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The US Must Reduce Iranian Influence in Iraq

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran on Sep. 22, 2010. Photo: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl/File photo

A significant part of the Iranian regime’s strategy is to exert overriding influence over Iraq’s politics, economy, and military.

This provides Iran with a land corridor to Syria and the broader Levant, allowing it to spread its revolution, sow chaos, and undermine regional American allies and partners. The US must counter Iran’s nefarious influence in every way possible.

The Iranian-Iraqi border is some 1,000 miles long, which guarantees some level of Iranian influence. The two countries are both majority Shiite countries, even though Shiites represent approximately 15% of the world’s Muslims, the vast majority of whom are Sunnis.

The two countries share significant economic ties. Iraq is the second-largest importer of Iranian goods, after China. Iraq relies heavily on Iran for natural gas and electricity. Iran’s influence in Iraq is considerable. Numerous Iraqi political parties have ties with Iran.

Iran also arms and funds militias in Iraq, which came to be collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in 2014.

Several of the PMF’s constituent groups have pledged loyalty to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

Some of the militias, such as Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, carried out deadly attacks against US and coalition forces during the Iraq War.

The PMF’s main purpose is to facilitate Iranian dominance over Iraq and to expel US forces from the country; there are some 2,000 serving there in an advisory capacity.

The Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), an umbrella group of Shiite Iraqi political parties, is backed by Iran. In 2022, the body nominated Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as its candidate for prime minister. Sudani successfully formed a government in October 2022.

According to an analysis by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “the formation of a new government by Sudani can only be regarded as a major victory for Iran … [T]he new government is a fresh start for Iran to continue strengthening its regional agenda in Iraq and beyond.”

Iranian interference in internal Iraqi affairs was one of the causes of widespread anti-government protests that began in 2019. More than 600 people were killed, including many by Iran-backed militia snipers. Iranian obstruction was partially responsible for preventing the formation of a government after the 2021 parliamentary election.

KH, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, was formerly led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed alongside former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.

Soleimani was the spearhead for expanding Iran’s revolution throughout the Middle East. He was responsible for the deaths of some 600 Americans in Iraq.

Muhandis was Soleimani’s right-hand man.

KH has attacked American bases in Iraq over the years, including fatal strikes in December 2019 and March 2022.

KH praised Hamas’s October 7 massacre as “great victories” and declared, “Our missiles, drones, and special forces stand ready to direct qualitative strikes against the Americans in their bases and against their interests if it intervenes in this battle.”

Another Iranian proxy, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, boasted, “[A]ny direct American entrance into the conflict for the crumbling entity [Israel] will make all American positions in the region legitimate targets for the Axis of Resistance.”

Shortly after these pronouncements, Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria began launching drone attacks at American bases in those countries, during which dozens of US troops were injured. Overall, Iranian-backed Shiite militias have carried out more than 100 attacks on US soldiers in the region since October 7.

The US must act swiftly to push back against Iranian influence in Iraq. It can do so militarily, economically, and politically.

The US must increase military aid and advisory support to the Iraqi government to counterbalance Iranian-backed militias. While the Biden administration has struck militia targets in Syria and Iraq, these are not sufficient: the administration must appreciably intensify such targeted operations against Iranian proxies to reduce those groups’ operational capabilities.

The US should work to develop Iraqi oil and gas sectors independent of Iranian influence. As has previously been observed, it is preposterous that a country such as Iraq, rich with oil and gas resources, should be paying above-market rates for imported energy, but that is the current reality.

The US should also sanction the PMF’s Muhandis General Company, through which the PMF seeks to dominate the Iraqi economy.

Finally, the US should support pro-US political factions in Iraq through diplomatic engagement and economic aid. Iran and its proxies are not necessarily popular in Iraq, as the 2019 protests powerfully suggest. Extrajudicial oppression, corruption, and violence on the part of the militias do not help their image among Iraqis.

The Iranian regime is following a coherent strategy in the Middle East. The US must devise and implement a clear-cut strategy of its own in opposition.

