US sanctions controversial deputy of Iraqi paramilitaries

The chairman of the paramilitary umbrella, the Popular Mobilization Forces, Falih Al-Fayyadh was sanctioned last Friday under the Magnitsky Act. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 January 2021

US sanctions controversial deputy of Iraqi paramilitaries

BAGHDAD: The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on an influential Iraqi militia leader and deputy of a powerful Iran-backed umbrella of mostly Shiite paramilitary groups, designating him a global terrorist figure.
The move by the US Treasury against Abdulaziz Al-Mohammadawi, known as Abu Fadak, was expected by many Iraqi officials. It was also the second time in a week that a senior Iraqi militia official has been sanctioned.
The chairman of the paramilitary umbrella, the Popular Mobilization Forces, Falih Al-Fayyadh was sanctioned last Friday under the Magnitsky Act and accused of rights abuses against antigovernment protesters. The law allows the US to target any foreigner accused of human rights violations and corruption.
Abu Fadak, a senior figure of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, is also acting deputy chairman of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a role he took on after a US airstrike last January in Baghdad killed the militia’s deputy head Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, a powerful founding member of Kataib Hezbollah and the lead architect of the umbrella group of paramilitaries.
Top Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, was also killed in that airstrike.
Apart from being a member Kataib Hezbollah, which the US has described as an “Iran-backed terrorist organization,” the US claims Abu Fadak is working with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force to “reshape official Iraqi state security institutions ... to instead support Iran’s malign activities,” according to the US State Department.
The statement said Iran-backed elements, including Kataib Hezbollah, are involved in sectarian violence and are responsible for attacks against Iraqi government facilities and diplomatic missions.
The PMF was formed in 2014 to counter the Daesh group, following a fatwa from Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Ali Al-Sistani, and was later brought under the government’s fold. Its growing influence in Iraqi affairs has alarmed the US officials who accuse it of orchestrating attacks on the American Embassy in Baghdad.
Abu Fadak was a largely unknown figure until he replaced Al-Muhandis even though some militia groups opposed his selection.
In contrast to Abu Fadak’s designation, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry promptly denounced last week’s measures against Al-Fayyadh, who is a more established political figure and a former Iraqi national security adviser. The ministry said it would follow up with the incoming Biden administration in Washington on the matter.

 

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Turkey’s ties to Hamas risk hindering normalization with Israel

Members of the Stop Erdogan Now group protest outside the European Parliament in Brussels. The group demanded EU sanctions against the Turkish president. (Reuters)
Updated 13 min 7 sec ago

Turkey’s ties to Hamas risk hindering normalization with Israel

  • Ankara’s support for Hamas as well as its prioritization of Israel’s Palestine policies pose further challenges to already fragile relations with Israel

ANKARA: Amid speculations about a possible Turkish-Israeli rapprochement in the foreseeable future, Israel refuses to normalize relations with Turkey or return its envoy to Ankara until the activities of Hamas’ military wing in Istanbul end, Israeli news site Ynet reported on Monday.

This prerequisite prompted Ankara to bring forward its own conditions to reconcile with Israel. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara on Monday that relations would be normalized if Israel were to halt “its illegal actions, such as annexations against Palestine.”

Ankara’s support for Hamas as well as its prioritization of Israel’s Palestine policies pose further challenges to already fragile relations with Israel. Hundreds of Hamas operatives allegedly live in Turkey.

If both countries are sincere about restoring diplomatic ties, it is still unknown to what extent they are willing to give concessions on these red lines and at what cost.  

In 2018, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel to protest against the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem, while the move was reciprocated by Israel who also recalled its own envoy in Ankara. 

In early 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted in Istanbul Ismail Haniyeh, political chief of Hamas, and Saleh Al-Arouri, the group’s top military commander, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head, prompting objections from Israel and Washington.  

