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Ilhan Omar joins House Foreign Affairs Committee, could vote to cut arms sales to Saudis

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Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the Muslim congresswoman whom Saudi media tried to smear, has been chosen to sit on a powerful House committee that has a huge say over US foreign policy.

Omar confirmed her appointment to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a press statement on Thursday, adding: “We need to reign in arms sales to human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia.”

The committee oversees bills and investigations related to US foreign affairs, such as foreign aid and exports to other countries.

It also has to power to boost or reign in US exports of military equipment and technology to other countries, such as Saudi Arabia.

Omar said she wanted to curb arms sales to Saudi Arabia — which many of the kingdom’s critics have called for after the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Here, a composite image of Khashoggi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Associated Press/Virginia Mayo; Nicolas Asfouri – Pool/Getty

President Donald Trump’s administration has come under congressional pressure to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. Riyadh has continually sought to distance its leadership from the murder.

Members of Congress in the House and Senate, on both sides of the political aisle, have directly blamed Crown Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi’s death — a stance reportedly backed up by the CIA.

But Trump has repeatedly refused to jeopardize his relationship with the Saudi royal family, opting instead to tout the US and Saudi’s cozy relations, lucrative arms deals, and low oil prices.

Read more: ‘POTUS sided with a brutal dictator over CIA? Shocking’: Trump widely bashed for siding with Saudi Arabia over Jamal Khashoggi’s killing

President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to curb arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Here, he holds up a chart of military hardware sales during a meeting in the White House with Crown Prince Mohammed in March 2018.
Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Omar’s appointment to the Foreign Affairs Committee also comes after academics and media outlets connected to Saudi Arabia repeatedly tried to smear her even before she joined Congress.

Saudi-owned media outlets, such as Al Arabiya and MBC radio station, reported stories accusing Omar of being a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood and part of an Islamist faction to control Congress, Foreign Policy pointed out last month.

Riyadh likely launched this media campaign because Omar, as a Muslim woman, could challenge the US’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, HuffPost’s Akbar Shahid Ahmed reported.

Saudi-owned media has tried to smear Omar’s image in the past. Here she walks in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in November 2018.
Reuters/Eric Miller

Omar, who fled Somalia as a refugee in 1991, said in a Thursday statement: “As someone who has seen firsthand the havoc wreaked by war, I am proud to serve on the committee that is responsible for overseeing our country’s — and this President’s — actions abroad.”

“We need to use the committee’s human rights jurisdiction to hold the President accountable for deaths in detention centers on his watch. We need to investigate how foreign governments and their lobbyists have violated our laws,” she said.

“And we need to reign in arms sales to human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia,” she said.

It is rare for freshman representatives to join high-ranking congressional committees like this. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also a first-year congresswoman, secured a spot on the powerful House Financial Services Committee this week.

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