U.S. designates Iraqi PMF chairman for human rights violations

The U.S. State Department has designated Falih al-Fayyadh, the chairman of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, as a human rights abuser for his role in crushing protests in Oct. 2019.

Fayyadh was identified by State as part of a “crisis cell” that included former Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

State designated Fayyadh on Jan. 8 as part of Executive Order 13818, which identifies individuals who are involved in “serious human rights abuse or corruption.”

“During protests beginning in October 2019, Iran-aligned [PMF] forces attacked Iraqi civilians protesting against corruption, unemployment, economic stagnation, poor public services, and Iranian interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs,” State noted in a press release accompanying the designation. PMF forces “fired live ammunition at protesters resulting in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.” An estimated 420 people were killed and more than 17,000 were wounded during the PMF attacks, BBC reported.

In addition to serving as the chairman of the PMF, Fayyadh served as the National Security Advisor to Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s previous Prime Minister. Abadi dismissed Fayyadh in Oct. 2018 as both National Security Advisor and PMF Chairman for “getting involved in practicing political and partisan work.” In a display of the PMF’s and Iran’s power and influence in Iraq, Fayyadh ignored the order and remains the head of the PMF to this day.

Fayyadh is a supporter of Iran’s efforts to dominate Iraqi politics and its security forces. After the U.S. killed Qods Force Commander Soleimani in Jan. 2019, Fayyadh described him as a “martyr” and noted that he played a crucial role in standing up and supporting the PMF.

The PMF was officially formed in 2014 to battle the Islamic State after Iraqi security forces collapsed in western, central and northern Iraq. It is primarily made up of militias that are supported by and in many cases take direct orders from Iran’s IRGC. The PMF has since become an official military institution answerable only to Iraq’s Prime Minister. In many ways it is analogous to Iran’s IRGC, which takes its orders from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, outside the military chain of command.

The Qods Force-backed “crisis cell”

The State designation of Fayyadh further highlights the close ties between Iran and Iraq’s PMF. According to State, he was also “a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Force Qods Force (IRGC-QF) supported crisis cell that included previously sanctioned militia leaders Qais al-Khazali and Hussein Falah al-Lami, as well as the now-deceased IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani and [PMF] deputy leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.”

Khazali is the head of the Asaib Ahl al Haq, or League of the Righteous, an Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia terror group. Khazali and his brother, Laith, were listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, and the League of the Righteous was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, in March 2020. Khazali, who was in U.S. custody between 2007 and 2009, was instrumental in working with Soleimani and Qods Force to stand up Iranian-supported Shia militias. [See Iraqi militant Qayis Khazali warned us about Iran. We ignored him]

Muhandis, who was killed alongside Soleimani, was the operational leader of the PMF and leader of the Hezbollah Brigades, which was listed a terrorist entity in July 2009. Muhandis was also designated under Executive Order 13438. In that designation, Muhandis was identified as a senior adviser to Soleimani and a member of Qods Force who created a group of trainers to support the pro-Iranian Shiite militia, such as the the League of the Righteous and Hezbollah Brigades. Muhandis later played a critical role in establishing the PMF, with the help of Soleimani.

Lami is the current leader of the PMF’s Central Security Directorate and a commander in Hezbollah Brigades. He reportedly directed the snipers to open fire on Iraqi protesters. Lami, along with Qais and Laith Khazali, as well as Khamis Farhan Al-Khanjar al Issawi, were designated as human rights abusers in Dec. 2019 for their roles in suppressing the protests.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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