By Shelly Kittleson for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

In Iraq, tension between the US-led coalition and armed groups linked to Iran has risen in recent months.

For example, the United States sanctioned key representatives of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Nov. 13, saying they had moved money, acquired weapons and trained fighters in Iraq. Problems have also arisen with some factions of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

As a whole, the PMU are part of Iraq’s security forces, but some of its dozens of factions are Shiite armed groups with ties to Iran. There has long been tension between some of the local Sunni population and those Shiite-majority PMUs from southern and central Iraq.

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(Picture Credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action today to target four Hizballah-affiliated individuals who lead and coordinate the group’s operational, intelligence, and financial activities in Iraq.

Specifically, OFAC designated Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi, Yusuf Hashim, Adnan Hussein Kawtharani, and Muhammad ‘Abd-Al-Hadi Farhat as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

“Hizballah is a terrorist proxy for the Iranian regime that seeks to undermine Iraqi sovereignty and destabilize the Middle East.  We are targeting terror facilitators like Al-Zaydi who smuggle oil for Iran, raise funds for Hizballah, and send fighters to Syria for the IRGC-Qods Force on behalf of Qasem Soleimani,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

“Treasury’s concerted actions aim to deny Hizballah’s clandestine attempts to exploit Iraq to launder funds, procure weapons, train fighters, and collect intelligence as a proxy for Iran.  This administration will impose severe consequences on anyone assisting Hizballah and their global support networks, and those who engage in business relationships with these terrorists expose themselves to serious sanctions risk.”

These designations follow the signing into law on October 25, 2018, of the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018, which reinforces the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect the international financial system by targeting Hizballah’s supporters, financial networks, and those that facilitate and enable its destabilizing activities worldwide.

Today’s designations specifically target individuals enabling Hizballah’s activities that undermine security and stability in Iraq, and carry significant risks for those attempting to conduct business with Hizballah globally.  Today’s action continues Treasury’s historic level of Hizballah-related designations, which have reached record numbers in 2018.

Treasury’s actions today again highlight the degree to which Hizballah operates as a clandestine, terrorist arm of the Iranian regime.  On November 5, 2018, in its largest ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime, OFAC sanctioned over 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels.  This action completed the re-imposition of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted or waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The individuals designated today are subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implements the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015.  Pursuant to this authority, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah.

All property and interests in property of those persons designated today that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are now blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

Shibl Muhsin ‘Ubayd Al-Zaydi (Al-Zaydi)

Al-Zaydi was designated for acting for or on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Qods Force (IRGC-QF), and assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Hizballah.

Al-Zaydi has served as a financial coordinator between the IRGC-QF and sectarian armed groups in Iraq and assisted in facilitating Iraqi investments on behalf of IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani, whom OFAC designated on October 11, 2011, for acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF.  Al-Zaydi has also coordinated the smuggling of oil from Iran on behalf of Iran, the smuggling of oil into Syria on behalf of Iran, and has sent Iraqi fighters to Syria allegedly at the IRGC-QF’s request.  Al-Zaydi has appeared publically with IRGC-QF Commander Qasem Soleimani at least four times.

Al-Zaydi has maintained close business ties to Hizballah officials and Hizballah financier Adham Tabaja (Tabaja).  These activities have included providing protection for companies in Iraq allegedly financed by Hizballah and facilitating the movement of Hizballah funding into Iraq for investments.  Al-Zaydi has also worked with senior Hizballah officials to transfer large sums of money to Lebanon to help fund Hizballah’s participation in the Syrian civil war.

Moreover, Al-Zaydi has transferred large sums of money to Tabaja and worked with OFAC-designated Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Kallas to facilitate the movement of bulk cash from Iraq to Lebanon on Tabaja’s behalf.  OFAC designated Tabaja on June 6, 2015, for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.  Tabaja maintains direct ties to senior Hizballah officials and Hizballah’s operational component, the Islamic Jihad, and holds properties in Lebanon on behalf of the group.

In addition, Al-Zaydi is a partner and founder of Global Cleaners S.A.R.L., which OFAC designated on October 20, 2016, as an SDGT pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Tabaja.  Also, since its founding in 2014, Al-Zaydi has been the Secretary General of an Iran-aligned Iraqi sectarian armed group.  This armed group primarily operates in Iraq, but has also dispatched fighters to Syria, and its members have trained in Iran and with Hizballah in Lebanon.

Yusuf Hashim (Hashim)

Hashim was designated for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.

Hashim oversees all Hizballah-related operational activities in Iraq and is in charge of protecting Hizballah interests in Iraq.  Additionally, Hashim arranges for the protection of Tabaja inside of Iraq.

Hashim has also managed Hizballah’s relations with sectarian armed groups in Iraq, including the coordination of the deployment of fighters to Syria.

Adnan Hussein Kawtharani (Kawtharani)

Kawtharani was designated for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Hizballah.

Kawtharani facilitates business transactions for Hizballah inside Iraq and has attended meetings in Iraq with sectarian armed groups and Hizballah officials.  Kawtharani has also been involved in securing a significant source of funding for Hizballah, and has served as the right hand man for his brother and senior Hizballah member Muhammad Kawtharani, whom OFAC designated on August 22, 2013, pursuant to E.O. 13224, for being in charge of Hizballah’s Iraq activities and working on behalf of Hizballah leadership to promote the group’s interests in Iraq, including Hizballah efforts to provide training, funding, political, and logistical support to Iraqi sectarian armed groups.

