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US to designate Iran-backed Iraqi militia as terrorist organisation

Members of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia on an anti-IS operation in Iraq [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 January, 2020

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The US has said it will designate Iraq’s Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia and its leaders as a terrorist organisation due to it acting as a ‘violent proxy’ for Iran.
The United States announced on Friday it has designated Iraqi armed group  as a terrorist organisation as well as two of the group’s leaders, calling it an Iranian proxy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the group Asaib Ahl al-Haq and its leaders "are violent proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran".

He added that Qais al-Khazali, Asaib Ahl al-Haq's leader, and his brother Laith al-Khazali, a senior figure in the group, "use violence and terror to further the Iranian regime's efforts to undermine Iraqi sovereignty".

The group, which is a founding militia of Iraq's Shia paramilitary force Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, is backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, whose leader Qasem Soleimani was assassinated by a US airstrike in Iraq on Friday.

The Iraq Report: Iran's power in Iraq now questioned after US kills Soleimani

The leader of the Hashd al-Shaabi, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in Friday's strike.

The State Department added that Asaib Ahl al-Haq is "extensively funded and trained" by the Quds Force, and has claimed responsibility for more than 6,000 attacks against the United States and coalition forces since its creation in 2006.

Asaib al-Haq's leader Qais al-Khazali [Getty]

The Quds Force, an elite corps involved in overseas operations, has also been sanctioned by the United States, according to the State Department.

Soleimani was Iran's most powerful military commander, directing large-scale operations in Syria, Iraq and across the Middle East.

Qais and Laith al-Khazali had already been sanctioned by the US last month over their alleged roles in killing anti-government protesters in Iraq.

The US Treasury has thus frozen any of their US assets and prohibited Americans from doing business with them.

Following Friday's strike, Qais al-Khazali ordered his fighters to be on "high alert for upcoming battle and great victory".

"The price for the blood for the martyred commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is the complete end to American military presence in Iraq," the militia leader said.

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