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US hits Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders with sanctions

Protesters hold Popular Mobilization forces and Iraqi flags and chanting religious slogans march towards Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Protesters hold Popular Mobilization forces and Iraqi flags and chanting religious slogans march towards Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
The Trump administration on Friday slapped sanctions on three Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders for violent suppression of protests that have wracked the country. The Treasury and the State Department also hit a wealthy Iraqi businessman with sanctions for bribery and corruption.

The militia leaders targeted by the sanctions are accused of ordering their forces to open fire on demonstrators protesting widespread corruption and misgovernance. Some 400 people have been reported killed in crackdowns against the widespread protests.

“Peaceful public dissent and protest are fundamental elements of all democracies," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "The United States stands with the Iraqi people in their efforts to root out corruption. We will hold accountable the perpetrators of human rights abuse and corruption in Iraq.”

The sanctions freeze any assets those targeted may have in U.S. jurisdictions and also bar Americans from doing business with them. They were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, which gives the U.S. government authority to impose sanctions for human rights abuses around the world.

“The Iraqi people want their country back," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “They are calling for genuine reform and accountability and for trustworthy leaders who will put Iraq’s national interests first. Those demands deserve to be addressed without resort to violence or suppression.”

The militia leaders were identified as brothers Qais al-Khazali and Laith al-Khazali from the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia and Husayn Falih Aziz al-Lami who was accused of running a militia on behalf of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corp.

In addition to the militia leaders, the sanctions affect millionaire businessman Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi, who is accsued of bribing government officials and engaging in corruption.