By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Two pro-Iranian militias active in Iraq and Syria declared that possible US sanctions targeting them would be ineffective and claimed that such sanctions would actually strengthen their presence and expansion in the Middle East.

The US House of Representatives on May 24 passed sanctions against Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba as an amendment to annual defense legislation. The bill called for sanctions against “persons that are officials, agents, affiliates of or owned and controlled by” the two groups.

Laith al-Azari, a member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s political bureau, said on May 30, “Including Asaib Ahl al-Haq, along with some other Iraqi armed factions, on the terrorist list will increase our own ability to confront terrorism and confront US plans in Iraq.”

He did not explain how sanctions could lead to this result, but sees the action as an effort to thwart the pro-Iranian axis of resistance, which includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and confront Islamist movements. The sanctions vote followed US President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement withdrawing the United States from the Iranian nuclear deal, ostensibly in order to reach a better deal that would limit Iran’s military power in the region.

In a May 30 interview with Rudaw, Mohammad Mohi, spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, played down the importance of possible US sanctions, stating, “The US decision is not new as far as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba is concerned. This is not a new issue, but one that has been tackled on an annual basis.” Nujaba leader Akram al-Kaabi was sanctioned in 2008 by the Treasury Department, which designated him an individual “fueling violence” in Iraq.

Mohi linked the House vote to a decision by the Iraqi parliament three months ago obligating the Iraqi government to schedule the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, measures supported by the two groups targeted for sanctions. While condemning foreign interference in Iraqi affairs, including the US and Turkish military presence, Mohi praised the Iranian presence, stating, “Without Iranian support, Iraq would not have defeated the Islamic State [IS]. Had it not been for Iran’s support, Erbil would have fallen [to IS] along with Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. This is why Iran’s intervention was in the interest of the Iraqi people, and it came at a time when other countries were idly watching Iraq head toward an unknown fate.”

The House’s sanctions vote followed Iraq’s May 12 legislative elections, in which the political organizations of the pro-Iranian militias emerged as the second largest coalition, meaning they might have a shot at forming the new government. Asaib Ahl al-Haq looks like it will occupy at least 14 of the 47 seats won by the Al-Fateh Alliance, consisting of pro-Iran factions and headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization. Al-Fateh came in second, behind the Sairoon Alliance, headed by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which won 56 seats. There are 328 seats in the Council of Representatives.

Despite the Sairoon Alliance’s lead, its position could be undermined by independent candidates. It is being reported that a number of independents will be joining the Al-Fataeh Alliance. So far, only one such candidate for Shabak, Qusay Abbas, has joined Al-Fateh after winning a seat.

Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, expects his movement to end up with at least 15 seats once the official results are announced, following the resolution of disputes over balloting irregularities. The Badr Organization is also thinking that it will be allotted additional seats after the results are in. Meanwhile, the State of Law Coalition, another ally of Iran, won 26 seats, and is fully prepared to forge an alliance with Al-Fateh given their common political agendas.

All this means that should Al-Fateh’s natural allies join it, it would beat out the Sairoon Alliance and be in a position to form a government consisting mostly of pro-Iranian factions. If this scenario transpires, the United States could find itself in the very awkward situation of having to deal with a government it is sanctioning, should the sanctions ultimately be adopted. Would the United States actually sever ties with the Iraqi government, a key partner since 2003, or, finding that scenario unpalatable, simply decide to waive or put off new sanctions?

Another scenario that might be even more difficult for the United States would see Sairoon and Al-Fateh coming together around their shared goal of US forces withdrawing from the country and curbing US influence in Iraq and the region. Before that could happen, however, big differences between the two alliances would have to be overcome. Al-Fateh opposes the United States in favor of expanding Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region, while Sairoon wants an Iraq independent of Iran, free to manage its own internal affairs and regional positions.

Of note, Israeli-Russian understandings, with US buy-in, are being concluded to keep pro-Iranian militias away from the southern border of Syria, which would, of course, undermine the Iranian role in Syria. Regardless, in terms of US interests in Iraq, it appears the United States might ultimately find itself in the dilemma of having to choose between the lesser of evils.

The spokesman for Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Hashim al-Moussawi, believes Washington launched a war on the resistance axis when it reneged on the Iranian nuclear deal and then prepared to impose economic sanctions on Hezbollah supporters. “This is an expected reaction to the losses suffered by the US by the Islamic resistance factions,” he said. “The elections in Lebanon and Iraq and the victory of the resistance [against IS in Iraq] showed the US the high level of threat it is facing.”

