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Kata’ib Hezbollah

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), also known as the Hezbollah Brigades, is a Shiite Iraqi insurgent group that was founded in 2007.

AT A GLANCE

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Overview

Brief Summary of the Organization's History.

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Organization

How does a group organize? Who leads it? How does it finance operations?

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Strategy

How does a group fight? What are its aims and ideologies? What are some of its major attacks?

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Major Attacks

What are the group's most famous attacks? What are some key attacks in the group's evolution?

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Interactions

What is the group's relationship with the community? How does it interact with other groups?

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Maps

What is the group's relationship with other militants over time?

Key Statistics

2007 First Recorded Activity
2008 First Attack
2018 Last Recorded Activity

Contact

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How to Cite

Mapping Militant Organizations. "Kata'ib Hezbollah." Stanford University. Last modified May 2019. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/kataib-hezbollah

Overview

Brief History

    Overview
  • Overview
  • Narrative

Overview

 

Formed2007
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackFebruary 19, 2008: KH launched an improvised rocket-assisted mortar (IRAM) at a U.S. base southeast of Baghdad, killing one American civilian (1 killed, unknown wounded). 
Last AttackJune 2018: Members of KH participated in a shootout with Iraqi police (0 killed, 3 wounded).
UpdatedMay 2019

 

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), also known as the Hezbollah Brigades, is a Shiite Iraqi insurgent group that was founded in 2007. The group is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and receives large amounts of training, logistical support, and weapons from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).  From 2008-2011, KH directed the majority of its attacks against U.S.-Coalition forces in Iraq and was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. on July 2, 2009. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, KH sent large numbers of its fighters to Syria to fight alongside Hezbollah and the Assad government. KH has also deployed its troops in Iraq to fight the Islamic State (IS) and is a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of Shiite militant groups fighting IS in Iraq. 

Narrative

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), or the Hezbollah Brigades, is an Iranian-backed, Iraqi Shiite paramilitary. The group was established by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in 2007 as the union of five other militant organizations.[i]Prior to founding KH, Muhandis was a member of the Badr Organization, another Iranian-backed militant group that has operated in Iraq and Syria. In this capacity, Muhandis worked closely with the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah during the Iran-Iraq War and throughout the 1990s.  When Muhandis founded KH in 2007, he retained close ties with both organizations; in fact, many analysts believe that the IRGC was directly involved in KH’s formation and continues to bankroll the organization today.[ii]Hezbollah instructors were also instrumental in training early KH recruits in guerilla warfare tactics and in the use of explosives and various other weapons. Analysts also believe that KH ran smuggling networks between Iran and Iraq in concert with the IRGC during the Iraq War in order to supply the Iraqi Shiite militias with Iranian weapons.[iii]

From 2007 to 2011, KH focused the majority of its resources on fighting the U.S. coalition in Iraq. According to U.S. diplomat Ali Khedery, KH was responsible for “some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout the [U.S.-led war in Iraq].”[iv]The group was particularly known for its use of deadly roadside bombs and improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs) against coalition forces.[v]Although initially KH did not target the fledgling Iraqi army or government, following the Iraqi government’s approval of a U.S.-Iraq Security Partnership in November 2008, KH threatened reprisals against the Iraqi government and its forces.[vi]Following the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, KH refused to heed the Iraqi government’s calls for all militant groups in the country to demilitarize.  The group cited ongoing instability in Iraq as its justification for its refusal to lay down its arms.[vii]

KH was among the first Iraqi Shiite organizations to send troops to Syria to fight alongside the forces of the Assad Government, but it is unknown when exactly this occurred.  KH did not officially announce its presence in the country until March 2013.  KH’s early participation in the Syrian Civil War is also somewhat unclear because of the presence of KH fighters in other front groups operating in Syria.[viii]For instance, in 2013, KH and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH), another major Iraqi Shiite paramilitary, formed Harakat al-Nujaba (HN) as a front group through which to route their fighters to Syria.[ix]Both AAH and KH also sent troops to fight within the ranks of Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), a Shiite militia operating in Syria but primarily comprised of Iraqi fighters.[x]However, both HN and LAFA started to act autonomously of KH and AAH, who began sending fighters to Syria under their own banners rather than in association with another group.[xi]

As of 2015, KH claims to have sent over 1,000 fighters to Aleppo, only 40 of which have been lost in the fighting in Syria.  According to the group’s spokesman, many of KH’s troops in Syria fought under the direct command of IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani.[xii]In addition to operating alongside IRGC and Assad regime troops, KH has also cooperated with Hezbollah and other Iraqi and Syrian Shiite militias in Syria against the Islamic State (IS) and other Syrian opposition forces.[xiii]  In 2013, KH assisted the Syrian Government in creating a local Shia militia proxy force called Fawj al-Imam al-Hijjah in a pivotal area around Aleppo.[xiv]

KH has also been active fighting against IS and other Sunni militant organizations in Iraq since 2013.[xv]The group is a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization of Iraqi Shiite militias formed to combat IS under the ostensible control of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.[xvi]In April 2014, KH also announced the creation of Saraya al-Difa al-Shabi (KH-SDS), a sub group of the organization dedicated to fighting exclusively in Iraq.[xvii]Subsequently, in the summer of 2014, KH, AAH and other PMF-associated militias broke the IS siege of Amerli with the aid of U.S. airpower and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.[xviii]Despite such instances of tacit cooperation with American forces in the fight against IS, KH’s rhetoric has remained virulently anti-American, and statements released by the group throughout 2014 and 2015 reaffirm its refusal to cooperate with American forces. The group has also been accused by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch of conducting “indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas” and targeting Sunni civilians in Iraq.[xix]

