Vice President Mike Pence announced new sanctions against Iranian-backed militia leaders accused of committing human rights abuses in the Ninevah Plains of Iraq, where Christians and other religious minorities are struggling to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of genocide.
The former Indiana governor spoke at the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom Thursday morning, touching on a wide range of religious freedom concerns around the world while praising a number of survivors of persecution present in the audience.
Pence devoted a small chunk of his speech to criticizing Iran, where countless Christians, Sunni Muslims, and other religious minorities are imprisoned and persecuted for their faith.
While religious freedom abuses inside Iran are well known, Pence criticized Iranian-backed militias that “extort and terrorize people of the Ninevah Plain” of neighboring Iraq. Large swaths of the Ninevah province were previously controlled by the Islamic State, which killed and enslaved thousands upon thousands of religious minorities throughout the region during its years-long reign of control.
In the aftermath of the Islamic State, Advocates have long voiced concern about the Iranian influence in the region as Iran opened up an elementary school, library and mosque in the Christian town of Bartella.
Additionally, Iranian-backed Shite militias have been accused of manning checkpoints, extorting residents and even attacking Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. forces.
At the beginning of the month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi declared that the country’s Iranian-backed Shiite militias would now fall under Iraqi government control. However, there is some skepticism that the decree can be enforced.
“The United States will not stand idly by while Iranian-backed militias spread terror,” Pence told the hundreds gathered at the Harry S. Truman Building. “And today I am announcing that the United States has placed sanctions on two leaders of these Iranian-backed militias.”
According to the Treasury Department, the sanctions apply to militia leaders Rayan al-Kildani and Waad Qado, as well as two former Iraqi governors Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan and Ahmed al-Jubouri.
The sanctions are issued in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as the leaders are accused of committing abuses in “areas where persecuted religious communities are struggling to recover from the horrors inflicted on them by ISIS.”
“Therefore, today’s sanctions demonstrate solidarity with all Iraqis who oppose corruption and human rights abuse undertaken by public officials, and underscore the Administration’s commitment to supporting the recovery of persecuted religious communities in Iraq,” a press release said.
Al-Kildani is the leader of the 50th Brigade militia who was seen in a video circulated among human rights activists cutting off the ear of a handcuffed detainee.
The Treasury Department accused the 50th Brigade of being the “primary impediment” to the return of internally displaced persons to the Ninevah Plain.”
The brigade is said to have looted homes in the town of Batnaya and illegally seized and sold farmland.
“The local population has accused the group of intimidation, extortion, and harassment of women,” the press release adds.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith