MMP: Kata’ib Hezbollah

Iraq

Kata’ib Hezbollah

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

Key Statistics

2007 First Recorded Activity
2008 First Attack
2020 Profile Last Updated

Profile Contents

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Overview

Narrative of the Organization's History.

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Organization

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

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Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets and Tactics

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Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks

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Interactions

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

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Maps

Mapping relationships with other militant groups over time

Contact MMP

Send a message to the Mapping Militants team.

Download Full Profile as PDF

Last updated September 2020

How to Cite

Mapping Militant Organizations. “Kata’ib Hezbollah.” Stanford University. Last modified September 2020. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/kataib-hezbollah
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Organizational Overview

Formed: 2007

Disbanded: Active

First Attack: February 19, 2008: KH launched an Improvised Rocket-Assisted Munition (IRAM) at a U.S. base southeast of Baghdad, killing one American civilian (1 killed, unknown wounded).[1]

Last Attack: March 2020: KH reportedly conducted a rocket attack against Camp Taji, a U.S. coalition military installation near Baghdad, Iraq. Usbat al-Thaireen, allegedly a front group for KH, claimed responsibility. The attack was believed to have been in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of KH leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January 2020 (3 killed, 12 wounded).[2]

Executive Summary

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is a Shia Iraqi insurgent group that was founded in 2007. As of August 2020, the group is led by Ahmad al-Hamidawi. KH has received a significant amount of training, logistical support, and weapons from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group is a leading member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of Shia militant groups that formed to fight IS in Iraq. 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 United States on July 2, 2009. Following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, KH sent large numbers of its fighters to Syria to support the Assad government. KH also deployed its troops in Iraq to fight the Islamic State (IS), often in conjunction with other PMF militias. After the general defeat of IS in Iraq in 2017, KH returned to targeting U.S. forces.

Group Narrative

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is an Iranian-backed, Iraqi Shia paramilitary organization. Its name can be translated as the “Brigades of the Party of God,” and the group is also known as the Hezbollah Brigades. KH was established by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in 2007 as the union of five other militant organizations.[3] Prior to founding KH, Muhandis was a member of the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development (Badr Organization), another Iranian-backed militant group that has operated in Iraq and Syria. In the Badr Organization, 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 Hezbollah and the IRGC. Hezbollah provided training in guerilla warfare and weapons for early KH recruits, and most analysts believe that the IRGC was directly involved in KH’s formation.[4] Under Muhandis’s leadership, KH established smuggling networks to transfer Iranian weapons and equipment to Iraq, which are likely still in use.[5] The United States designated KH as a terrorist organization in 2009.[6]

KH is a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), formed in 2014 as part of Iraq’s efforts to counter the Islamic State. PMF is a state-sponsored umbrella group composed of approximately forty Iraqi militias, almost all of which are Shia.[7] Lacking a strong state security force, the Iraqi government relied on its partnership with these volunteer PMF militias to liberate IS-held areas.[8] In 2016, the Iraqi Parliament passed legislation making PMF an official part of the state security apparatus.[9] Despite PMF’s military successes, the umbrella group is criticized for elevating Shia militias and Iranian proxy groups in Iraq. PMF forces have also been condemned for committing atrocities against civilians.[10] Though its future is unclear, PMF remains a major political and military actor in Iraq.[11]

As a key organizer of PMF, KH founder Muhandis became PMF’s de facto head in addition to leading KH, which pushed KH into a dominant role as PMF’s 45th brigade.[12] To increase their numbers, KH and other PMF leaders established small, local brigades exclusively dedicated to fighting in Iraq, such as the KH sub-group Saraya al-Difa al-Shabi (KH-SDS) formed in April 2014.[13]

KH has pledged loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei and is one of the most powerful of PMF’s many Iran-backed groups.[14] Along with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Organization, KH retains influence on the Shura Council, PMF’s unofficial decision-making body that answers directly to the IRGC.[15] As of 2020, IRGC leadership continues to hold significant influence over KH operations and bankrolls the majority of its funds.[16]

 

