Exposing and Sanctioning Human Rights Violations by Iraqi and Iranian-backed Militias

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On October 3, 2019, a group of Iraqi politicians, security leaders, and Iranian backed militias joined officers of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to form the cell in Baghdad. The cell worked from two operating sections. One in a secret security house in Jadiriya, Baghdad, and the other in a building belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces near Ibn Sina hospital in the center of the capital. The cell received advice from Iranian liaison officers who provided intelligence on militants and security contacts to snipers. Reuters noted evidence that the snipers reported directly to their militia commanders “instead of the chief commander of the armed forces...They belong to a group that is very close to the Iranians.”

The crackdown involved the following measures: 

  • Internet blackout: The government has suspended them for various periods since then, with ongoing blockages of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and similar applications.
  • Illegal detention: More than 1,000 people arrested, including those removed from hospitals; many were forced to sign pledges not to take part in future protests on pain of prosecution. The Iraq High Commission for Human Rights reported on October 10 that 257 people were still unaccounted for after the government released detainees. Many of the missing are believed to be in Jurf al-Sakhar and other secret prisons run by Iranian-backed militias operating within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).  
  • Attacks on television stations: Six stations—Al-Arabiya, Dijlah, Al-Ghad, NRT, Al-Hadath, and TRT—were ransacked and taken off the air by militiamen from Saraya Ṭalia al-Khurasani (PMF Brigade 18) andHarakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (PMF Brigade 12) for continuing to broadcast imagery of the protests. NRT was overrun after airing an interview with a protestor who identified PMF militias responsible for sniper attacks. In addition, Al-Forat, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (PMF Brigades 41, 42, and 43) bombed the building on October 6 with either a hand-placed explosive or a drone, damaging cars and other buildings in the area.
  • Sniper attacks: Many peaceful protestors were targeted by snipers; these snipers were deployed by Iran-backed PMF militias; one sniper from Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (PMF Brigade 14) was detained. On October 17, Reuters reported that the sniper operations were coordinated by Abu Zainab al-Lami, head of the PMF Central Security Directorate (CSD) and a member of the U.S.-designated terrorist group Kataib Hezbollah (PMF Brigades 45, 46, and 47).
  • Intimidation: Journalists and civil society activists experienced intensive profiling, listing, and physical intimidation of dissidents causing many to flee north to the Kurdistan Region or leave the country altogether. Protestors have been inaccurately branded as foreign-backed agitators, with some accused of either serving as the “digital army of the U.S. embassy” or seeking normalized diplomatic relations with Israel.

Below are the individuals involved in committing crimes against innocent Iraqis since 2003 and the recent protests in Iraq since October 1st, 2019 - The sanctionable militia leaders are: 

  • Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. 
  • Muqtada Al Sadr, leader of the Sadrist Movement and the leader of Saraya Al-Salam, a militia that is a reformation of the previous militia he led during the American occupation of Iraq, the Mahdi Army.
  • Qais Al-Khazali, The head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, he has fully supported the IRGC-aided crackdown and the vilification of protestors as foreign-backed agitators.
  • Hadi Al Amiri is the reported leader and secretary-general of the Badr Organization, an Iranian-sponsored militia and political party based in Iraq.
  • Mohammed Rikan Hadeed Al-Halbousi, an Iraqi politician who is currently the Speaker of the Council of Representatives of  Iraq.
  • Faleh Al-Fayyad, Iraq’s national security advisor and PMF chairman, Fayyad returned home on October 4 after meeting with U.S. officials in Washington. He then immediately worked with the Iranian cell while his administrative assistant, Hamid al-Shatri, provided support.
  • Abu Jihad, whose real name is Mohammed Al-Hashemi, the head of the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, joined the cell after returning from Britain on October 5, 2019.
  • Abu Zainab Al-Lami, whose real name is Hussein Faleh Al-Lami, coordinated sniper operations against protesters.
  • Abu Muntadhar Al-Husseini, his real name is Tahseen Abdul Matar Al-Aboudi, a former head of operations in the Popular Mobilization Forces and the current prime minister's adviser on crowd affairs.
  • Abu Turab, A longstanding figure in the Iranian-backed Badr Organization, Maj. Gen. Ismail now heads the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response Division (aka Emergency Response Division). During the protests, he deployed sharpshooters to target civilians.
  • Hamid Al-Jazaeri, commander of the Taleya Al-Khorasani Brigades (18th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization Forces) coordinated attacks on television stations to destroy evidence of crimes circulation.
  • Abu Walaa Al-Wala'i, whose real name is Hashim Buniyat Al-Sarraji, the commander of the Iranian-backed Sayyid al-Shuhada Brigades militia. 
  • Abu Iman Al-Bahli, head of the Popular Mobilization Intelligence Directorate and responsible for liaison with the IRGC intelligence, has prepared targets from civil society activists and journalists to kidnap and detain.

We are asking the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of State to stop the bloodshed of the youth protesters, to take measures into holding sanctions and other international criminal court measures for the Iraqi politicians, military leaders, and Iranian backed militias who are involved in crimes, political corruption, and terrorism.

To prevent Iran from further compromising the Iraqi government or fomenting violence around the country, Washington must demonstrate that it stands with the next generation of Iraqis, particularly the reformists and supporters of free expression who have taken to the streets despite facing the real threat of death. On July 18, the first round of U.S. Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Iraqi elites sent a notable shudder through the country’s leadership, many of whom send their money, property portfolios, and families to foreign jurisdictions that U.S. sanctions can reach. 

Policy Recommendations

  • Sanction key officials for human rights violations.
  • Closely monitor human rights abuses after Arbain
  • Highlight the role of Iranian forces
  • Refocus on Kataib Hezbollah detentions