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Why Did US Sanction Iraq’s Popular Forces?

Alwaght– Iraq’s mid-May parliamentary election marked a new page in the country’s socio-political developments. The very noticeable hallmarks of the new period are four. First, after four years of fierce battles, the Iraqis managed to defeat the history’s largest terror organization, ISIS, and reclaim the whole of their territories seized since 2014. Second, Baghdad restored the rule over the whole national territories and so foiled the split plots after the army, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), anti-terror policy, and other security services retook control of Kirkuk and other disputed areas in Salahaddin, Nineveh, Diyala on the heels of Kurdish independence referendum.

The third feature developed after the May 12 vote, and it is the rise of pro-independence spirit among the nation’s political factions. Politicians began to believe that foreign forces’ presence, on top of them the US, is against the spirit of Iraq’s independence and national sovereignty. Hence, the US should withdraw its forces.

And the fourth feature is ascendance of new players to the political stage. The election gave rise to those with limited political weight in the government and parliament structure. But their slogans and promises turned the tide to their advantage now. Main emerging forces are components of the PMF, which played a leading role in the obliteration of the terrorist group.

PMF-affiliated parties engaged in the parliamentary race under Fatah Coalition and gained 47 seats to rank second after Saeroon Coalition, led by Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr. Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, both Fatah’s arch-parties, respectively won 20 and 15 seats, a reflection of their wide base among Iraqis.

Upon revealing the election results, their adversaries highly apparently began their campaign of hostility. Recently, the US Congress blacklisted three major PMF subjects, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Al Nujaba Movement, and Kata’ib Hezbollah, as terrorist groups. What is behind Washington’s blacklisting? Why does that happen only days after final results came out? Three goals motivate the hostile move:

Impairing anti-US camp

The primary objective is to weaken the leading sub-organizations of PMF, mobilized in 2014 in opposition to ISIS terrorist group. According to the Independent High Election Commission, Saeroon, led by al-Sadr, and Fatah, led by Hadi al-Amiri, took the lead with their respectively 54 and 47 seats. The outcome meant nothing but the rise of anti-American camps to parliament. Shortly after results, the two leaders called for US forces pull-out of the country, labeling them occupying forces. In the post-Saddam period, beginning in 2003, Al-Sadr— formed Jaysh al-Mahdi militia and revolted against the occupying troops— was the key force calling for US and allies’ withdrawal in favor of an independent Iraq.

Frustrated and surprised by its opponents’ overwhelming win, the US staged a pressure campaign, with sanctioning of Fatah’s constituents coming as a primary measure. Asaib Ahl al-Haq was hit with sanctions though it is one of the biggest parliamentary factions with 15 seats.

Responding to the ban, the movement issued a statement, warning Washington will pay dearly for its “arrogant policies.”  The reaction to pro-independence parties’ win exhibits how serious the US concerns are about growing power of anti-American axis in Iraq. On the opposite side, the victorious circles do not tend to easily come to terms with the US occupation of Iraqi territory. Their unbending policy towards the US grants them a public base which shields them against Washington’s malign restrictions.

Gaining sway over new government

The American sanctions against the Al-Hashd Al-Shabi, a local name for the PMF, lie in the US hope to make ground for meddling in the upcoming government. Asaib Ahl al-Haq statement very plainly addresses this case. “The first result of this move is Washington’s loss of international confidence,” the statement read. Additionally, in an interview with the Kurdish Rudaw media network earlier this week, Ahmed al-Kinani, the head of al-Sadiqoun parliamentary bloc representing Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, called on Baghdad to respond to the new US bill and take strong measures against Washington’s embassy in the country. The American plan is to, on the one hand, block their role in the new government and, on the other hand, meddle in Iraq’s affairs under sanctioning and other confrontational guises.

Double-Standard counterterrorism

The US biased policy in the so-called fight against terrorism provides the strongest motivation to foist restrictions against the popular Iraqi movements, which have played an unavoidable role in anti-ISIS combat for four years. Many analysts assert that US ignorance of PMF’s seminal role serves an interest-centered policy, and far beyond that serves the agenda of the Israeli regime, which runs a vicious regional policy against Iran, an ally to Iraqi government and PMF.

Al-Kinani has pointed to this fact in his last week’s interview.

“This is a sign of the American government’s defeat and proves that we’re moving in the right direction and we’re proud of it. We take pride in confronting the [US] occupying forces. We have offered a lot of martyrs to our country, but ultimately we have defeated the occupiers in most areas in the country,” he told Rudaw television.

Al-Kinani continued: “Al-Hashd Al-Shabi is an independent organization and according to Iraq’s parliamentary law, it operates under the central command of ground forces. If somebody accuses Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq of terrorism, they should provide evidence. Asaib Ahl al-Haq was the first group to successfully contain terrorists in Iraq.”

But the Americans insist on their policy of identifying and fighting terrorism roots in a biased fashion. A patriotic anti-terror force such as Al-Hashed Al-Shabi is targeted by punitive measures while the US ally Saudi Arabia which over the past years has been actively involved in support for terrorism across the region and even beyond survives the Congressional sanctioning bills.

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