U.S. Sanctions Iran-Backed Militias In Syria And Iraq

On Monday, the U.S. State Department issued new sanctions on Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and Lebanese Hezbollah to further restrict their abilities to procure weaponry. Each is a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) funded, armed, and trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), itself a U.S.-designated FTO. The sanctions follow a series of drone and rocket attacks by the Iran-backed militias that targeted U.S. and coalition military and intelligence personnel in Iraq.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iran has waged proxy warfare in Iraq as it has sought to significantly increase its influence and oust America’s military presence from the country. Iran has stood up and controls a vast network of Shi’a militant groups in Iraq and uses these proxies to stoke sectarian tensions and to foment political violence, ensuring Iraq remains weak and dependent on Tehran for security. Even after the assassination of IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, who was Iran’s key power broker in Iraq, Tehran still retains significant power over militias such as Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq and can marshal them to confront the U.S. at Iran’s behest, undermining Iraqi sovereignty.

In Lebanon, the Iranian regime has exploited sectarianism for over three decades to establish a solid foothold through its most powerful proxy movement, Hezbollah. With Iranian assistance, but also through its own increasingly independent efforts, Hezbollah has spawned a vast social apparatus in Lebanon catering to its community’s needs; a growing military arm that has withstood three decades of conflict with the Israeli military; and achieved a global reach and ever-growing political power in Lebanon’s government. Hezbollah’s primary aim is to grow its popularity while ensuring the central government remains weak so that it can someday replace the secular state with an Islamic Republic based on the Iranian model.

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