NOTE: One question is whether it is wise to sanction fifteen new Iraqi members of parliament at the moment. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), author of the passed House amendment, recently told Al-Monitor that the U.S. government needs to ascertain whether “the political wing constitutes an affiliate or entity controlled by Asaib Ahl al-Haq.” Although this distinction may help avoid a potential clash with a powerful bloc in Iraq’s parliament, it is a slippery slope and could prove counterproductive.
As Washington mulls sanctions on Asaib Ahl al-Haq and similar groups, it should mind the volatility of Baghdad’s near-term political situation and the questionable efficacy of ‘wing’ distinctions.
Among the winners in Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary elections was Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), the fastest-rising faction in a powerful coalition of Iranian-allied Iraqi parties.
In the days that followed, U.S. legislators passed an amended defense authorization bill that paved the way for the Treasury Department to impose heavy financial sanctions on the group and other accused Iranian proxies. Although this is the right step, any sanctions need to be carefully crafted and timed to avoid an anti-American backlash during Iraq’s already-chaotic government formation process.
BREAKDOWN OF IRAN’S COALITION
AAH is part of the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, a coalition that won between forty and forty-seven seats last month, enough for second place among all contenders (pending the outcome of Iraq’s planned recount). AAH won between thirteen and fifteen of these seats, or nearly 30 percent of the alliance’s total.
Fatah is led by Hadi al-Ameri of the Badr Organization, arguably the oldest, largest, and most important of the Iraqi Shia groups ideologically, politically, and religiously subservient to Iran. The alliance is primarily made up of groups modeled on the militia/party model that Hezbollah has long used in Lebanon. In addition to comprising the core of al-Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF), these groups also function as the most powerful elements of direct Iranian influence in the Iraqi political sphere.
Fatah’s latest electoral gains include the following: …