In 2015, KH and many of the other Iraqi Shiite paramilitary groups denounced efforts by the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to pass the National Guard law, which was intended to increase Iraqi Sunni participation in the security forces.  Tensions between the government and KH increased after KH fighters clashed with Iraqi security forces in Baghdad on September 2015.[xx]More KH fighters were also sent to Aleppo by IRGC Major-General Qasim Soleimani in order to bolster the Syrian regime’s armed forces.[xxi]These KH militants led several attacks against the militant organization Jabhat al-Nusra in Southern Aleppo alongside the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah and the Iranian special forces.[xxii]In January 2015, KH also issued threats to Saudi Arabia over the fate of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia who was imprisoned. Following Nimr’s execution, KH announced that they were justified in targeting Saudi interests in Iraq. This message was echoed by many other Iranian proxies.[xxiii]

Around May of 2016, KH pushed into Fallujah alongside Iraqi forces and other PMF members.[xxiv]During the offensive, a fractious command-and-control meant these militias did not receive air or logistical support from U.S. forces. Instead, KH and the PMF only benefited from minimal air support provided by Iraqi forces. These limitations reduced the effectiveness of the PMF and KH in heavy urban fighting. However, the militias continued to be effective in rural areas, taking several of the surrounding territories from IS control.[xxv]Reportedly, KH and other PMF members donned Iraqi army uniforms in order to regain American air support.[xxvi]After seizing Fallujah, KH refused to vacate its positions in the city in violation of the promises made by Iraqi forces prior to the offensive.[xxvii]KH then allegedly committed several human rights abuses, including torturing and killing dozens. Hundreds of civilians went missing during this time.[xxviii]

In late 2016 and early 2017, KH played a significant role in the campaign to retake Mosul, reportedly bringing in 2,000 fighters from Syria and recruiting IRGC snipers.[xxix]KH and the other PMF members were at first largely restricted to activity in towns nearby Mosul. However, it appears as if the members of the Shia militias started to move into the city over time, manning a series of checkpoints and establishing an office in East Mosul.[xxx]KH continued to play a vital role in securing the city of Aleppo for Bashar al-Assad in late 2016, and the group maintained an office in the government-controlled areas of Aleppo.[xxxi]

In late 2016 to mid-2017, KH played a major role in the Tal Afar offensive. The group successfully seized an airport near Tal Afar and set up a staging area, reportedly with Iraqi air support and Iranian logistical support.[xxxii]Despite U.S. government efforts to pressure the Iraqi government to bar PMF members from participating in the actual offensive, KH and five other PMF-affiliated groups ended up playing an ‘extensive’ role; the groups captured several areas around Tal Afar, as well as one of IS’ communications depots.[xxxiii]After the Iraqi forces took Tal Afar, KH continued to be involved in a wide variety of military actions around Iraq, such as in Kirkuk.[xxxiv]

In late 2017 and early 2018, KH continued to secure Iranian strategic objectives. The PMF and KH also took part in the offensive in the Iraq-Syria border town of Abu Kamal.[xxxv]KH met up with Iranian-led forces from Syria and managed to quickly capture Abu Kamal.[xxxvi]Abu Kamal has significant value for Iran as it creates a supply route from Tehran to Lebanon, facilitating the provision of ordinance to the Lebanese Hezbollah.[xxxvii]In February 2018, Qasim al-Araji, the Iraqi Interior Minister and a member of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization, announced that the PMF (including KH) would be patrolling and securing the al-Qa’im-Abu Kamal border crossing.[xxxviii]In June 2018, the Israeli military bombed a KH outpost near Abu Kamal.[xxxix]The strike was seemingly carried out to close the Iranian land-route.[xl]KH responded sharply, saying that it would not hesitate to retaliate and that it would expand its operations on the border.[xli]AAH head Qais al-Khazali condemned the attack and expressed his support for the KH position.[xlii]Shortly after the airstrikes, KH members got into a shootout with Iraqi policemen, wounding three. The Iraqi police then surrounded the KH headquarters, after which KH released the men who had participated in the shooting into police custody.[xliii]Shortly thereafter, an Iraqi MP in charge of the defense and security committee visited KH headquarters to defuse the situation.[xliv]As of April 2019, this was the last major activity of KH. 


[i]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah.” Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, Date unknown. Web. 6 August 2016.

[ii]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. ; Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; Fulton, Will, Joseph Holiday & Sam Wyer. “Iranian Strategy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, May 2013. Web. July 2016.

[iii]K. Gilbert. “The Rise of Shi’ite Militias And The Post Arab Spring Sectarian Threat,” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, October 2016. Web. July 2016.; Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[iv]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[v]“US officials name 3 Iraqi militias armed by Iran to kill Yanks,” The International Iran Times, Date unknown. Web. July 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.

[vi]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Global Security, Date unknown. Web. July 2016.

[vii]Bayoumi, Alaa and Leah Harding. “Mapping Iraq’s fighting groups,” Al Jazeera, 27 June 2014. Web. August 2016.

