On September 26, 2018, Michael Pregent testified before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, on the topic of Countering Iranian Proxies in Iraq. Following is his full testimony:
Chairman Poe, Ranking Member Keating, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, on behalf of the Hudson Institute, I am honored to testify before you today about Countering Iranian Proxies in Iraq.
We’ve are being asked today to define the threat of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds (Jerusalem) Force (IRGC-QF) Iraqi militias, their role, and how the U.S. can counter Iran’s malign influence.
How bad is it? Well, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force, now has an armed political party that came in second in Iraq’s elections. It is named the Fatih Coalition, and it is poised to have a major role in Iraq’s next government.1 They are threatening Americans, they’ve launched rockets and mortars at our embassy in Baghdad, at our consulate in Basra; they are in Syria, and they want to go to Jerusalem.1 3
Iran’s Proxies are positioned to be dominant players in Iraq’s new government.
Soleimani’s directed and funded Iraqi militias have a political party called Fatih and they came in second in Iraq’s parliamentary elections. They came in second to Moqtada al-Sadr, a man who directed militia attacks against the U.S. on behalf of Qassem Soleimani, and ahead of Prime Minister Hader al-Abadi, a man that stood aside along with U.S. officials and allowed IRGC-QF Iraqi militias to grow influence over Iraq’s political and security situation.4
Fatih coalition members, to include the new Sunni speaker of the Council of Representatives, are taking pro-Iran positions to include threatening the U.S., condemning the U.S., and announcing that Iraq would not adhere to U.S. sanctions on Iran.5
What is Fatih? Fatih is comprised of key IRGC-QF militias and enablers.
Abu Mehdi al-Mohandes has killed Americans. Mohandes is the leader of the IRGC-QF created, funded, trained, and directed Kataib Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades, and is also the deputy commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi or the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).6
Mohandes is also a designated terrorist and his group is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. Surprisingly, Mohandes receives a paycheck from the Iraqi government, has access to U.S. intelligence, equipment, and funding through a Badr militia network in the Iraqi Security Forces. The PMU have been absorbed into the Iraqi Security Forces and now fall under the Prime Minister’s office.7
Qays Khazali has killed Americans. Khazali is the commander of the IRGC-QF created, funded, trained, and directed Asaib ahl al-Haqq, or League of the Righteous, a group that has killed Americans, continues to threaten Americans in Iraq and Syria, and is responsible for launching mortar and rocket attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Basra.8 Khazali is also a member of the Fatih coalition, and his group AAH went from 1 seat in parliament to 15 seats.9
Akram al-Kaabi has killed Americans. Al-Kaabi, formally of Asaib ahl al-Haqq, leads the IRGC-QF created, funded, trained, and directed militia Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Akram al-Kaabi is designated for killing Americans and his group was attacked by U.S. airstrikes in Syria for threatening U.S. forces in al-Tanf, Syria.1011
Akram al-Kaabi is no friend of the Iraqi Government and has said if the Supreme Leader gave the word he would overthrow the Baghdad Government.12
To counter Iran’s Proxies in Iraq we must first acknowledge that Badr Corps is Iran’s premiere proxy in Iraq. Badr facilitates everything Iran’s IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mehdi al-Mohandes, Qays Khazali, and Akram al-Kaabi want to do in Iraq and Syria. Badr is Iran’s premiere proxy in Iraq and Qassem’s go-to is Hadi al-Ameri.
Soleimani’s greatest asset is Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the IRGG-QF created, funded, trained, and directed Badr Corps. Ameri is also the head of the Fatih coalition and the commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi where Badr, Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib ahl al-Haqq, Harakat Nujaba, and Kataib Imam Ali are the command and control structure for the hundred-thousand-man force.13 14
Hadi al-Ameri facilitates everything Qassem Soleimani wants to do in Iraq through his network of highly placed Badr officers throughout Iraq’s intelligence and security apparatus. Ameri’s lieutenants facilitate IRGC-QF militia activities, procure U.S. M1 Abrahams tanks, have access to U.S. intelligence through Qassem al-Araji’s MOI ,15 and have access to funds through the Prime Minister’s security budget.16
Soleimani’s premiere proxy is Badr Corps. In Khazali’s Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIR), he states Badr Corps trained in Iraq on the same tactics AAH did to target Americans.17 Badr Corps is the face Soleimani wants to show to the U.S. We often hear the argument from senior U.S. officials that, “Badr isn’t as bad as the others”. In fact, Badr is worse. Badr facilitates and masks everything Soleimani, Mohandes, and Khazali, and Akram al-Kaabi are doing in Iraq.
