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Pence announces sanctions on Iranian-linked leaders in Iraq

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US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in the Loy Henderson Auditorium of the State Department in Washington.

AP, Washington :
Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that the United States is imposing sanctions on the leaders of two Iranian-linked militia groups in Iraq.
"Let me be clear, the United States will not stand idly while Iranian-backed militias spread terror," Pence told a high-level meeting on religious freedom, without naming the individuals targeted.
A US Treasury statement said the sanctions were being imposed on the four Iraqi milita leaders due to suspicion of human rights abuses and corruption.
Further sanctions were imposed on five people and seven entities in connection to Iran's nuclear program and non-proliferation matters, the Treasury Department said on its website on Thursday.
They are the first punitive steps by Washington since Tehran announced earlier this month it would increase its levels of enriched uranium that can be used for bomb fuel. Tehran announced on July 1 that it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, marking its first major step beyond the terms of the pact since the United States withdrew more than a year ago.
"Treasury is taking action to shut down an Iranian nuclear procurement network that leverages Chinese- and Belgium-based front companies to acquire critical nuclear materials and benefit the regime's malign ambitions," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
"Iran cannot claim benign intent on the world stage while it purchases and stockpiled products for centrifuges," he added.
The two militia leaders, Rayan al-Kildani and Waad Qado - the former a Christian and the latter a member of the Shabak minority - were both sanctioned over "serious human rights abuse" by them or their organizations. Treasury cited a video circulated in May 2018 in which Kildani "cut off the ear of a handcuffed detainee," and said that his forces have "systematically looted homes" and "reportedly illegally seized and sold agricultural land."
Qado's militia has meanwhile "extracted money from the population around Bartalla, in the Nineveh Plain, through extortion, illegal arrests, and kidnappings" and has "frequently detained people without warrants, or with fraudulent warrants."
Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that the United States was imposing sanctions on the leaders of two Iranian-linked militia groups in Iraq, but the Treasury statement made no mention of the commanders being tied to Iran.

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