[viii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; Fulton, Will, Joseph Holiday & Sam Wyer. “Iranian Strategy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, May 2013. Web. July 2016.

[ix]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; K. Gilbert. “The Rise of Shi’ite Militias And The Post Arab Spring Sectarian Threat,” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, October 2016. Web. July 2016.

[x]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[xi]Smyth, Phillip. “From Najaf to Damascus and onto Baghdad: Iraq’s Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas,” Jihadology, 18 June 2014. Web July 2014.

[xii]Morris, Loveday and Mustafa Salim. “Iran backs Assad in battle for Aleppo with proxies, ground troops,” Washington Times, 19 October 2015. Web. August 2016.; Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[xiii]Fulton, Will, Joseph Holiday & Sam Wyer. “Iranian Strategy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, May 2013. Web. July 2016.

[xiv]Smyth, Philip. "How Iran Is Building Its Syrian Hezbollah." Washington Institute. March 8, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xv]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[xvi]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[xvii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[xviii]Smyth, Phillip. “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2015. Web. June 2016

[xix]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[xx]Adnan, Sinan. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iranian Proxies Challenge Iraq’s Proposed National Guard Law,” Institute for the Study of War, 8 September 2015. Web. June 2016.

[xxi]Al-Tamimi, Aymenn. "Has Assad’s New Offensive Changed Syria’s Front Lines?" Syria Deeply, November 11, 2015. Accessed July 10, 2018.; McGeough, Paul. "Iran's Grand Manipulator at Work behind the Scenes in Syria." WA Today, October 25, 2015. Accessed July 10, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.

[xxii]Tomson, Chris. "Hezbollah Assault on Al-Eis in Southern Aleppo Repelled by Jabhat Al-Nusra." Al Masdar News. April 12, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxiii]Smyth, Phillip. "Iran’s Martyrdom Machine Springs to Life." Foreign Policy, January 5, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxiv]Ryan, Missy, and Mustafa Salim. "Mixed Iraqi Force Prepares for Push into Militant Stronghold of Fallujah; The Battle for the Western City of Fallujah Will Test Iraq's Ability to Oversee a Disparate Military Force and Protect Citizens against Abuse." Washington Post, May 24, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018.

[xxv]Knights, Michael. "A New Formula in the Battle for Fallujah." Al Jazeera, May 25, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.; "FRONTLINE FOOTAGE & Pics: Iraqi Allied Forces Advancing Inside Fallujah." Alalam News, May 25, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.

[xxvi]Filkins, Dexter. "The Dangers of the Iraqi Coalition Headed Toward Mosul." The New Yorker. October 19, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxvii]"PMF Spread Fear among Fallujah's Displaced." Asharq Alawsat, July 5, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.

[xxviii]Philp, Catherine, and Amiriyat Al-Fallujah. "Shia Militia Lure Hundreds of Fallujah Men to Their Deaths." The Times, July 11, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.; Hawez, Abdullah. "Iraq’s Shia Militias Accused of War Crimes in Fight Against ISIS." The Daily Beast, June 8, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018.; Naylor, Hugh. "Iraqis Trapped in Fallujah Face Twin Peril of Islamic State and Militia Fighters." Washington Post, June 7, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018.; "Iraq: Fallujah Abuses Inquiry Mired in Secrecy." Human Rights Watch. July 7, 2016. Accessed July 9, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/07/07/iraq-fallujah-abuses-inquiry-mired-s....

[xxix]Anagnostos, Emily, and Patrick Martin. "Iraq Launches the Campaign for Mosul." Institute for the Study of War. October 17, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Roggio, Bill, and Amir Toumaj. "Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Close in on Tal Afar." Long War Journal, November 23, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxx]Roggio, Bill, and Amir Toumaj. "Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Close in on Tal Afar." Long War Journal, November 23, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.; "Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Launch Operation Southwest of Mosul." Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. April 29, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Kenner, David, and Campbell Macdiarmid. "Goodbye, Islamic State. Hello, Anarchy." Foreign Policy. March 24, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Frantzman, Seth. "Mosul Quietly Fills with Iran-backed Shiite Militias Using Battle for Revenge on Sunnis." Washington Times. April 30, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Kenner, David, and Campbell Macdiarmid. "Goodbye, Islamic State. Hello, Anarchy." Foreign Policy. March 24, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxi]Mroue, Bassem. "Assad Relies on Foreign Fighters in Push to Retake Aleppo." Associated Press, December 10, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.; "Iran's Pivotal Role in Aleppo Massacres." Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. December 29, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxii]Roggio, Bill, and Amir Toumaj. "Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Close in on Tal Afar." Long War Journal, November 23, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Roggio, Bill, and Amir Toumaj. "Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Close in on Tal Afar." Long War Journal, November 23, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Joscelyn, Thomas, and Alexandra Gutowski. "Iraqi Government Announces Liberation of Tal Afar from Islamic State." Long War Journal, August 31, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxiii]Majidyar, Ahmad. "P.M.F. Forces Reportedly Barred from Participating in Tal Afar Operation." Middle East Institute. August 10, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Shaker, Serhad, and Ibrahim Saleh. "6 Shia Militia Groups Take Part in Tal Afar Offensive." AA. August 14, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; "Hezbollah Brigades: We Will Not Let the Americans Run Away in the Land of Iraq and Our Guns Will Be Directed against Them." Almaalomah, August 14, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Majidyar, Ahmad. "Iran-Backed Groups Playing “Extensive Role” in Tal Afar Operation." Middle East Institute. August 21, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Mostafa, Nehal. "PMFs Confiscate Biggest IS Telecommunications Center in Tal Afar." Iraqi News, August 26, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Joscelyn, Thomas, and Alexandra Gutowski. "Iraqi Government Announces Liberation of Tal Afar from Islamic State." Long War Journal, August 31, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxiv]Kelly, Fergus. "Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah Will Enter Syria and Battle ISIS in Al Bukamal – Spokesperson." Defense Post, November 4, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxv]Kelly, Fergus. "Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah Will Enter Syria and Battle ISIS in Al Bukamal – Spokesperson." Defense Post, November 4, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; "Iraq’s Hezbollah to Participate in Syrian Operation to Liberate Albu Kamal." Tasnim News Agency, November 4, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxvi]Al-Mudiq, Qalaat. "SE. #Syria: Moment When #Iran|ian-led Forces Met on Border with #Iraq (mostly Lebanese Hezbollah & #Iraq|i Harakat Nujaba Kataib Hezbollah)." Twitter. November 8, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018. https://twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/928279843455819777.

