DATAPOINTS

$536,000

LOBBYING SPEND (2018)

3

LOBBYING/PR FIRMS

7

REGISTERED AGENTS

AL-MONITOR
LOBBYING RANK

#5 (tie)

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
(for Sarmad and Khamis Khanjar / Arab Project)

Hired: May 2019
Contract: $60,000/month

NEW Supplemental
(Feb. 1, 2019 – July 31, 2019)

Fees: $120,000
Meetings: Mike Day (State Department’s Office of Iraq Affairs) and Michael Gilles (attorney-adviser for Iraq and the Levant at the State Department); House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s national security adviser, Luke Murray; Jamie Kraut (Middle East Director at the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes); Albar Sheikh (policy adviser in the office) and Jacob Thiessen (Senior Counsel at Treasury Department's Office of General Counsel)

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman was paid $120,000 by Khamis Khanjar and Sarmad Khanjar — the leaders of Iraq’s Arab Project — in the six-month period ending July 31. The firm’s lobbyists met with Mike Day in the State Department’s Office of Iraq Affairs and Michael Gilles, an attorney-adviser for Iraq and the Levant at the State Department, on July 22. The next day, the firm’s lobbyists met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s national security adviser, Luke Murray. And on July 24, the firm’s lobbyists met with Jamie Kraut, the Middle East Director at the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes; Albar Sheikh, a policy adviser in the office; and Jacob Thiessen, from the department’s Office of General Counsel.

Mark Alsalih
(for Iraq Stability and Security Program)

Hired: 2014

NEW Registered agent
Jim Hanson

Jim Hanson, the president of the right-wing Security Studies Group, has registered as a foreign agent for the Iraq Stability and Security Program (ISSP), which was founded by a group of Iraqis and tribal sheikhs and seeks to curb Iranian influence in western Iraq. Hanson will consult for lobbyist Mark Al-Salih on security and “opposing Iranian influence operations” in Anbar province. He will also consult on strategic communications and “coordination with US government agencies in support of these efforts” for $30,000 per month. Hanson told Al-Monitor that the US government needs to be aware of all of the Iranian entities pushing Tehran’s interests in Anbar. He added that his work for ISSP will be separate from his work with the Security Studies Group.

    Steven Billet
    • Hired: 2017  
    • No currently registered agents

Iraq rebuilds lobbying presence amid US-Iran fight

Editor

Julian Pecquet

@JPecquet_ALM

jpecquet@al-monitor.com
bookmark

Julian Pecquet is the Washington Editor for Al-Monitor.

Posted: September 11, 2019

Iraq is overhauling a shattered Washington lobbying network to help shape the US response to the twin threats of Iran and the Islamic State (IS).

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry and its US Embassy have hired three firms in less than two years as Baghdad rebuilds an influence operation decimated by budget woes and the demise of the Podesta Group. In addition to its December 2017 contract with The Livingston Group, Iraq retained Holly Strategies in October 2018; two months later, the embassy hired G83 for the express purpose of stimulating “business and investment in Iraq.”

All told, the Iraqi government spent $536,000 on lobbying last year, a 27% uptick over 2017 but still only about half of what the country was spending in 2014 and 2015 before the fight against IS ravaged its finances. Lobbyists communicated with key State Department and congressional sources, including setting up several meetings for Ambassador Fareed Yasseen on Capitol Hill and a Feb. 6 meeting for visiting Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

The campaign has helped convince the Donald Trump administration to repeatedly grant sanctions waivers to the energy-dependent country so it can continue buying electricity from neighboring Iran, postponing a showdown with Baghdad during the scorching summer months. Iraq is also trying to mitigate the risk of potentially destabilizing sanctions as the Treasury Department takes aim at Iran-backed Shiite militants even as Congress has declined to take up legislation targeting a group that has members in the Iraqi parliament so far this year.

Even as Iraq worries about a heavy-handed US policy on Iran, Baghdad is equally concerned that the Trump administration will take a hands-off approach to Islamist extremism after declaring IS defeated. The State Department’s decision to shutter its consulate in Basra following a nearby rocket attack blamed on Shiite militias in particular has prompted an urgent appeal by the ambassador for the United States not to pull out.

So far the United States has ruled out a sudden troop withdrawal as in next-door Syria, even as Trump’s comments that he wants to keep US soldiers in Iraq to “watch Iran” created an unnecessary uproar in Baghdad. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is requesting $745 million for its Iraqi train-and-equip fund in the coming fiscal year while the State Department seeks another $115 million in economic aid.

Despite the policy wins, Baghdad’s message runs the risk of being clouded by a host of competing lobbying interests.

The Kurdistan Regional Government for example spent $1.1 million in 2018 to preserve US support for Erbil and its peshmerga forces. Meanwhile, the Nineveh Plain Defense Fund, an Illinois nonprofit, raised $82,000 last year to help equip Christian militias in the northern province.

More problematic for Baghdad are the smattering of Sunni tribal interests lobbying against Iran’s perceived sway over the Iraqi government. In February, the chairman of Iraq’s Sunni-majority Salahuddin Provincial Council, Ahmad al-Krayem, hired the United Arab Emirates-based Iraq Advisory Group on a yearlong, $15,000-per-month contract to raise the alarm over the rise of Iran-backed militias.

And this May, an Iraqi party led by a millionaire businessman who wants to create an autonomous region for the nation’s Sunnis hired former Trump campaign aide Darren Morris and his Tennessee-based Morris Global Strategies for $40,000 per month. The Arab Project Party, led by Khamis Khanjar and his son, Sarmad Khanja, also retained Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman for $60,000 per month.

Finally, in July the Iraq Stability and Security Program (ISSP), which was founded by tribal sheikhs seeking to curb Iranian influence in western Iraq, added Jim Hanson, the president of the right-wing Security Studies Group, to its lobbying roster. The ISSP disclosed just under $120,000 in lobbying payments to its subcontractor, former State Department official Joel Rubin’s Washington Strategy Group, in 2018.

HIGHLIGHTS

Main lobby firm:
The Livingston Group

 

 

$536,000

Total lobbying and PR spending for 2018

 

 

WINS
  • US grants waivers for electricity purchases from Iran
  • Pentagon seeks $745 million for military support
  • Congress staves off sanctions against parliament members
LOSSES
  • US tensions with Iran rattle Iraq
  • State Department shutters Basra consulate
  • Sunni tribes lobby at cross-purposes with Baghdad

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