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US sanctions paramilitary group based in Iraq and backed by Iran

In 2016, Akram al-Kaabi of the Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary group Harakat al-Nujaba met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and declared their two organizations to be “twins of the resistance.”

Flag of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Flag of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Treasury sanctioned the Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary group Harakat al-Nujaba on Tuesday.

The group’s secretary general, Akram al-Kaabi, “has said he would overthrow the Iraqi government if ordered to do so by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,” according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). The United States had already designated al-Kaabi as a terrorist in 2008 for killing Americans.

Harakat al-Nujabam, which is loyal to Iran, was founded with Iranian backing in 2013 to fight in Syria and in Iraq.

“Currently, Iran has control over numerous Iraqi [mostly Shia] political and militia organizations,” Phillip Smyth, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, previously told JNS.

“These groups generally follow the same organizational and ideological model as Lebanese Hezbollah,” he elaborated. “Their creation and growth are part of a longer-term Iranian strategy that follows the successes they’ve built when it comes to influencing Lebanon. They wish to construct groups that push their ideologies, policies and whose armed groups can be utilized.”

Nujaba published a photograph on its Facebook profile in 2015 of al-Kaabi near the Syrian town of Aleppo with Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, which has a presence in Syria and backs Syrian President Bashar Assad. Its proximity and modus operandi is a direct threat to Israel.

In 2016, al-Kaabi met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and declared their two organizations to be “twins of the resistance.”

“Iran is deeply insinuated into Iraq’s political and security apparatuses. It used the Islamic State invasion of Iraq as a pretext to establish an IRGC [Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps] military presence in the country and expand its funding, training and equipping of Iraq’s major Shi’ite militias, which have since been incorporated into the Iraqi government as a direct conduit for Iranian influence over Iraq’s security policy,” Jonathan Ruhe, associate director of JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy, previously told JNS.

Moreover, taking over Iraq would likely enable a “land bridge” of Shi’ite Muslim neighborhoods from Iran to Lebanon as a way to threaten Israel.

Finally, Nujaba “has announced the formation of a ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’ and has vowed to support Hezbollah in a future war against Israel,” according to FDD.

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