2007-2011: Kata’ib Hezbollah targets U.S. coalition forces in Iraq

From 2007 to 2011, KH focused the majority of its resources on fighting U.S. coalition forces 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].”[17] The group was particularly known for its use of deadly roadside bombs and improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs).[18] Initially, KH did not target the Iraqi army or government. However, KH threatened reprisals against the Iraqi government and its forces following the government’s approval of a U.S.-Iraq Security Partnership in November 2008.[19] After U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq 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 justification for its refusal to lay down its arms.[20]

 

2012-2017: Kata’ib Hezbollah targets other armed groups in Iraq and Syria

KH’s operations between 2012 and 2017 largely fall into two categories: those broadly against Sunni rebel groups and Sunni-held areas, and those against the Islamic State (IS). In Syria, KH operations were equally focused on opposing Sunni rebel groups and IS, while KH’s primary adversary in Iraq was IS.

KH’s general operations in Syria

Soon after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, KH was among the first Iraqi Shia organizations to send troops to support Bashar al-Assad’s government in the Syrian civil war. KH officially announced its presence in Syria in March 2013, but KH fighters served earlier in Syrian front groups.[21] For example, KH and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH), another major Iraqi Shia paramilitary group, established the front group Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) in 2012. LAFA was almost entirely comprised of Iraqi fighters and was based in Damascus, Syria.[22] In 2013, KH and AAH also formed the front group Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN).[23] Initially, KH and its fronts claimed they operated in Syria to protect Shia holy sites, but their primary purpose was to oppose the predominantly-Sunni rebel groups.[24] Within a year of their formation, HHN and LAFA became virtually independent, and KH began operating in Syria under its own banner.[25]

In 2014, KH began expanding its activities in Syria after the Islamic State (IS), which is Salafi Sunni, seized Mosul, Iraq, and rebel-held Aleppo, Syria. This expansion of KH operations was directed by Iranian IRGC Quds Force leader, Major General Qassim Suleimani. Suleimani reportedly argued that “the road to liberate Mosul [was] through Aleppo.”[26]In cooperation with Hezbollah and the Badr Organization, KH created local militias, such as Fawj al-Imam al-Hijjah near Aleppo, to solidify Syrian Shia control in strategic villages.[27] Reports also suggest that KH filled combat roles and executed attacks against Sunni rebel groups as part of Assad’s 2012-2016 siege to retake Aleppo from IS.[28] By the end of 2015, KH claimed to have sent over 1,000 fighters to Aleppo alone, with only 40 losses.[29] As of December 2019, KH maintained bases and munitions storage facilities in Syria, but the extent of their continued influence and activities in the country is unclear.[30]

KH’s campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq

In Iraq, KH joined the newly established Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic) in 2014. KH founder Muhandis became the de facto head of PMF, propelling KH to a central role in the umbrella group.[31] To expand their influence in Iraq, KH and other PMF leaders established small, local brigades exclusively dedicated to fighting in Iraq, such as KH sub-group Saraya al-Difa al-Shabi (KH-SDS) .[32]

In 2014 and 2015, KH and many PMF brigades combined forces to counter the IS advance into the Anbar Province and northern Iraq.[33] In June 2014, KH and AAH first recaptured Samarra, Iraq and the surrounding area, an important holy site in Shia Islam.[34] In August 2014, KH, AAH, and other PMF militias successfully broke the IS siege of Amerli with the aid of U.S. airpower and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.[35] In March 2015, KH played a critical role to retake Tikrit, in one of Iraq’s largest offensives against IS up to that date. An estimated 30,000 fighters from KH, PMF, and Iraqi security forces operated in conjunction with Iraqi air support to recapture Tikrit, which is a city north of Samarra drawing closer to Mosul.[36]