[xxxvii]Majidyar, Ahmad. "Syrian, Iranian-Led Forces Capture Abu Kamal, Threaten to Confront U.S. and S.D.F." Middle East Institute. November 8, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxviii]Majidyar, Ahmad. "Iran-linked Militias Will Play Role in Syrian-Iraqi Border Security." Middle East Institute. February 13, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xxxix]Starr, Barbara, Ryan Browne, and Oren Liebermann. "Israel behind Airstrike in Syria, US Official Says." CNN, June 18, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xl]Frantzman, Seth. "CUTTING OFF IRAN’S 'ROAD TO THE SEA' IN SYRIA." Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xli]"Hezbollah Brigades: The Crime of Bombing Will Reopen the Confrontation with the Zionist Entity and the US Project Will Not Hesitate to Go towards Confrontation." Kataib Hizbollah. June 19, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.; "Hezbollah Brigades: Our Deployment Is Wider at the Iraqi-Syrian Border." Kataib Hizbollah. June 30, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xlii]"Sheikh Al-Khazali: Hezbollah's Targeting of a Dangerous American Escalation .. The Government Must Come out with a Strong Political Positio." Kataib Hizbollah. June 24, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xliii]Roggio, Bill, and Caleb Weiss. "Iraqi Police, Hezbollah Brigades Clash in Baghdad." Long War Journal, June 21, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Ebraheem, Mohammed. "3 People Wounded in Clashes between Hezbollah, Iraqi Police in Baghdad." Iraqi News, June 20, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xliv]"Iraqi MP Goes to Hezbollah HQ after Clashes with Security Forces." Rudaw, June 20, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

 

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (2007-present)
  • Jafar al-Hussain: (2017-present)

Leadership

This section describes various leaders, their deputies, and other important officials in the militant organization. 

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (2007-present)

Muhandis was a member of the Iraqi Shiite Dawah party in the 1970s and 1980s, and he has been implicated in that group’s 1983 bombings of the American and French Embassies in Kuwait.[i]In the 1980s and early 1990s, Muhandis served as the commander of the Badr Organization, which was the militant wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Muhandis fought for Iran in the Iran-Iraq War, and he is believed to hold Iranian citizenship.[ii]  After forming KH in 2007, Muhandis also helped to found a second Iraqi Shiite militia in 2014, Kata’ib Imam Ali (KIA).[iii]He briefly served as an MP in the Iraqi Parliament under what is suspected to be his real name, Jamal al-Ibrahim, and additionally served as  Iraq’s deputy national security advisor from 2015-unknown. As of May 2019, he maintains the position of commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).[iv]



[i]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[ii]Felter, Joseph and Brian Fishman. “”Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Politics and “Other Means,”” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Occasional Papers Series, 13 October 2008. Web. July 2016.

[iii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[iv]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.; Mansour, Renad. “From Militia to State Force: The Transformation of the al-Hashd al-Shaabi,” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 16 November 2016. Web. August 2016.; Knights, Michael. "How the U.S. Government Should Think About Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces." The Washington Institute For Near East Policy. May 9, 2019. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/fikraforum/view/how-the-u.s.-governm....

 

Jafar al-Hussain: (2017-present)

Hussain has served as the spokesperson of KH. As of April 2019, there is very little information available about him

    Name Changes
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Name Changes

KH has not changed its name, but it is also referred to as the Hezbollah Brigades.[i]



[i]"Kataib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades)." Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Accessed July 9, 2018.

 

Size Estimates

  • 2013: 400 (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)[i]
  • 2016: 400 (State Department)[ii]
    • In 2016, the US State Department estimated KH membership as “at least 400 individuals.”[iii]This likely significantly understates the scope of KH operations at this time. In 2016, KH was involved in activity in Aleppo, Ramadi, Fallujah, and the Iraqi-Saudi border. [iv]The State Department report appears to make reference to these actions as well.[v]It is simply not plausible that a group with only 400 members was able to take the actions that it did in all of these places. Other sources suggest that KH may be larger than State Department estimates. In a two-minute video of a KH single convoy, one can count around 450 to 500 men.[vi]There appears to many more vehicles in the convoy that are not shown, suggesting at least 450-500 militants have participated in KH operations.
  • 2016: 10,000 with a ‘core’ of 1,000 (American Enterprise Institute)[vii]


[i]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[ii]"Country Reports on Terrorism." State Department. 2016. Accessed July 11, 2018.

