Democratic leaders in the House are backing a measure to provide U.S. assistance to Iraqi militia groups that are known to be dominated by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
A Democrat-led amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, the sprawling annual bill that funds U.S. military operations around the world, would permit U.S. funding for Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, a confederation of militia groups that work alongside the corps's Quds Force, Iran's paramilitary fighting brigade.
The amendment, authored by Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.), was slipped into a larger package of measures that are backed by Democratic leadership and expected to easily pass into the larger National Defense Authorization Act, which is set to be finalized this week.
Sherman's measure, which purports to help vulnerable Christian populations in Nineveh Plains, would allow the United States to provide Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces with aid to help resettle religious minorities who have been attacked by the Islamic State terrorist group. Those militias, however, have close ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a former leader of the group, was killed alongside Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a 2019 drone strike. The United States has sanctioned the Popular Mobilization Forces' new leader, Falih Fayyadh, for mass human rights abuses backed by the Iranian corps.
The Popular Mobilization Forces include at least three designated terrorist groups and have been implicated in several drone attacks on U.S. positions in the region, including a deadly 2019 strike on the U.S. embassy compound in Iraq.
While the measure includes a provision to vet any Forces group receiving U.S. assistance to ensure they are not tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, congressional insiders say these safeguards are inadequate. They also warn that these militia groups are not positioned to secure vulnerable Christian populations, given the militas' ties to Iran's global terror operations.
One senior congressional source working on National Defense Authorization Act issues described the measure as a "sneaky attempt by Democrats to for the first time ever explicitly authorize funding for the Iran-backed [Popular Mobilization Forces] into law."
"Saying the [Popular Mobilization Forces] is protecting Christians is like saying the fox is guarding the henhouse," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record. "This is a group chaired by Falih Faytad, an Iranian-backed brutal warlord sanctioned by Treasury for gross human rights abuses against the Iraqi people, yet Democrats want to pretend the [Popular Mobilization Forces] is not directed by Iran. That is impossible. This amendment directly funds the same groups who were involved in the December 2019 terrorist attack against the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and who have the blood of many Americans on their hands."
Update 3:54 p.m.: Sherman’s amendment, which came under fire from Republicans, has been altered to remove any mention of U.S. assistance to the Iraqi PMF. The revamped measure "expresses the sense of Congress that the U.S. should work with the government of Iraq to achieve the voluntary and safe return of ethno-religious minorities to the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq." It also would require the secretary of state to provide a strategy for achieving that outcome.