US sanctions Iran envoy in Baghdad, Tehran reciprocates

Lebanese Hezbollah officials also targeted.
Friday 23/10/2020
A 2018 file picture of Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi. (AFP)
A 2018 file picture of Iran’s Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi. (AFP)

Washington - Washington imposed sanctions on Thursday against Tehran’s ambassador to Baghdad, accusing him of efforts to destabilise Iraq via his role as a general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The US Treasury Department said Iraj Masjedi was a “close adviser” to Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general, who was killed in January by a US airstrike.

The sanctions come as Washington’s outrage has grown over a series of rocket attacks against US interests in Iraq, which have been blamed on pro-Iranian factions.

“Masjedi has overseen a program of training and support to Iraqi militia groups, and he has directed or supported groups that are responsible for attacks that have killed and wounded US and coalition forces in Iraq,” said a US Treasury statement.

Masjedi has used his role as Tehran’s ambassador to Baghdad to “obfuscate financial transfers” benefitting the Revolutionary Guards, it added.

“The Iranian regime threatens Iraq’s security and sovereignty by appointing (Revolutionary Guards) officials as ambassadors in the region to carry out their destabilizing foreign agenda,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The US has re-imposed sanctions against Tehran since President Donald Trump pulled out of the international deal to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration has ramped up its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, with the aim of pushing Tehran to accept a new deal.

But Iran has refused talks without sanctions being lifted first.

Washington’s pressure campaign has also targeted Tehran’s allies in the region, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which Washington considers a terrorist organisation.

Under the sanctions, all property and interests of Masjedi that are under US jurisdiction are blocked and Americans are prohibited from having dealings with him.

The US Treasury has also sanctioned two high-ranking Hezbollah officials, including a former military commander in the country’s south.

The sanctioned officials are Nabil Qaouk and Hassan al-Baghdadi, both members of Hezbollah’s Central Council. The Council is responsible for electing members of the group’s top decision-making body, the Shura Council. Qaouk also served as Hezbollah’s military commander in south Lebanon from 1995 until 2010.

“Today we’re designating two Hezbollah officials, further exposing the terrorist group’s activities and disrupting its operational networks,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet Friday.

The Trump administration has intensified sanctions on the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group and institutions linked to it to unprecedented levels, targeting lawmakers and allies of the group for the first time.

Last month, the US Treasury sanctioned two former Lebanese cabinet ministers allied with Hezbollah, including the country’s ex-finance minister. Those sanctions were a rare move and delivered a strong message to allies of the group in Lebanon, which is experiencing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis.

In a reprisal move, Iran on Friday blacklisted the US ambassador in Iraq and two other diplomats.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Twitter that US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller “has had a central role in coordinating terrorist acts in Iraq & beyond,” including the assassination of Soleimani.

Tehran’s move, which allows the seizure of assets within Iran of sanctioned individuals, does not have any practical impact on US diplomats.