[iii]"Country Reports on Terrorism." State Department. 2016. Accessed July 11, 2018.

[iv]  Al-Tamimi, Aymenn. "Has Assad’s New Offensive Changed Syria’s Front Lines?" Syria Deeply, November 11, 2015. Accessed July 10, 2018.; McGeough, Paul. "Iran's Grand Manipulator at Work behind the Scenes in Syria." WA Today, October 25, 2015. Accessed July 10, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.; Arraf, Jane. "How Iraqi Forces Drove ISIS From Ramadi." Newsweek, February 25, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2018.; Smyth, Phillip. "Iran’s Martyrdom Machine Springs to Life." Foreign Policy, January 5, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[v]"Country Reports on Terrorism." State Department. 2016. Accessed July 11, 2018.

[vi]"BREAKING! | HUGE Kata'ib Hezbollah Convoy Head towards SYRIA." LiveLeak, March 11, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2018.

[vii]McInnis, J. M. "Iranian Deterrence Strategy and Use of Proxies." Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. November 29, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2018. https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/112916_McInnis_Testimony.pdf.

 

Resources

KH receives the vast majority of its funding and resources from Iran and Iranian-linked groups, such as Hezbollah.  Both Hezbollah Unit 3800—Hezbollah’s unit dedicated to training Iraqi militant groups—and the Iranian IRGC are believed to have provided the group with extensive training at bases in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon.  Such training is thought to include instruction in small arms, building and planting IEDs, coordinating and carrying out rocket attacks, and guerrilla warfare tactics more generally.[i]Some sources also suggest that before KH deployed its initial troops to Syria in 2012/2013, these soldiers were first sent to Iran and Lebanon for training. There, the militants learned to adapt the insurgent tactics commonly used in Iraq to the urban-street fighting more common in Syria.[ii]

 

Iran is also believed to supply KH with extensive weapons and munitions, including the Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs) that became the hallmark of KH attacks on coalition forces during the Iraq War.[iii]Some of these weapons may have been brought into Iraq by IRGC-Quds Force operatives directly. Others were smuggled in either via Muhandis’ own smuggling network linking Iran to Iraq or a similar network run by Abu Mustapha al-Sheibani, who served as Muhandis’ successor as commander of the Badr Organization.[iv]

 

KH has also used a variety of U.S. weaponry. In March 2016, Long War Journal identified several weapons in a video of a KH convoy. These weapons included an M1 Abrams Tank, an M88 Recovery Vehicle, Humvee, a MTVR, as well as three M198 Howitzers.[v]In the past, KH has also publicized their usage of MRAPs as well as M113 APCs.[vi]

 

In April 2018, KH also gained a significant amount of financial capital from a 25 million USD ransom paid by Qatari officials. In addition to its own efforts to generate income, KH also receives an estimated 50 million USD from Iran each year.[vii]



[i]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah.” Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, Date unknown. Web. 6 August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Global Security, Date unknown. Web. July 2016.

[ii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.  

[iii]“US officials name 3 Iraqi militias armed by Iran to kill Yanks,” The International Iran Times, Date unknown. Web. July 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.

[iv]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; Strouse, Thomas. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Intricate Web of Iranian Military Involvement in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, 4 March 2010. Web. August 2016.

[v]Weiss, Caleb. "Iraqi Shia Militias Show US-made Equipment on Road to Samarra." Long War Journal, March 4, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[vi]"Kataib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades)." Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Accessed July 9, 2018.

[vii]Browne, Gareth. "Qatar Ransom Cash Boosts Iran-backed 'terrorist' Group Ahead of Iraq Elections." The National, April 30, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018. LexisNexis Academic.

 

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

  • Iraq
  • Syria

KH is believed to be headquartered in the Shiite areas of Baghdad, though it likely recruits from across the Shiite regions of southern Iraq.[i]Since the emergence of IS in 2013, the group has fought IS and its allies across central, western and northern Iraq, including in Samarra, Anbar, Tikrit.  As of May 2019, KH is also currently operating in Syria, where its forces are fighting alongside those of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.[ii]Although it remains unclear when the first KH fighters arrived in Syria, it is generally believed that the group has been sending troops to aid the Assad regime since 2012 or early 2013.[iii]



[i]Strouse, Thomas. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Intricate Web of Iranian Military Involvement in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, 4 March 2010. Web. August 2016.

[ii]Smyth, Phillip. “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2015. Web. June 2016; Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[iii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; Fulton, Will, Joseph Holiday & Sam Wyer. “Iranian Strategy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, May 2013. Web. July 2016.

