US imposes 'sanctions' on Iraqi money exchange

10:33 - 18/10/2018
Economy

The US Treasury imposed sanctions on Wednesday on an Iraq-based money services business, Afaq Dubai, believed to be moving funds for the Islamic State militant group.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control added Afaq Dubai to its list of specially designated global terrorists for 'assisting in, sponsoring or providing financial, material or technical support' for the Islamic State group, the department said in a statement.

The Treasury action followed a Pentagon decision on Oct 11 targeting a financial group supporting Islamic State.

The Treasury said the moves are part of a broader US effort to target a network of money services businesses that enable Islamic State to carry out operations across the Middle East. In September, the Treasury took action against Islamic State financial facilitators with ties in the Caribbean and the Middle East. It took action against a money exchange group in Syria in December 2016.

The Treasury said Afaq Dubai is located in Iraq and does not have branches in the United Arab Emirates, despite its name.

Afaq Dubai is run by two Islamic State financiers and as of early 2018 was laundering money for the group and providing money for families in the group, the Treasury said. Slovakia's defense ministry says the country will keep its military presence in Iraq after the government approved a plan to deploy up to 42 soldiers there next year to help train Iraqi security forces as part of a NATO mission.

The ministry says the soldiers and military police officers will cooperate with allied forces from Italy and the United States. The plan still needs to be approved by Slovakia's Parliament, where the coalition government has a majority.

The defense ministry said Wednesday that the Slovak soldiers won't be engaged in combat but will advise Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic State militants. Slovakia sent 25 service members to Iraq in the NATO mission this year.

Every Sunday in Iraq, along a strip of embankment on the Tigris River reserved for followers of the obscure and ancient Mandaean faith, worshippers bathe themselves in the waters to purify their souls. But unlike in ancient times, the storied river that runs through Baghdad is fouled by untreated sewage and dead carp, which float by in the fast-moving current. 'It's very saddening. Our religious books warn us not to defile the water. There are angels watching over it,' said Sheikh Satar Jabar, head of Iraq's Mandaean community.

Iraq's soaring water pollution is threatening the religious rites of its tight-knit Mandaean community, already devastated by 15 years of war that has also affected the country's other minority sects. Mandaeism follows the teachings of John the Baptist, a saint in both the Christian and Islamic traditions, and its rites revolve around water.

On the eastern bank of the Tigris recently, Jabar watched as a younger cleric blessed congregants in the river, then anointed them with holy oil and gave them a sacrament of bread and water on dry land. The women, shrouded in white and their hair tucked under headdresses, went into the river first, receiving their blessings in a Mandaean dialect of Jesus's native tongue, Aramaic.

Then the ceremony was repeated for the men. Finally, a oneyear- old child, Yuhana, received his first baptism, squirming and sputtering as his father dipped him in. 'When a Mandaean believer commits a sin or wants to ease the worries of life, he comes to the cleric to practice his religious rituals, where he must immerse himself three times in running water,' said Jabar.

The faith holds that only flowing water can baptize the faithful, and that it should be clear, pure and fit for human consumption. Until 2003, nearly all the world's Mandaeans lived in Iraq, but the cycles of conflict since the US invasion have driven minorities out of the country for security reasons and economic opportunity.

Most recently, under the Islamic State group's three-year reign in northern Iraq, the militants dynamited shrines to saints, forced Christians to pay a special head tax, and enslaved, raped and killed followers of the Yazidi faith. Sheikh Jabar estimates there are just 10,000 Mandaeans left in Iraq today, a fraction of what it was before.

Their numbers are particularly susceptible to the toll of migration because Mandaeism does not accept converts: Worshippers must be born into the faith. The wars that drove many Mandaeans out of the country also aggravated a water crisis set in motion by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's ecological policies. Baghdad's river today is a stew of industrial chemicals, untreated sewage and poisonous agricultural runoff, the Save the Tigris civil society campaign said in a 2018 report. And water levels are falling, owing to the changing climate and damming in neighboring Turkey, Syria and Iran.

About 70 percent of Iraq's water flows from upstream countries. In the southern city of Basra, where the Tigris merges with Iraq's other fabled river, the Euphrates, riots broke out this summer over the chronic pollution and water scarcity.

More than a dozen people were killed in the security crackdown. Still, the two Mesopotamian rivers mentioned in Mandaean scripture hold special significance to the faithful. Ibtisam Kareem, 45, accepted a sacrament from the cleric and drank a handful of water from the Tigris. 'If you have faith in God,' she said, 'this water is like honey.'

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