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum and a former official in the Israeli Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

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French Government Will Hold Commemoration for Victims of Hamas Pogrom Amid Disquiet Over Far Left Party’s Participation

Posters in Paris broadcasting the plight of Israeli hostages in Gaza covered over with pro-Palestinian messages. Photo: Reuters/Magali Cohen

French President Emmanuel Macron will preside over a special ceremony on Wednesday to commemorate the French victims of the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas pogrom in Israel as a row over the potential presence of far left parliamentarians continues to fester.

A statement from the Elysée Palace on Monday confirmed Macron’s presence at Wednesday’s event, which will take place at Les Invalides in Paris, where the French National Assembly and other leading national institutions are based.

A spokeswoman for Macron’s office pointed out that 42 French citizens were among the more than 1,200 people murdered during the Hamas assault, with a further three still being held hostage in Gaza.

Answering a question from a reporter about whether a similar event would be held for French citizens killed during the IDF bombing of Gaza that followed the assault, she added that a separate memorial ceremony would be held at a date yet to be determined. “It is obvious that we owe the same emotion and the same dignity to the French victims of the bombings in Gaza, and this tribute will be paid to them at another time,” she said. It is not clear how many French passport holders have actually been killed since the French government announced the deaths of two Palestinian children who were French citizens on Oct. 31.

Wednesday’s ceremony will unfold “under the universal sign of the fight against anti-Semitism and through it, all forms of hatred, racism and oppression against minorities,” the official statement from the presidency declared. Each of the murdered victims will be commemorated through the display of a photograph with their name attached. Families of the victims will be present, many of them being flown in from Israel on a special flight chartered by the French government.

The event is already mired in controversy due the announcement of parliamentarians from the far left La France Insoumise  (LFI -“France Rising”) that they plan to attend. LFI has been vocal in its support of Palestinians in Gaza, frequently drawing accusations of antisemitism because of its harsh rhetoric. Earlier this month, the daughter of two LFI MPs was arrested for allegedly antisemitic social media posts in the weeks following the Hamas attack, while another LFI MP faced condemnation over a posting on social media that invoked a popular Japanese manga meme appropriated by antisemites.

In a letter to Macron, members of five of the victims families demanded a ban on the participation of LFI MPs.

“We, families of victims of Hamas terrorists, solemnly demand that any presence of LFI at the national tribute that will be paid to the 42 Franco-Israeli victims of 7/10 be prohibited,” the letter stated.

However, that request is unlikely to be granted. Pointing out that parliamentarians are automatically invited to state-organized ceremonies, Macron’s office stated that “It is up to everyone to assess the appropriateness or not of their presence since the families spoke out and expressed strong emotion,” but notably did not accede to the ban request.

Mathilde Panot, the head of the LFI deputies in the National Assembly, said last week that she planned to attend the ceremony.

“I will be present and I have asked that a tribute be paid to all the French victims of this war in the Middle East, including the Franco-Palestinians killed in Gaza by the Israeli army,” she said.



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Montana Tucker “Bring Them Home” Grammy Tribute for Israeli Hostages Turns Heads

Feb 4, 2024; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Montana Tucker at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards at Arena in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. Photo: Dan MacMedan / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

Jewish singer and songwriter Montana Tucker showed her support for Israelis still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza at Sunday night’s 66th Annual Grammy Awards, an annual ceremony held to honor the record industry’s most critically acclaimed artists.

Posing for photographers, Tucker walked the red carpet clad in a beige, diaphanous corset gown ornamented with a yellow ribbon that said, “Bring Them Home.” She also wore a Star of David necklace.

136 Israeli hostages remain imprisoned by Hamas in Gaza. They have been there since Oct. 7, when the terrorist organization committed a massacre of Jews across the southern region of Israel, the deadliest mass killing of Jews since the Holocaust. Hamas’ fighters brutally murdered and rape hundreds, and according to numerous reports, more are being sexually abused in captivity.