 

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

KH is a Shiite organization that believes in velayat-e faqih, or the Guardianship of the Jurists. This belief recognizes the Supreme Leader of Iran as the leader of the Shiite Ummah.  As such, all members of KH swear an oath of loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, whom they accept as their spiritual leader.  In line with its allegiance to Iran and the principles of the Iranian Revolution, KH seeks to institute a Shi’a Islamic government in Iraq with ties to Iran.[i]



[i]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.; Felter, Joseph and Brian Fishman. “”Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Politics and “Other Means,”” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Occasional Papers Series, 13 October 2008. Web. July 2016.; Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

 

Political Activities

In 2005, KH founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was elected as an MP in the Iraqi Parliament under his real name, Jamal al-Ibrahim. However, in 2007, Muhandis abandoned his political position and fled to Iran after information surfaced regarding his role in planning the 1983 attacks on the American and French Embassies in Kuwait.[i]Despite this brief incursion of the group’s founder into Iraqi politics, KH itself has not undertaken any form of formal participation in the Iraqi political system.[ii]However, it has released statements challenging certain policies of Prime Minister Abadi, such as the creation of a National Guard. KH and other Shiite militants have also sought to pressure the government into scuttling proposed reforms by ramping up levels of violence on the streets of Baghdad or by threatening to remove their fighters from the front lines against IS.[iii]



[i]Glanz, James and Marc Santora. “Iraqi Lawmaker Was Convicted in 1983 Bombings in Kuwait That Killed 5,” New York Times, February 7, 2007.  

[ii]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[iii]Adnan, Sinan. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iranian Proxies Challenge Iraq’s Proposed National Guard Law,” Institute for the Study of War, 8 September 2015. Web. June 2016.

 

Targets and Tactics

From its creation in 2007 until the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, KH primarily targeted U.S.-coalition forces.  Although the group claimed that it was careful not to target Iraqi civilians, coalition forces indicate that KH targeted anyone working with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, civilian and soldier alike.[i]Since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, the group has fought with the Iraqi government and other Shiite militias against the Islamic State and its allies in Iraq. Since 2012 or 2013, KH has also been active in Syria fighting alongside the Assad Regime and its allies against Syrian opposition and Islamist groups.[ii]Particularly in Iraq, KH has been accused on several occasions of using indiscriminate force in the fight against IS and even intentionally targeting Sunni civilians.[iii]

During the Iraq War, KH was known for its use of roadside bombs and rockets, especially Improvised Rocket-Assisted Munitions (IRAMs), in its attacks against coalition forces.[iv]Since sending fighters to Syria in 2012 or 2013, KH has enlisted the help of Hezbollah to train its members in the urban street fighting tactics often used in Syria.[v]

In December 2009, KH conducted a sophisticated cyber-attack, hacking into U.S. Predator drone feeds in Iraq in order to monitor and evade U.S. military operations. This has led many to speculate that the organization has a relatively sophisticated cyber unit or specialist working under its command.[vi]The group has also utilized Iran-backed television channels to solicit donations and increase its recruitment in Iraq.[vii]

Some reports dating from the time of the Iraq War suggested that KH fighters were paid between $300-$500 dollars a month and that fighters were broken into highly segregated cells within a rigid organizational structure. It is unclear if these reports remain true today.[viii]



[i]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Global Security, Date unknown. Web. July 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.; Bayoumi, Alaa and Leah Harding. “Mapping Iraq’s fighting groups,” Al Jazeera, 27 June 2014. Web. August 2016.

[ii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; Fulton, Will, Joseph Holiday & Sam Wyer. “Iranian Strategy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, May 2013. Web. July 2016.

[iii]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[iv]“US officials name 3 Iraqi militias armed by Iran to kill Yanks,” The International Iran Times, Date unknown. Web. July 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.

[v]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[vi]Strouse, Thomas. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Intricate Web of Iranian Military Involvement in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, 4 March 2010. Web. August 2016.

[vii]Masi, Alessandria. “Iraqi Shiite Militias Fighting ISIS Are Using Social Media To Recruit Foreign Fighters,” International Business Times, 12 March 2015. Web. August 2016.

[viii]“US officials name 3 Iraqi militias armed by Iran to kill Yanks,” The International Iran Times, Date unknown. Web. July 2016.

 

Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks
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Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing, but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

  1. February 19, 2008: KH launched an IRAM at a U.S. base southeast of Baghdad, killing one American civilian (1 killed, unknown wounded).[i]
  2. June 4, 2008: KH conducted an attack meant to target coalition forces but that instead killed 18 civilians and destroyed 19 homes (18 killed, 29 wounded).[ii]
  3. November 29, 2008: A KH rocket attack killed 2 U.N. contractors (2 killed, 15 wounded).[iii]
  4. February 2013: KH was implicated in an attack on a camp in Iraq that was hosting Iranian dissidents (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[iv]
  5. June 2014: KH fought alongside the Iraqi security forces in the Anbar province, particularly around the city of Fallujah, in the summer of 2014 (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[v]
  6. August 2014: KH, AAH and other militias affiliated with the PMF participated in the Battle of Amerli against IS forces.  KH and their allies were assisted by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters (unknown killed, unknown wounded).
  7. April 2015: KH is accused of killing Sunni civilians and looting their homes in Tikrit after helping to liberate the city from IS (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[vi]
  8. September 2, 2015: KH allegedly kidnapped 18 Turkish workers in Baghdad in retaliation for the Turkish government’s support of anti-Assad groups in the Syrian Civil War (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[vii]
  9. September 3, 2015: KH clashed with Iraqi security forces in Baghdad.  The incident is believed to have been intended to pressure the Iraqi parliament to reject the National Guard bill that it was considering at the time (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[viii]
  10. May 2016: KH and other Shiite militias affiliated with the PMF participated in the Iraqi army’s capture of Fallujah from IS.  KH was among the Shiite militias accused of beating and executing dozens of Sunni civilians in the re-captured city (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[ix]
  11. February 2017: KH and other Shiite militias affiliated with the PMF participated in the Iraqi army’s capture of Mosul from IS (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[x]
  12. December 2017: KH and other Shiite militias affiliated with the PMF joined Syrian forces and seized the town of Abu Kamal (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[xi]
  13. June 2018: Members of KH engaged in a shootout with Iraqi police (0 killed, 3 wounded).[xii]


[i]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[ii]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[iii]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[iv]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[v]Bayoumi, Alaa and Leah Harding. “Mapping Iraq’s fighting groups,” Al Jazeera, 27 June 2014. Web. August 2016.

