Iraqi businessman hires former Trump aide as foreign agent

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An Iraqi business mogul who wants to create an autonomous region for the country’s Sunni population will pay a former Trump campaign aide nearly half a million dollars to lobby in Washington over the next year.

Darren Morris, of Morris Global Strategies, registered as a foreign agent on May 30 on behalf of Khamis Khanjar and the Arab Project Party Iraq, a minority party that has joined in coalitions with several other Sunni groups. Khanjar is a Sunni multimillionaire who was elected secretary-general of the party in 2017.

Morris was the state director for President Donald Trump’s Tennessee operation during the 2016 primaries before becoming his chief of staff in Florida for the general election. Morris was also a guest of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) at the State of the Union in 2018 and ran Rep. Mark Green’s (R-Tenn.) successful campaign for U.S. House during the midterm cycle.

According to recent Foreign Agents Registration Act filings, Morris will be “advising, counseling, and assisting (the Arab Project Party) in communications with US government officials,” including communications “with relevant Executive and Legislative Branch offices.” The party will pay Morris a rate of $40,000 per month for a year, with the possibility of renewal next summer.

Khanjar has pushed for creating a Sunni autonomous region within Iraq’s borders, similar to the Kuridish region in the country’s north, though his proposal has not gained significant traction among other Sunni leaders or Iraq’s broader political scene.

Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s population, have been politically fragmented since the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The central government is largely controlled by Shiites, who, along with the country’s Kurdish population, faced severe oppression when Hussein was in power.

While Iraq and its neighbor Iran are majority-Shiite countries, most Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, are majority-Sunni. Khanjar has argued that a Sunni autonomous region could bring in investment from these countries, where he has personal economic ties.

Khanjar is a controversial figure in many circles. Born in Fallujah, he has spent much of the last two decades in exile, first after the U.S. invasion and again after conflicts with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Critics have alleged that much of the businessman’s wealth came from setting up front companies for the Hussein regime during the 1990s, according to a 2016 Reuters profile. Some Sunni guerillas have said that Khanjar helped finance the anti-U.S. insurgency in 2003, as well as the Sunni Awakening groups that helped the U.S. beat back Al Qaeda in 2006.

After decades of working behind the scenes, he has in recent years assumed a more front-facing role in Iraqi politics and has taken his idea of an autonomous Sunni region to an international stage.In addition to contracting with Morris, Khanjar and his son, Sarmad Khanjar, hired Matthew Oresman of the international law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP to lobby on their behalf, according to a separate FARA filing dated May 30. They paid a $120,000 retainer as part of that agreement.

Neither instance is Khanjar’s first run at lobbying in Washington. The businessman was connected to the group Adalid Business Consulting DMCC, which hired lobbyists from the Glover Park Group to advocate on behalf of Iraq’s Sunni community in 2015. Those efforts were reportedly unsuccessful.

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