In May 2016, KH, PMF, and Iraqi forces began the campaign to retake Fallujah, Iraq, the largest IS-held city in close proximity to Baghdad.[37] The Iraqi government spearheaded the operation, providing air support and ground forces with backing from the United States. Though the U.S. supported these counter-IS operations, it withheld air support from select PMF groups, including KH, in protest of Shia militias entering Sunni cities.[38] PMF leadership and the Iraq Joint Operations Command released statements assuring that PMF militants would not enter Fallujah itself.[39] Initially, KH and other PMF groups focused on encircling and securing the outskirts of Fallujah.[40] But, according to some reports, KH and PMF members wore Iraqi Army uniforms to hide their affiliations so that U.S. airstrikes would continue in their areas of assault.[41] Ultimately, KH was heavily involved in the seizure of city and became a part of its permanent security apparatus.[42]

In late 2016 and early 2017, KH also played a significant role in Iraq’s operation to retake Mosul, in what would become the largest military operation in Iraq since the US-led 2003 invasion.[43] To bolster its forces, KH reportedly redirected 2,000 of its fighters from Syria to the Mosul campaign.[44] The offensive began in mid-October 2016. Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces converged on the eastern part of the city with support from Iraqi and U.S. airstrikes.[45] KH and PMF forces concentrated on Mosul’s western axis to block IS fighters from escaping to Syria.[46] These forces began their offensive with Tal Afar, a smaller city west of Mosul mostly populated by Sunni Muslims and ethnic Turkmen.[47] On November 20, 2016, KH and the Badr Organization led PMF militants to completely encircle Tal Alfar with assistance from Kurdish Peshmerga forces.[48]

By the end of 2016, PMF had taken back dozens of IS-held villages surrounding Tal Afar, and KH claimed it was advancing west to clear the Syrian border region of IS weapons caches.[49] In January 2017, Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces completely recaptured eastern Mosul and began to redirect their efforts to the western axis alongside PMF and KH.[50] In joint operations backed by U.S. air support, Iraqi forces fully recaptured Mosul by the end of July 2017 and Tal Afar by the end of August 2017.[51] In November 2017, under direction from Iran, KH also returned to Syria to assist in liberating the border town Abu Kamal (or Al Bukamal), one of the last IS strongholds.[52] The liberation of Abu Kamal carried significant importance for Iran because of its strategic location along the Iranian supply route from Tehran to Lebanon.[53]

During KH participation in the campaign against IS, the group indiscriminately targeted Sunni civilians in areas recovered from IS in Iraq.[54] For example, in the months after KH recaptured Samarra from IS, Amnesty International recorded over 107 kidnappings of Sunni men, 30 of which were killed immediately.[55] Homes and businesses were also destroyed and residents were kidnapped in Amerli. In Tikrit, locals reported that KH was systematically burning homes, looting, and kidnapping residents.[56] In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented some of the worst violence perpetrated by KH, including torture, executions, and mass “enforced disappearances.”[57] Reports argue that KH and other Shia militias targeted Sunni civilian populations in “blind revenge” for IS attacks.[58] KH continuously denied responsibility for the indiscriminate violence. In 2015, the Iraqi Interior Ministry opened an investigation into the reported abuses, but no consequences were levied against the group.[59] When KH helped seize Fallujah from IS in 2016, it publicly attempted to justify atrocities against Sunni civilians by arguing that the majority of Fallujah’s Sunnis had actively supported IS.[60]

At the end of 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced victory over IS in Iraq.[61] Drawing upon their growing influence in Iraq, KH and PMF further inserted themselves into local economies and politics. Along with the Badr Organization and other PMF groups, KH sent members to run in local and parliamentary elections. KH and PMF also permanently embedded themselves in Iraq’s security apparatus by establishing offices and checkpoints in areas they had helped liberate. Across northern Iraq, KH leveraged its checkpoints to pillage cities’ cement and oil industries.[62] KH and PMF also overtook significant amounts of farmland and reportedly gained about $300,000 per day through illegal taxation.[63]

 

