BAGHDAD: The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on an influential Iraqi militia leader and deputy of a powerful Iranian-backed umbrella, made up mostly of Shia paramilitary groups, naming him as a global terrorist figure.
The US Treasury’s ruling against Abdulaziz Al-Mohammadawi, known as Abu Fadak, was expected by many Iraqi officials. It was also the second time in a week that a senior Iraqi militia official had been sanctioned.
The chairman of the paramilitary umbrella, the Popular Mobilization Forces, Falih Al-Fayyadh was sanctioned last Friday under the Magnitsky law and accused of abusing the rights of anti-government protesters. The law allows the United States to target any foreigner accused of human rights violations and corruption.
Abu Fadak, a senior official with the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, is also the acting vice president of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a role he assumed after a US airstrike last January in Baghdad killed deputy militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, a powerful founding member of Kataib Hezbollah and the main architect of the umbrella group of paramilitaries.
The senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Qassim Soleimani, was also killed in the airstrike.
In addition to being a member of Kataib Hezbollah, which the United States has described as an “Iranian-backed terrorist organization”, the United States claims Abu Fadak works with the Quds Expeditionary Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to “reshape the official security institutions of the Iraqi state … instead support Iran’s malicious activities,” according to the US State Department.
The statement said that Iranian-backed elements, including Kataib Hezbollah, are involved in sectarian violence and are responsible for attacks on Iraqi government facilities and diplomatic missions.
The PMF was formed in 2014 to counter the Daesh group, following a fatwa by senior Iraqi Shiite cleric Ali Al-Sistani, and was subsequently placed under the government. His growing influence in Iraqi affairs has alarmed US officials who accuse him of orchestrating attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.
Abu Fadak was a largely unknown figure until he replaced Al-Muhandis, although some militia groups opposed his selection.
Contrary to Abu Fadak’s designation, the Iraqi foreign ministry was quick to denounce the actions taken last week against Al-Fayyadh, who is a more established political figure and a former Iraqi national security adviser. The ministry said it would follow up with the new Biden administration in Washington on the matter.