Alwaght- The protests in Iraq break new boundaries every day and a point of connection of all is the continuation of the crisis and increase of the dispute between the opposing factions. Meanwhile, the foreign sides are expressing their stances towards the protests in a push to take their advantages from the demonstrations that broke out over two months ago from Tahrir Square in central Baghdad. In a recent measure, the US administration imposed economic sanctions on four of the leaders of the anti-terror force Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in a gesture of showing support to the protestors in various Iraqi cities.
The Department of Treasury on Friday announced economic penalties on the leader of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq Qais al-Khazali, his brother Laith al-Khazali, PMF commander Hassan Falah Aziz al-Lami, and PMF politician Farhan Khanjar al-Isawi. The four are renowned figures of the PMF, also locally dubbed Hashd al-Shabbi.
Sanctioning Qais al-Khazali, whose force is a key unit in the PMF, has created controversy in Iraq. Although, the other three are important in their places, sanctioning the leader of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq comes with specific goals.
Washington’s pro-human rights gesture
A top reason why the US added al-Khazali to its list of restrictions on PMF officials is the fact that the American administration seeks to legitimize its military presence in Iraq by making a gesture of defending the Iraqi people. Following the anti-PMF step, David Schenker, an assistant secretary of state, told the reporters in Washington that the US supports the Iraqi stability and sovereignty and continues its security consultations with the Iraqi authorities. He continued: “We are helping the Iraqi people by doing things that the Iraqi people are demanding that their government has not been successful with.” He added that the Trump administration will sanction other Iraqi officials.
The American administration presses to take advantage of the situation and hold the PMF accountable while on Friday unknown gunmen attacked the people and Iraqi forces. This is seen by many a ridiculous effort to meddle in Iraq’s home affairs and make accusations against a popular force without any evidence. The American strategists know very well that an absolute majority of the Iraqis are opposed to the American forces in their country. They seek to burnish the American image in the minds of the Iraqi people using a pro-rights gesture.
The White House is perfectly aware that al-Khazali has no assets in the US and does not travel there and thus the sanctions lack impacts. So, in the first step, sanctions on al-Khazali are largely symbolic and propagandistic and odds are extremely slim that they will have influences on the popular leader.
Why al-Khazali and Popular Mobilization Forces?
But why the US has targeted in its new wave of sanctions PMF and its leader? It is noteworthy that since the occupation of Iraq in 2003, al-Khazali was an opponent to the American and Western military presence in Iraq. Even after Mahdi Army, an organization fighting the American occupation from 2003 to 2007, was disbanded by its leader Muqtada al-Sadr after four years of fierce clashes with the American troops, al-Khazali rejected to lay down arms against the American occupation. This position at the end of the road separated his way from al-Sadr.
After the ISIS emergence in the country in 2014, he played an important role in the fight against the terrorist group. His movement’s political wing, part of the broader Fatah Alliance, held 13 seats in the new Iraqi parliament, presenting itself as a heavyweight actor in the national politics.
The US in a way seeks to revenge its loss in the ISIS case as Washington, as the founder of the terrorist group, is aware of the unavoidable role the PMF played in the obliteration of ISIS which was designed to stay for a long time in Iraq and neighboring Syria. The American leaders know that PMF, with their anti-Western arrogance spirit, come against the Israeli and American role in Iraq and the whole region. They also are aware of the substantial potentials of the voluntary forces to expel the American troops from Iraq in the future.
This rings the alarms to the American politicians who are now mobilizing their strength to undermine the PMF in the Iraqi politics and also in the public’s eyes. The Israeli regime and lobbies also have hands in this move. Tel Aviv extremely reacted when in December 2017 al-Khazali visited a ceasefire line on the Lebanese-Israeli borders close to the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. That reaction mainly showed that the Israelis are afraid of a potential role the Iraqi force could play in any future war with Lebanese Hezbollah or even an operation to liberate the Syrian territory.
All in all, the US administration sees the present time providing the best opportunity to develop plots against al-Khazali and his movement.