The U.S. State Department on Wednesday sanctioned Ahmad al-Hamidawi, the secretary general of Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), under its counterterrorism authorities.
The militia, designated in 2009 as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), has been active in Iraqi politics and media, and operates a network of charities, Kharon reported in August 2019.
“We are intensifying our pressure on this terrorist group,” Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, told reporters, citing a series of recent KH attacks, including a rocket attack in December on a military base in Kirkuk that killed an American.
“KH remains actively engaged in plotting terrorism against U.S. forces, our partners and innocent Iraqi civilians. By committing violence at the behest of its patron in Tehran, KH has revealed its true agenda: undermining Iraq’s sovereignty and independence,” he said.
The U.S. has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iraqi militias backed by Iran, as well as their supporters. The designation of al-Hamidawi was enabled by the expansion in September 2019 of sanctions authorities to combat terrorism that allows the U.S. to designate leaders of terror groups without tying them to specific acts, Sales said.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the former KH leader, died last month in U.S. airstrikes that also killed Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). Al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, had also been deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of Iran-backed Iraqi militias, before he was killed.
Their deaths have led to a security vacuum in Iraq, and fear and uncertainty among the militias sent many of their leaders into hiding, changing their residences and even their phone numbers, Reuters reported earlier this month.
Analysts from the Counterterrorism/Middle East team contributed to this report.