[vi]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[vii]Adnan, Sinan. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iranian Proxies Challenge Iraq’s Proposed National Guard Law,” Institute for the Study of War, 8 September 2015. Web. June 2016.

[viii]Adnan, Sinan. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iranian Proxies Challenge Iraq’s Proposed National Guard Law,” Institute for the Study of War, 8 September 2015. Web. June 2016.

[ix]“Iraq: Ban Abusive Militias from Mosul Operation,” Human Rights Watch, 31 July 2016. Web. August 2016.

[x]"Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Launch Operation Southwest of Mosul." Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. April 29, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.; Kenner, David, and Campbell Macdiarmid. "Goodbye, Islamic State. Hello, Anarchy." Foreign Policy. March 24, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xi]Roggio, Bill, and Amir Toumaj. "Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Close in on Tal Afar." Long War Journal, November 23, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

[xii]Ebraheem, Mohammed. "3 People Wounded in Clashes between Hezbollah, Iraqi Police in Baghdad." Iraqi News, June 20, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

 

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relationships with Other Groups
  • State Sponsors and External Influences

Designated/Listed

  • June 26, 2009: The U.S. Department of State designated KH as a foreign terrorist organization.[i]
  • July 2,2009: The U.S. Treasury Department designated KH as a foreign terrorist organization and Muhandis as a foreign terrorist.[ii]
  • November 2014: The United Arab Emirates designated KH as a foreign terrorist organization.[iii]


[i]"Designation of Kata'ib Hizballah." U.S. Department of State. June 26, 2009. Accessed April 17, 2019. https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/143209.htm.

[ii]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

[iii]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016. 

 

Community Relations

There is not much information on KH’s relationship with the Shiite communities in Iraq.  However, the group has been accused on several occasions, both during the U.S. war in Iraq and during the fight against IS, of instigating sectarian violence and sectarian cleansing.  Most recently KH was accused of executing hundreds of Sunni civilians after helping to retake Fallujah from IS.[i]



[i]“Iraq: Ban Abusive Militias from Mosul Operation,” Human Rights Watch, 31 July 2016. Web. August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.

 

Relationships with Other Groups

Since its formation in 2007, KH has maintained close relations with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah and the Iranian IRGC.  These ties were most likely facilitated by KH founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who fought with the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq war and who holds Iranian citizenship.[i]Many sources speculate that the IRGC had a direct role in the foundation of KH. Both the IRGC and Hezbollah established camps in Iraq in order to train and equip KH fighters. These actors have also facilitated the transportation of KH members to Iran and Lebanon to undergo further training.[ii]In the case of Hezbollah, KH has maintained particularly close ties with Unit 3800, the Hezbollah sub-group dedicated to training Iraqi Shiite militias.  Unit 3800 is believed to have been instrumental in re-training KH fighters for the specific conditions of the Syria Civil War before KH deployed there in 2012 or 2013.  Since entering Syria, KH has fought alongside the IRGC, Hezbollah, and many of the other Iraqi Shiite militias which have deployed there, including AAH, the Badr Organization, Harakat al-Nujaba (HN), and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).[iii]

KH’s relationship with the Badr Organization stems from Muhandis’ long affiliation with the group that predates the foundation of KH.  In 1985, Muhandis purportedly joined the Badr Organization’s predecessor group, the Badr Brigades or Badr Corps, and served as the group’s commander for a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  While commander of the Badr Brigades, Muhandis’ chief of staff was Haider al-Ameri, the current head of the Badr Organization, with whom Muhandis has reportedly retained close ties.  Muhandis is also believed to have maintained ties to his successor at the Badr Brigades, Mustapha al-Sheibani.[iv]After commanding the Badr Brigades through the 1990s, Sheibani went on to run the infamous Sheibani Network, a smuggling network that transported IRGC funding and munitions from Iran to Iraqi Shiite militias such as AAH and KH during the Iraq War.[v]Following the war’s conclusion, Sheibani went on to command Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), an Iraqi Shiite militia founded in 2013 by KH and the Badr Organization.  KH and KSS retain close ties and have reportedly been fighting together on the front lines in both Iraq and Syria.[vi]

KH is also believed to have ties to Kata’ib Imam Ali (KIA), a Shiite Iraqi militant group founded in July 2014.  Although little evidence exists of concrete coordination between the two organizations, Muhandis is believed be a senior figure in KIA as well as the commander of KH, leading many experts to speculate about the groups’ relationship to one another.[vii]

