(Fox News) -- More Iranians are paying big money to buy passports in neighboring countries through bribery or fraudulent information, in a bid to evade U.S. sanctions and the Trump administration's travel ban on Iran and six other nations, multiple sources have told Fox News.
The Iranians are getting passports from a number of nations, sources said. But Iran's influence with some elements of the Iraqi goverment is now so prominent the issuing of passports through payoffs and corruption there has become a growing concern, Iraqi and other sources told Fox News.
“It means that Iranians aren’t then flagged as being from a country barred by the United States,” one Iraqi insider told Fox News. "Mostly, it has been used by business people and merchants wanting to get around the economic sanctions and continue doing business with the West.”
One long-time Iraq-based, Western security expert stressed the Iranian influence inside Iraq has become “significantly heightened” since the ISIS onslaught, along with the establishment of a “Shia corridor” that enables unprecedented access – from Tehran through Baghdad, onto Damascus and then Beirut, posing a direct threat to Israel’s security.
Several counter-terrorism specialists in the U.S. also affirmed that security concerns over the passport issue have been heightened in recent months.
“It is going on, and it is not difficult to do – especially if you have a friendly government helping you out,” noted a former intelligence official currently working as a counter-terrorism consultant in the Middle East. “Iran has many allies in high-level positions in Baghdad.”
An Iranian woman walks past a mural depicting members of Basij paramilitary force, portraying Iranians' solidarity against their enemies, painted on the wall of a government building at the Felestin (Palestine) Sq. in downtown Tehran, Iran, Monday, July 30, 2018. Iran's currency has dropped to a record low ahead of the imposition of renewed American sanctions, with many fearing prolonged economic suffering or possible civil unrest.
Sources also believe the passport issue may be a factor in the assassination of three Iraqi officials in just the last three months. The director of a provincial Iraqi Citizenship Department, Col. Amer Qasem Mohammed, and his aide, Lt. Col. Shaker Mahmoud were killed on Wednesday afternoon by gunmen on the road between Diyalah, near the Iranian border, and Baghdad.
And in late June, Col. Safa Hassan al-Dulaimi – the head of the directorate of passports in the southern Iraqi province of Babil – was assassinated in broad daylight on his way home. Several Iraq sources claimed the motive behind the assassination stemmed from his refusal to issue forged Iraqi passports to the powers behind the Iranian-backed militias.
Long-running international sanctions against Iran were lifted following the 2015 signing of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But President Trump in May pulled the United States out of the controversial agreement, prompting the U.S. Treasury to institute new sanctions against money transfer services, some state-operated airlines, as well as individuals aligned with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and missile program.
A full slate of U.S sanctions will be re-imposed by November.