Further, as of 2016, Kawtharani worked to obtain a weapons contract in order to raise funds for Hizballah fighters.

Kawtharani is also a partner in the company Global Cleaners S.A.R.L.

Muhammad ‘Abd-Al-Hadi Farhat (Farhat)

Farhat was designated for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.

Farhat has been involved in advising sectarian armed groups in Iraq on behalf of Hizballah.  As of 2017, Farhat was tasked with collecting security and intelligence information in Iraq and subsequently providing reports to senior Hizballah and Iranian leadership.  Farhat has been involved in a project to analyze and report on the Iraqi security situation for Hizballah and the IRGC-QF.

View identifying information on the individuals designated today.

(Source: OFAC)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on the Governor and a senior official of the Central Bank of Iran, an Iraq-based bank and its chairman, and a key Hizballah official, all of whom have moved millions of dollars on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to Hizballah.

They were designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

“Iran’s Central Bank Governor covertly funneled millions of dollars on behalf of the IRGC-QF through Iraq-based al-Bilad Islamic Bank to enrich and support the violent and radical agenda of Hizballah.  It is appalling, but not surprising, that Iran’s senior-most banking official would conspire with the IRGC-QF to facilitate funding of terror groups like Hizballah, and it undermines any credibility he could claim in protecting the integrity of the institution as a central bank governor,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

“The United States will not permit Iran’s increasingly brazen abuse of the international financial system.  The global community must remain vigilant against Iran’s deceptive efforts to provide financial support to its terrorist proxies.”

Today’s action cuts off Iran’s use of a critical banking network and follows last Thursday’s disruption of an IRGC-QF-associated currency exchange network procuring millions of dollars through the UAE.  Both actions seek to stifle Iran’s ability to abuse the U.S. and regional financial systems.  These actions continue the aggressive campaign against the IRGC and its proxies that the Treasury Department has led under this Administration.

These actions build upon President Trump’s May 8 decision to cease the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and begin reimposing U.S. sanctions that had been lifted under the JCPOA, including against the Central Bank of Iran.

The IRGC-QF was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 25, 2007.  The IRGC-QF’s parent organization, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) itself was also designated on October 13, 2017 pursuant to E.O. 13224 for its support to the IRGC-QF, and consistent with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

Hizballah was designated by the Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 1997 and as an SDGT pursuant to E.O. 13224 in October 2001.  It was listed in January 1995 in the Annex to E.O. 12947, which targets terrorists who threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process, and also designated in August 2012 pursuant to E.O. 13582, which targets the Government of Syria and its supporters.

Iran’s Central Bank Governor and a Senior Staff Officer

OFAC is designating Valiollah Seif, Iran’s Central Bank Governor, for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.  Seif has conspired with the IRGC-QF to move millions of dollars through the international financial system in a variety of foreign currencies to allow the IRGC­QF to fund its activities abroad.  Seif has also supported the transfer of IRGC-QF-associated funds to al-Bilad Islamic Bank, an Iraq-based bank which is also being designated today.

OFAC also is designating Ali Tarzali, the assistant director of the International Department at the Central Bank of Iran, for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.  Tarzali has worked with Hizballah and proposed that the terrorist group send funds through Iraq-based al-Bilad Islamic Bank.

As a result of today’s actions, Veifollah Seif and Ali Tarzali are subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Iranian Financial Sanctions Regulations (IFSR), which implement, among other authorities, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA).  Pursuant to the IFSR, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for designated agents or affiliates of the IRGC or persons designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 in connection with Iran’s support for international terrorism or E.O. 13382 in connection with Iran’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

Today’s designations of Valiollah Seif, Iran’s Central Bank Governor, and Ali Tarzali, assistant director of the International Department at the Central Bank of Iran, do not extend to the Central Bank of Iran.  However, due to President Trump’s May 8, 2018 decision to cease the United States’ participation in the JCPOA, as of August 7, 2018, the United States Government will re-impose sanctions that extend to certain transactions with the Central Bank of Iran, including sanctions on the purchase or acquisition of U.S. dollars banknotes by the Government of Iran.  Furthermore, on November 5, 2018, additional sanctions will be re-imposed on persons knowingly engaging in certain significant transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.

Al-Bilad Islamic Bank and Its Chairman and Chief Executive

OFAC is designating Aras Habib, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Al-Bilad Islamic Bank, for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.  Aras Habib enabled the IRGC-QF’s exploitation of Iraq’s banking sector to move funds from Tehran to Hizballah, jeopardizing the integrity of the Iraqi financial system.  Habib, who has a history of serving as a conduit for financial disbursements from the IRGC-QF to Iranian-backed Iraqi groups, has also helped provide IRGC-QF financial support to Lebanese Hizballah.  Al-Bilad Islamic Bank is being designated for being owned or controlled by Aras Habib.

As a result of today’s actions, Aras Habib and Al-Bilad Bank are subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the IFSR, which implement, among other authorities, CISADA.  Pursuant to the IFSR, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for designated agents or affiliates of the IRGC or persons designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 in connection with Iran’s support for international terrorism or E.O. 13382 in connection with Iran’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.

Hizballah Official Working with IRGC-QF

OFAC is designating Muhammad Qasir (Qasir) for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.  Qasir acted as a critical conduit for financial disbursements from the IRGC-QF to Hizballah.  Qasir has worked with the IRGC-QF to transfer funds.

Qasir is subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implements the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015.  Pursuant to this authority, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah, or a person acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or owned or controlled by, Hizballah.

Identifying information on the individuals and entities designated today.

(Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury)