US announces sanctions on Iranian-linked leaders in Iraq

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in the Loy Henderson Auditorium of the State Department in Washington on Thursday. — AFP

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday that the United States is imposing sanctions on the leaders of two Iranian-linked militia groups in Iraq.

"Let me be clear, the United States will not stand idly while Iranian-backed militias spread terror," Pence told a high-level meeting on religious freedom, without naming the individuals targeted.

Meanwhile, the US Treasury Department said on Thursday that the US is imposing sanctions on two Iraqi militia leaders and two former Iraqi provincial governors it accused of human rights abuses and corruption. The sanctions target militia leaders Rayan Al-Kildani and Waad Qado, and former governors Nawfal Hammadi Al-Sultan and Ahmed Al-Jubouri, the Treasury said in a statement.

"We will continue to hold accountable persons associated with serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and corrupt officials who exploit their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens," Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said.

The Treasury said many of the actions that prompted the sanctions occurred in "areas where persecuted religious communities are struggling to recover from the horrors inflicted on them" by Daesh (the so-called IS), the militant group that controlled parts of Iraq for several years.

The Treasury said Kildani is the leader of the 50th Brigade militia and is shown cutting off the ear of a handcuffed detainee in a video circulating in Iraq last year.

It said Qado is the leader of the 30th Brigade militia which engaged in extortion, illegal arrests, and kidnappings.

Sultan and Jubouri were designated for being engaged in corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, and other misdeeds, the Treasury said.

Iraq in March issued a warrant for the arrest of Sultan, the former governor of Nineveh province, on corruption charges after at least 90 people were killed in a ferry accident in the provincial capital Mosul.

As a result of the designation, any property the four persons hold in the United States would be blocked and US persons are barred from business dealings with them. — Agencies