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WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration is imposing economic sanctions on two former provincial governors and two militia leaders in Iraq, it announced Thursday, citing human-rights abuses in the north of the country.

U.S. officials had determined that three of the four Iraqis were involved in acts of corruption, extortion and intimidation in Nineveh province, which has minority populations of Christians and Yazidis and was an Islamic State stronghold before the group's territorial defeat.

The Treasury Department said it was imposing the sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to use economic penalties to punish officials of other nations for human-rights violations.

"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," said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The two militia leaders are Rayan al-Kildani, head of the 50th Brigade, and Waad Qado, head of the 30th Brigade. Both militias fought the Islamic State and fall under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces, armed groups that are recognized and paid by the Iraqi government. Baghdad did not immediately react to the sanctions.

This spring, some senior officials in the Trump administration were considering designating groups in the Popular Mobilization Forces as foreign terrorist organizations, in an effort to punish militias in the Middle East that have ties to Iran. Such a designation would have led to harsh economic penalties against the groups.

To an extent, the sanctions imposed Thursday are related to the administration's broad campaign to isolate Iran. One of the targets, Ahmed al-Jubouri, the former governor of Salahuddin province, worked with "Iran-backed proxies that operate outside of state control," the Treasury Department said.

The Iranian military supported some of the Iraqi militias that formed to fight the Islamic State. Many of the ones with ties to Iran are dominated by Shiites, since it is a predominantly Shiite Muslim nation.

The 30th Brigade has its roots in an armed group formed by the ethnic Shabak minority. The 50th Brigade is based on a Christian militia, but some analysts say its fighters mostly come from the Sadr City area of Baghdad, which is Shiite.

Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan was the governor of Nineveh province when the sinking of an overloaded ferry in Mosul in March resulted in the deaths of about 100 people. Al-Sultan fled, and the Iraqi Parliament issued a warrant for his arrest.

He had a history of corrupt practices.

Al-Jubouri, the former governor of Salahuddin province who U.S. officials say has ties to Iranian-backed militias, was sentenced to prison in July 2017 after being convicted on corruption charges. He has since been released.

Trump administration officials "want to raise the cost to the Iraqi government of working with Iranian-aligned actors and force it to choose between the United States and Iran," said Andrew Miller, deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy.

A Section on 07/19/2019

Print Headline: U.S. sanctions target Iraqis over abuses

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