Mr. Speaker, Iran is continuing its march across the Middle East. At this moment, it is consolidating its gains in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Iraq.
Through its network of violent proxies, it is exerting influence to subject millions to the will of the mullahs in Tehran and to launch terrorist attacks against us and our allies. Iran's sectarian proxies are sowing division across the region through their brutal rule, giving Sunni extremists like al-Qaeda and ISIS an opportunity to recruit among the oppressed.
Wherever there is weak governance in the Middle East, Iran moves to expand its conquests and challenge the rule of law. Currently, Iraq is particularly vulnerable to Iran's proxy subversion.
The country is attempting to rebuild--with our help--after years of battling ISIS. Hundreds of thousands still remain displaced from their homes and the damage to the country's infrastructure is immense.
Yet despite ISIS's defeat on the battlefield and the liberation of all major towns and cities, corruption and Iranian meddling present major obstacles towards allowing Iraq to heal. Iranian-backed militias are not disbanding, but instead are controlling territory, infiltrating government institutions, and attempting to seize political power.
They do not respect democracy or care for the interests of average Iraqis. These proxies serve only the goals of their masters in Tehran who want to keep their neighbor weak.
Their presence undermines the Iraqi government's authority and ultimately hinders reconciliation amongst the country's religious sects. After President Obama foolishly withdrew our forces in 2011, it was these thugs and their Iranian patrons who filled the void, creating the sectarian conditions for Iraq to unravel and ISIS to be born.
We must not allow this to happen again. By working to restore Iraqi sovereignty and diminish the power of Iran's agents, we can prevent ISIS from returning and another generation of Americans having to go fight in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, Iran's proxies in Iraq are gaining power and despite legislation to target these groups, our own State Department is getting in the way. For too long they have tried diplomatic niceties to urge Iraqis to stand up to their countrymen who are doing Tehran's bidding.
But this method is failing as Iranian-backed groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq win more seats in Iraq's parliament. Al-Haq is a militia group that has killed dozens of Americans, Iraqis, Kurds, and Syrians, yet no one will stand up to them--not even our foreign service officers.
It's time to stop doing a dance with the devils in Iraq and Iran, and send a clear message that these groups should be designated as terrorists and cast out of the halls of power in Baghdad. If we do not, the future of Iraq as a strong independent nation is in jeopardy.
Iranian-controlled militias, like Asaib Ahl al-Haq and their comrades in Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba must be targeted so that those freedom-loving Iraqis who hope to rebuild their country can see that America stands with them. Already we are seeing in the streets of southern Iraq that some Iraqis are demonstrating courage in the face of Iran's proxies.
They, like the Iranian people, are demanding that the mullahs' corruption be removed from their country. The era of bending the knee to Tehran is over.
And that's just the way it is.