Badr’s saturation of Iraq’s Security Forces is none more evident than having top Badr officer Qassem al-Araji, detained twice by U.S. forces for providing lethal aid to kill Americans, as the Minister of Interior.18 His ministry facilitates IRGC-QF militia access to U.S. intelligence, funds, and equipment.
Arguments for Designation and Targeting.
Designated terrorists and terrorist organizations are seeking to destabilize Iraq, they are threatening Americans in Iraq and Syria, and they have access to U.S. intelligence, funds, and equipment. Designated terrorists are being rejected by Iraqis, and their terrorist organization affiliates are having their offices set ablaze by Iraqis who have had enough of Iran and its proxies. It’s time for the U.S. to do what Sunnis, Kurds, and now Shia Iraqis are asking us to do – stand behind them and give them strength to push back against Qassem Soleimani.19
Asaib ahl al-Haqq and Harakat al-Nujaba were created, funded, and trained by the IRGC Quds Force – these IRGC-QF militias answer directly to Qassem Soleimani and grew their influence under the U.S. ISIS campaign.20
Maximum Pressure Campaign is needed for Kataib Hezbollah.
We need a maximum pressure campaign on Abu Mehdi al-Mohandes and his Kataib Hezbollah militia. Mohandes and Kataib Hezbollah are designated, and I’m not sure they feel it. Kataib Hezbollah has penetrated Iraq’s economic sectors to benefit the IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah. Everything and everyone Kataib Hezbollah touches should be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions.
Designate Badr. Badr is not the Baath party – De-Baathification affected teachers, technocrats, relatives, anyone who was employed by the Saddam regime had to join the party. Badr is simply an IRGC-QF proxy, it is not a party, and being a member of Badr is not required to be in government. De-Badrfication is needed in Iraq, de-Badrfication will end Soleimani’s ability to use legitimate institutions such as the Ministry of Defense (MOD), Ministry of Interior (MOI), Ministry of Transportation (MOT), and Ministry of Energy (MOE) to further Iran’s strategic hold on Iraq’s security apparatus and sever Soleimani’s penetration of Iraq’s economic sectors.
S**anction Qays Khazali and Asaib ahl al-Haqq (AAH).** We must sanction Qays Khazali to discredit Qays Khazali, sanction Qays Khazali because Iran doesn’t want us to and the Iraqis protesting do. Sanction Qays Khazali to disrupt his position ahead of government formation – sanction him so that politicians that want to work with the US ahead of Iran see a message that the US will not overlook the IRGC-QF’s influence in the Iraqi government.
Sanction Akram al-Kaabi and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN). Akram al-Kaabi directed Americans be killed during the Iraq War and is threatening to do so again. Akram al-Kaabi’s group has moved on American forces in Syria and as a result, his forces were attacked and decimated by American air power. He is threatening to target and kill Americans again in Iraq and Syria.
By not sanctioning AAH and addressing the IRGC-QF’s influence in Iraq has created a Force Protection issue. The argument that designating AAH and HHN will put US soldiers at risk is a straw man argument – allowing AAH and HHN to grow their influence by ignoring their role puts our soldiers at risk.
Listen to Iraqis. All Iraqis are saying no to Iran’s malign influence in Iraq except for the religious parties and militias tied to Iran – the ones we are unfortunately backing as well. Now is the time to use U.S. leverage and Treasury tools to help Iraqis limit Iran’s influence and bring Iraq back into its traditional role as a bulwark against Iranian aggression and expansion.
We can do this by increasing our pressure campaign on the designated FTO Kataib Hezbollah, by not granting waivers for Iraq to do business with Iran, and to designate Asaib ahl al-Haqq and Harakat al-Nujaba. Let’s make it hard for Hadi al-Ameri to be in the same room with Soleimani and his designated lieutenants – Ameri and Badr Corps need to feel that they are next.
Thank you for the opportunity to address this committee.