Moussawi touts the showing by the Al-Fateh Alliance as a victory for the Iranian axis. “This is why it [the US] is seeking to plunge Iraq into the spiral of permanent chaos,” he said. “The entry of the resistance into political circles will embarrass Washington, which is politically seeking to bypass the axis of resistance.”

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)

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

The conflict between the United States and Iran has taken a new turn toward escalation against the Iranian-backed armed Shiite factions in Iraq. But this step might harm Washington’s interests in Baghdad and engage the Iraqi government in a crisis with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

While Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is trying to strike a balance to tame armed Shiite factions and earn US support, Washington is seeking to add armed factions affiliated with the PMU to the list of terrorist organizations.

The US House of Representatives introduced a bill in early November called “Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act of 2017,” which calls for imposing terrorism-related sanctions on Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. The bill was referred Nov. 3 to the Foreign Affairs committee.

Before Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba was formed in 2013, the United States designated its leader Akram al-Kaabi as a terrorist in 2008 per Executive Order No. 13438, on the grounds of “causing chaos in Iraq and threatening the stability and security of the alliance forces which were in Iraq before retreating completely in 2011.”

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba was blacklisted less than a month after spokeswoman for the US State Department Heather Nauert described Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the PMU, as a terrorist.

After Muhandis, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and Asaib Ahl al-Haq were blacklisted, statements of various US Congress members indicated that the United States intends to designate additional Shiite factions as terrorist organizations.

While a harsher tone is being adopted in Iraqi statements against Washington, member of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Hanan al-Fatalawi called on the Iraqi Foreign Ministry Nov. 17 to summon the US ambassador to Baghdad to find out the reasons behind “the future US war” on the PMU.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has taken action targeting Salim Mustafa Muhammad al-Mansur (Mansur), an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) finance emir.

Mansur was designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 13224 for acting for or on behalf of ISIS. As a result of today’s designation, all property and interests in property of Mansur subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with him.

The Treasury Department continues in its determined efforts to disrupt ISIS’s financial networks regardless of geographic location.  Treasury has an unwavering dedication to safeguard the United States and international financial systems from exploitation by ISIS.

The designation also highlights the U.S. government’s continued commitment to work in concert with the Government of Iraq, which has also taken steps under its domestic authorities to bar Mansur from the Iraqi financial system and freeze any assets he may have subject to Iraq’s jurisdiction.

OFAC Director John E. Smith said:

“Treasury continues to work in close collaboration with the Government of Iraq to dismantle ISIS financial networks both inside and outside of ISIS-controlled territory … This action underscores the United States’ resolve to work with international partners to further restrict ISIS’s ability to abuse the U.S. and Iraqi financial systems.”

Mansur’s involvement with ISIS and its predecessor, al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), dates back to at least late 2009 when Mansur was an AQI commander involved in fundraising activities to support terrorism in Iraq.

In early 2014, Mansur was involved in moving hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dinars to ISIS in Mosul.  In addition, in 2015, he laundered and transferred money on behalf of ISIS, and as of mid-2016, he was responsible for selling crude oil that ISIS extracted from oil fields in Iraq and Syria.  As of early 2017, Mansur was an ISIS finance emir for Mosul who had moved to Turkey.

For identifying information on the individual designated today, click here.

(Sources: OFAC, CBI)

America: may impose sanctions on individuals and companies Russian and Chinese Press direction / follow-up US officials said the United States is considering to impose sanctions on individuals and companies because of Russian and Chinese cyberattacks on US commercial goals.…

By John Lee.

A report from the Financial Times claims that an Iraqi company has helped to Iran acquire nine large commercial aircraft, in defiance of international sanctions.

According to the report, Iran’s Mahan Air, which is blacklisted by the US and Europe because of alleged links to Iran’s revolutionary guard — allegations denied by the airline — used the small Iraqi Al-Naser Airlines as a front to buy more aircraft worth more than $300-million.

Al-Naser denies the allegation. Eyad Abdelkarim, head of marketing for Al-Naser, told the FT:

“I don’t have any information about this … This is some kind of propaganda … There is no truth to the information you have received.”

Until 2014, Al-Naser was owned by Iraq’s powerful al-Khawam family, as part of their Riyadh Investment Group. It was then sold to Firas al-Mayyali, who is involved in foreign exchange trading in Baghdad.

(Source: Financial Times)

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Fourteen companies including Renault Trucks, Legrand and Schneider Electric stand trial, accused of breaching the embargo on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s:

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Fourteen companies including Renault Trucks, Legrand and Schneider Electric stand trial, accused of breaching the embargo on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s: