“Qais al-Khazali, is trying to ‘mainstream’ his brand. For the United States, the key question is whether to level sanctions against him or his movement or both, or to hold the threat of sanctions over his head, pending signs of less-destructive behavior,” write Michael Knights and Frzand Sherko write in a new piece at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Khazali, a one time detainee of the US, has positioned his militia to be part of the post-ISIS Iraq.
On the Lebanese Hezbollah model, Khazali said: “The Shia in Iraq cannot behave in the same way as the Shia in Lebanon because we are the majority in Iraq, whereas they are the minority in Lebanon.” Khazali added, “We are a state!”—implying that Shia in Iraq have already achieved a status superior to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
They note “Khazali is seeking to develop a new identity and a visionary brand to allow him to compete for youth attention with his longtime rival al-Sadr. He advocates strengthening the state as the best way to prevent foreign interference from any direction—the United States, Iran, or Sunni actors. A xenophobic populist, Khazali wants to extend the “Islamic resistance” brand into the economic field by excluding foreign investment from Iraq’s critical infrastructure.”
They conclude ” the core question for U.S. policymakers is whether Washington should treat AAH the same as these actors, or instead level terrorist designations against Qais al-Khazali and his group, as it did other Iran-backed entities such as Kataib Hezbollah and Hezbollah Harakat al-Nujaba?”