Tucker’s wasn’t the only statement made about the Israel-Hamas war. Ann Lennox, Scottish vocalist of the popular 1980s band Eurythmics — most known for its No. 1 song “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — called for a ceasefire in Gaza in a speech delivered after she performed a tribute to Sinéad O’Connor.

Raising a “Black Power” fist before a much larger audience than Tucker was accorded, Lennox proclaimed, “Artists for a ceasefire. Peace in the world.”

Lennox was alluding to “Artists4Ceasefire,” a small group of entertainers who issued a letter calling on President Joe Biden to “end the bombing of Gaza” that did not mention that Hamas started the war or condemn rising antisemitism. The letter’s signatories include, among other B-list celebrities, Adam Lambert — who in 2009 won second place in the now-discontinued television series American Idol — Jennifer Lopez, Rosie O’Donnell, and Alyssa Milano.

The Algemeiner honored Montana Tucker in 2022 for being one of 100 people recognized for positively influencing Jewish life. A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Tucker was dogged all her life by assertions that she does not “look Jewish.” Undeterred by the remarks, she committed to proudly representing the Jewish community, and in 2022 produced “How To: Never Forget,” a ten-part docuseries about her grandparents lives in Poland before the Nazi invasion.

“This has been my responsibility to do this, for me and my grandparents and everyone else,” Tucker said at the time, during an interview. “People are used to seeing my very light-hearted, fun dance videos and me collaborating with a lot of different people…It’s rare for me and my content, and rare for the platform in general, to have a docuseries on the Holocaust.”

Other pro-Israel activists wore apparel to the Grammy awards to show. Orthodox Rabbi-Rapper Moshe Reuven, whose song “You Are Not Alone” has amassed over one million streams on Spotify, sported a “Never Is Now” shirt distributed through partnership between civil rights nonprofit StandWithUs and Perspective Fitwear. The shirt’s designer is Karen Margolis.

Taylor Swift’s 2022 record, titled Midnights, won “Album of the Year,” and rapper Jay-Z implied during a speech for accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award that his wife, multi-platinum artists and most-winning Grammy award winner ever Beyoncé, has never won “Album of the Year” because she is a Black woman. The moment was reminiscent of a 2009 incident in which Kanye West stormed the stage of the MTV Awards to denounce Swift’s winning “Best Video by a Female Artist.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Israeli Bank Shutter Accounts of Settlers Sanctioned By Biden

A woman uses an automated teller machine (ATM), outside a Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 30, 2013. Photo: Reuters / Nir Elias / File.

The Israeli bank accounts of two of the Israelis sanctioned by the United States government last week were closed on Sunday and Monday. Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich spoke out against the action, saying “I will take action as the finance minister and do what I must. If need be, we’ll advance legislation on the matter.” He further called the instance “unthinkable” that it occurred.

The two Israelis, Yinon Levi and David Chai Chasdai, had their personal and business accounts closed by Bank Leumi and Bank Hadoar, respectively. The other two settlers listed bank with Bank Hapoalim, who also said they would close the accounts, saying “Bank Hapoalim respects the international sanctions and will comply with any legal order.”

The Bank of Israel announced their support for the move, saying “Banking corporations, by necessity of their international activities, are required to establish policies and procedures for the use of international sanctions lists and national sanctions lists of foreign countries and for entering into or carrying out operations with parties declared on such lists. Circumvention of sanctions regimes as mentioned, has the effect of exposing the banking corporations to significant risks, among them, compliance risks, money laundering and terrorist financing risks, legal risks and reputational risks.”

Chasdai, who denies any wrongdoing, said “The fact that a government bank decides in the middle of a bright day to seize the bank accounts of settlers solely because of pressure from extreme leftist organizations and a hostile American government is unimaginable, but the fact that this is happening under the tenure of a right-wing government just after the greatest massacre in the country’s history is a national disgrace first class.”

“We have gone through many oppressors who harmed the people of Israel over the generations, we will also go through the persecution of Biden and his aides,” he added.

US President Joe Biden approved the sanctions last week, saying “The situation in the West Bank – in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction – has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security and stability in the region.”

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