US commends progress by Iraqi Security Forces and popular mobilization forces [emphasis ours] against ISIL terrorists in Baiji.” He also confirmed that the US has launched around 130 airstrikes in support of these groups since August.

McGurk’s plaudits for the role that the “popular mobilization forces” have played in Baiji was echoed by the US military, which called these units “Shiia [sic] security forces.”

Army Major Mike Filanowski, an officer in the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), said that “The people who did the heavy lifting [in Baiji] were the Iraqi special forces.” He continued by saying, “they not only secured the [Baiji] oil refinery, but also the power plant to the north all the way up to the al-Fatah Bridge.” While the Iraqi special forces did help capture the refinery, they were not the only forces doing the “heavy lifting.”

The Department of Defense press release that quoted Filanowski admitted that the Popular Mobilization Committee (also called Popular Mobilization Units or Popular Mobilization Forces), was conducting operations.

“In the last three days, a special operations team from the elite Counterterrorism Service spearheaded the attack,” the DoD statement said. “The team worked with Iraqi army soldiers, Popular Mobilization Front forces — essentially Shiia security forces — and federal police” [emphasis ours].

So while the US commends the Iraqi Security Forces and the Popular Mobilization Committee, it is also lauding designated terrorists and a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The Popular Mobilization Committee is led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in July 2009. The US government described Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” the commander of the Qods Force, the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The Iranian-backed Shiite militias that played a prominent role in the assault on Baiji include: Asa’ib al Haq (League of the Righteous), whose leader Qais al Khazali is thought to be involved in the murder of five US soldiers in Karbala in 2007; Hezbollah Brigades, which is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US government; Harakat al Nujaba, which recently called for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq; Harakat al Nujaba, which is led by Akram Abbas al Kaabi, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist; Kata’ib Imam Ali, led by Shebl al Zaydi, who is close to Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani; Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada, which is commanded by Mustafa al Sheibani, who is also a Specially Designated Global Terrorist; and Badr Corps, another large militia supported by Iran. For more information the role these militias played in the retaking of Baiji, including photographs and video of Iraqi forces operating alongside these militias, see LWJ report, Iraqi Army, Shiite militias report success in Baiji.

Sadly, this behavior by US officials is nothing new. Earlier this year, General (retired) John Allen, the former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, claimed that the US is only supporting so-called moderate Shiite militas, and not the “extremist elements.” Allen’s statement is below:

With regard to militias, it’s really important to understand that the militias are not just a single monolithic entity. There are the militias that you and I are used to hearing that have close alignments with Iran. Those are the extremist elements, and we don’t have anything to do with that. But there are elements of the Shia militias that volunteered last year to try to defend Iraq from the onslaught of Daesh [Islamic State] who were called to arms by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and those elements, or the Popular Mobilization Force, as they are known, have been subordinated to the Iraqi higher military campaign or command. And they will provide maneuver capacity and additional firepower to the Iraqi Security Forces as we continue to build them out, as we continue to build the professionalization of the Iraqi forces.

So the fact that militias are involved and tribes are involved in this part of the campaign, this part of the implementation of supporting Iraq ultimately to recover the country, should not alarm us. We just need to ensure that we manage the outcome of this. Prime Minister Abadi’s been clear that these organizations within the Popular Mobilization Force, the Shia volunteers, will eventually either transition into the security forces themselves or go home. That’s the solution that he intends and I think that that’s a supportable outcome. So for now – this goes back to the point that you made about urgency – urgency is an important factor here in helping us to focus on supporting the Iraqis, the tribes, and the Popular Mobilization Force to take those actions necessary to defeat Daesh locally.

Allen said that the fact that the US is supporting the Popular Mobilization Committee “should not alarm us.” Except it should alarm us. Because as we detailed, the organization’s operational leader is a Specially Designated Terrorist, and its most effective militias are Iranian pawns that are responsible for killing hundreds of US soldiers and remain openly hostile to the US.