While Turkey considers Hamas a legitimate political movement that is elected democratically in Gaza, Hamas is seen as a terror organization by the US, EU and Israel. 

In October 2020, The Times claimed that the military branch of Hamas had set up a secret office in Istanbul to remotely plot cyberattacks against its foes and that Turkey even granted Turkish citizenship and passports to dozens of high-ranking Hamas members to facilitate their travel in Europe. However, Ankara denied the claims. 

Turkey categorically denies providing sanctuary to a Hamas office in Istanbul. 

Since 2015, Israel has been asking Ankara to crack down on Hamas operatives who are settled there. It was also known as one of the preconditions for Turkey’s entry into the Western coalition against Daesh. 

Selin Nasi, a researcher on Turkey-Israel relations from Bogazici University in Istanbul, recalls that Ankara had expelled Al-Arouri prior to the reconciliation deal of 2016 and pledged to limit the activities of Hamas offices in Turkey.

“If Ankara agrees to downplay its support for Hamas, this might pave the way for a thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations. For Israelis, Turkey providing shelter to Hamas members in the country has been a major bone of contention. Because they see Hamas as a terror organization, so this is a national security matter,” she told Arab News. 

A letter penned by Haniyeh late in December and sent to several presidents of Islamic countries, including Erdogan, recently made headlines in Turkey, as he warned the Turkish president against any overture to Israel, saying that any steps toward normalization would benefit “Zionism.” 

Alan Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, thinks Erdogan’s motivation is mainly ideological due to the well-known affinity with Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated movements, but perhaps also partly political. 

“Turkey formally supports two states, whereas Hamas rejects Israel’s existence. Based on formal policy, Turkey should be much more supportive of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas than Hamas, and that’s manifestly not the case,” he told Arab News. 

Makovsky thinks that supporting Hamas is not a vote-getter in the traditional sense because Hamas has been rated very negatively by the Turkish public. 

According to Pew Research Center’s most recent survey from 2014, Turks hold a negative view of Hamas, with 80 percent disapproving of it and only 8 percent approving the group. 

“The one political benefit Erdogan derives from supporting Hamas — and it’s not insignificant — is that it helps to keep the Islamist portion of his ruling Justice and Development Party firmly bonded to the party itself, rather than drifting over to the Islamist rival Felicity Party,” Makovsky said.   

According to Makovsky, it would be unthinkable for the Israelis to re-exchange ambassadors when they are convinced that Hamas is conducting operational planning from Turkey.  

“I doubt Israel is eager to exchange ambassadors with Turkey in any case. From Israel’s point of view, it would simply be an unearned gift that would help facilitate Erdogan’s relations with US President Joe Biden,” he said.

He added: “Were Turkey to expel Hamas and pledge to cease receiving visits from the likes of Hamas former leader Khaled Meshaal and senior Hamas figure Al-Arouri, Israel would resume ambassadorial-level relations in a nano-second.”

Researcher Nasi thinks that Ankara is equally concerned about the domestic implications of revamping support for the Muslim Brotherhood, at a time when the Palestinian issue is at an impasse and, even worse, it is no longer on the international agenda.

“From a strategic perspective, the cost of Turkey’s pro-Muslim Brotherhood policy seems to have exceeded its benefits, undermining Turkey’s relations with Egypt and the Gulf countries, resulting in regional isolation,” she said. “Ankara has reached a critical point where it needs to decide whether or not to prioritize geopolitical interests over ideology.”

According to Nasi, recent statements by the Turkish foreign minister suggest that the government is trying to find a diplomatic opening by reframing the conflict around the Palestinian issue and shifting the emphasis to Israel’s partial annexation of the West Bank. 

“Indeed, the signing of the Abraham Accords last summer practically shelved Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Therefore, the pre-condition that Cavusoglu mentioned on Monday has been already fulfilled,” she said. 

For Nasi, at the end of the day, it comes down to whether Turkey is willing to take a step toward strategic reorientation.