KH and AAH also have a long history of coordination.  The groups purportedly cooperated with one another against coalition forces in Iraq during the Iraq War and occasionally staged joint attacks.  Since the end of the Iraq War, the two groups have fought together both in Iraq against the Islamic State (IS) and in Syria alongside pro-Assad forces.[viii]In June 2013, AAH and KH purportedly co-founded Harakat al-Nujaba (HN), an Iraqi Shiite militia currently fighting in both Iraq and Syria.  Both groups are believed to have maintained close ties with HN.[ix

In addition to its role in the formation of KSS and HN, KH has also helped to found several other Shiite militias that are currently operating in the region.  In 2012, KH, AAH, the Badr Organization, and other existing Iraqi Shiite militias helped to establish Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) in Syria.  It is believed that KH and the other Iraqi based Shiite groups originally used LAFA as a front group, sending their members to fight alongside the Assad regime using the LAFA name.[x]Since 2013, KH, AAH and the Badr Organization have begun sending their fighters under their own banners to fight in Syria, and some analysts believe that LAFA has begun to act autonomously of its founders. However, KH and the other Iraqi Shiite Militias still retain close ties to the group. LAFA has since started its own sub group in Iraq, LAFA-Iraq, which is dedicated to combating IS.[xi]

In April 2014, KH also announced the formation of Saraya al-Difa al-Shabi (KH-SDS), a fighting force dedicated specifically to fighting in Iraq.  KH-SDS is not believed to be an autonomous organization, but rather a sub-group within the KH chain of command.[xii

KH is a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization of Iraqi Shiite militias fighting against IS in Iraq and nominally under the control of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.  Muhandis is the current commander of the PMF.  Other organizations in the PMF include AAH, the Badr Organization, KSS, KIA, HN, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades (formerly known as the Mahdi Army).[xiii]

KH’s primary enemy in Iraq was IS, against which it fought on many occasions, most recently during the Iraqi army’s campaign to recapture Fallujah from IS in spring 2016.[xiv]Due to the decline of IS beginning in 2017, it is likely that KH faces more of a threat from other organizations.[xv]KH also lists other Iraqi militant groups, such as the Sufi-Baathist Jaysh al-Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN) and the Sunni 1920s Revolution Brigades (1920s RB), among its enemies. In Syria, the group has fought against the secular opposition and Islamist organizations fighting against the Assad regime.[xvi]



[i]Felter, Joseph and Brian Fishman. “”Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Politics and “Other Means,”” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Occasional Papers Series, 13 October 2008. Web. July 2016.

[ii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.

[iii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.; Fulton, Will, Joseph Holiday & Sam Wyer. “Iranian Strategy in Syria,” Institute for the Study of War, May 2013. Web. July 2016.

[iv]“Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.; Felter, Joseph and Brian Fishman. “”Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Politics and “Other Means,”” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Occasional Papers Series, 13 October 2008. Web. July 2016.; Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[v]Felter, Joseph and Brian Fishman. “”Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Politics and “Other Means,”” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Occasional Papers Series, 13 October 2008. Web. July 2016.

[vi]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; Knights, Michael. “Iran’s Foreign Legion: The Role of Iraqi Shiite Militias in Syria,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 27 June 2013. Web. June 2016.

[vii]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[viii]Smyth, Phillip. “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2015. Web. June 2016

[ix]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[x]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[xi]Smyth, Phillip. “From Najaf to Damascus and onto Baghdad: Iraq’s Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas,” Jihadology, 18 June 2014. Web July 2014.

[xii]Smyth, Phillip. “The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2015. Web. June 2016

[xiii]Mansour, Renad. “From Militia to State Force: The Transformation of the al-Hashd al-Shaabi,” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 16 November 2016. Web. August 2016.

[xiv]“Kata’ib Hezbollah.” Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, Date unknown. Web. 6 August 2016.; “Iraq: Ban Abusive Militias from Mosul Operation,” Human Rights Watch, 31 July 2016. Web. August 2016.

[xv]Abdelillah, Bendaoudi. "After the "almost 100 Percent" Defeat of ISIS, What about Its Ideology?" Aljazeera Centre for Studies. May 8, 2018. Accessed May 16, 2019. http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2018/05/100-percent-defeat-isis-....

[xvi]Bayoumi, Alaa and Leah Harding. “Mapping Iraq’s fighting groups,” Al Jazeera, 27 June 2014. Web. August 2016.

 

State Sponsors and External Influences

KH maintains a close relationship with Iran.  It is largely funded and trained by Iran’s IRGC and identifies Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, as its spiritual leader. The group also has close relations with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy organization, which is believed to have provided both training and funding to KH.[i]

KH is currently fighting alongside the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.[ii]However, some reports claim that KH’s relationship with Assad predates the current conflict and that KH fighters used Syria as a smuggling route to and from Iraq during the Iraq war with the full knowledge of the Syrian government.[iii]



[i]Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.; “Kata’ib Hezbollah,” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Web. 8 August 2016.

[ii]Ryan, Missy and Loveday Morris. “The U.S. and Iran are aligned in Iraq against the Islamic State—for now,” The Washington Post, 27 December 2014. Web. August 2016.; Levitt, Matthew and Phillip Smyth. “Kata’ib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 5 January 2015. Web. 8 August 2016.

[iii]K. Gilbert. “The Rise of Shi’ite Militias And The Post Arab Spring Sectarian Threat,” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, October 2016. Web. July 2016.

 

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that “map” relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.

Evolving Militant Interactions

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Last updated May 2019