US sanctioned businessman Khamis al-Khanjar for bribing politicians and supporting Iran (Reuters)
On December 6 the U.S. Treasury Department issued a new round of sanctions against Iraqis. That included millionaire businessman Khamis al-Khanjar. The Americans charged him with bribing Iraqi politicians to join his Axis List and supporting Iran. Khanjar has been a political chameleon in Iraq emerging as a major backer of Sunni politicians especially the Nujafis from Mosul before switching to supporting pro-Iran lists such as Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law in 2019.
Khanjar used to be a loyal supporter of various Sunni leaders, but has now moved towards the camp aligned with Iran in a dramatic about face. He originally came from Fallujah, and then left Iraq. He backed Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya, (1) and then created his own party Karama for the 2014 elections playing upon resentment against Baghdad and against the established Sunni politicians. When the war against the Islamic State broke out he ran afoul of the government and a warrant was issued for him under the anti-terror law. He avoided that because he was living outside Iraq, and continued to play a role in politics financing the Nujafis’ Hashd al-Watani. He was also critical of Baghdad claiming that if the Shiite Hashd were allowed to take Mosul from the Islamic State it would lead to massacres of civilians. In 2017, Khanjar took part in a series of meetings to try to unify the Sunni groups, which failed. By 2018 he was still behind the Nujafis and the Iraqi Decision Alliance. After the election that year he went on to help form the National Axis bloc that included former Speaker of Parliament Salim Jabouri, the Nujafis, Jamal Karbouli, and others. He then went in a new direction, splitting with the Nujafis claiming they represented the past, and took some of the Axis parliamentarians to back Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law. He eventually threw his weight behind Adil Abdul Mahdi for prime minister. He then turned on another former ally and tried to replace Speaker Mohammed Halbusi. The Treasury Department claims that Khanjar bribed MPs to break with the National Axis and back Maliki and eventually Abdul Mahdi as premier. This was part of his larger move towards assisting Iran. It’s not often talked about but Iran has had ties to Sunni politicians (2) and figures for years in its attempt to keep them divided and influence Iraqi politics. Tehran working with Khanjar then is not so surprising. His switch however is. He backed some of the biggest opponents of Iran and its influence in Iraq such as Iyad Allawi and the Nujafi brothers for years. He saw how those figures’ standings suffered during the war versus the Islamic State however and eventually switched his loyalties likely in return for political and economic rewards by Tehran and the Abdul Mahdi government.
The U.S. sanctions mean that Khanjar is now blacklisted by international banks and has travel restrictions placed upon him. Whether that will have a real effect upon the him is yet to be seen, especially in the Middle East where money talks and given his continued ties to many regional governments. It does highlight Khanjar’s political shift and new alliance.
1. AIN, “Disputes emerge between Allaw, Khamis,” 6/13/12
2. Hill, Christopher, “Iran’s Efforts In Iraqi Electoral Politics,” U.S. Embassy Baghdad, 11/13/09
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- “Sunni forces hold their second conference in Ankara with Iraqi flag and American blessing,” 6/15/17
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U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Iran-Backed Militia Leaders Who Killed Innocent Demonstrators in Iraq,” 12/6/19