The Trump administration has sanctioned three leaders of Iran-backed militias that the U.S. Treasury Department says "opened fire on peaceful protests" in Iraq, "killing dozens of innocent civilians."
The sanctions target Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali and Husayn Falih 'Aziz al-Lam for their "involvement in serious human rights abuse" in Iraq, the Treasury Department announced Friday. The Treasury Department also blacklisted an Iraqi businessman, Khamis Farhan al-Khanjar al-Issawi, "for bribing government officials and engaging in corruption at the expense of the Iraqi people."
The four individuals have been added to the Office of Foreign Assets Control's Specially Designated Nationals list, which means "their assets are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them."
"Iran's attempts to suppress the legitimate demands of the Iraqi people for reform of their government through the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators is appalling," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Friday in a news release. "Peaceful public dissent and protest are fundamental elements of all democracies. The United States stands with the Iraqi people in their efforts to root out corruption. We will hold accountable the perpetrators of human rights abuse and corruption in Iraq."
Hundreds of people have died since protests in the country kicked off in early October with thousands of Iraqis demonstrating against corruption and deficiencies in their government.
"The Iraqi people want their country back," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday in a news release. "They are calling for genuine reform and accountability and for trustworthy leaders who will put Iraq's national interests first. Those demands deserve to be addressed without resort to violence or suppression. Human rights abuses and corruption undermine the values that are at the foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies."
The Trump administration continues to focus heavily on countering Iran, with much of that focus coming through sanctions. The Wall Street Journal reported this week the Trump administration is also considering sending as many as 14,000 more troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. However, the Pentagon press secretary said that reporting "is wrong."
Mr. Trump tweeted on Thursday "The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!"