2018-2020: Kata’ib Hezbollah returns to targeting U.S. forces

As IS influence declined in late 2018 and early 2019, KH returned its focus to opposing U.S. presence in Iraq. Although KH tacitly relied on U.S. support in its campaign against IS, KH vehemently maintained its anti-American sentiments. In August 2018, tensions rose between the U.S., Israel, and Iran after Iran transferred short-range ballistic missiles to PMF and KH-controlled areas in Iraq.[64] At the beginning of September, PMF member Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) fired rockets at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The same day, KH allegedly conducted a rocket attack that took place near the U.S. Consulate in Basra, which was evacuated and indefinitely closed.[65] In response to these attacks, the U.S. issued a statement that it would consider attacks carried out by Iranian-backed militias as attacks perpetrated by Iran. The U.S. State Department also designated the Iranian IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019.[66]

Escalation continued in May 2019 when a drone attack destroyed oil pumps in Saudi Arabia. Although Houthi rebels in Yemen initially claimed responsibility for the attack, U.S. reports concluded that KH likely launched the drones from Iraq. One day after the drone attack, the U.S. State Department removed all non-essential government employees from Iraq.[67]

From July to September 2019, Israel responded to KH’s escalations against coalition targets with multiple anonymous airstrikes against PMF weapons depots. One of these airstrikes targeted a KH convoy. Israel never publicly claimed responsibility for the strike, but U.S. and Iraqi reports confirmed Israeli involvement.[68] KH leader and founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis responded with a statement that the U.S. was “the first and last party responsible” for the airstrikes and that PMF would use “all means at its disposal” to defend its interests.[69]

In fall 2019, KH shifted strategies to respond to domestic unrest in Iraq while continuing to counter U.S. influence. Beginning in October, anti-government protestors demonstrated in Baghdad and across Iraq’s southern provinces. Their grievances centered on government corruption and failure to foster economic opportunity and provide public services.[70] As the movement progressed, protestors condemned Iran for enabling government corruption and interfering in Iraqi affairs through PMF.[71] Iraqi security forces forcefully cracked down on protests with tear gas and live ammunition, and over 100 people died as a result of the violence in the first six days of demonstrations.[72]

By January 2020, the death toll from the protests was over 600, with thousands of injuries and an unknown number of arrests and torture cases.[73] Early reports suggested that PMF snipers seen on rooftops were responsible for a significant number of deaths. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan released a statement that Iraqi security forces did not fire on protestors and that all mass shooting deaths were the responsibility of militant groups. PMF spokesman Ahmed Jassim al-Asadi denied any PMF presence, and the extent of PMF and KH involvement in the crackdown remains unknown. But, the continued escalation of violence only reaffirmed and reemphasized protestors’ demand for the removal of Iranian influence in Iraq.[74]

Amidst this growing domestic discontent, KH worked under the direction of IRGC Major General Qassim Suleimani to channel protestors’ frustration over foreign involvement in Iraq away from Iran and toward the United States. Suleimani's plan was for KH to escalate attacks in order to provoke a U.S. military response and draw Iraqi anger away from Iran. In early October 2019, the IRGC transferred Katyusha rocket launchers and shoulder-fired missiles to KH. In a meeting weeks later, Suleimani tasked KH with forming another low-profile militia that could evade U.S. detection. He also instructed KH leader Muhandis to use KH’s drone capabilities to identify U.S. military and personnel targets in Iraq.[75]

On December 27, 2019, KH launched a rocket attack on the Iraqi K-1 Air Base near Kirkuk. This attack was a departure from the past months of indirect fire that had targeted Iraqi military bases with a U.S. presence.[76] The attack killed an American contractor and wounded multiple U.S. and Iraqi troops.[77] The U.S. retaliated on December 29 with airstrikes against three KH bases in Iraq and two in Syria. According to KH, the airstrikes killed at least 24 fighters and destroyed ammunition depots holding rockets and drones.[78] KH denied responsibility for the attack near Kirkuk. The group drew upon this display of U.S. aggression to incite anti-Americanism across Iraq and counter the growing anti-corruption protests.[79] In the week following the airstrikes, KH-led, pro-Iran protesters breached the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and set fire to perimeter buildings.[80] The protestors withdrew after Iraq Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi denounced U.S presence in Iraq and promised “dangerous consequences.”[81]

Escalation continued on January 3, 2020 when the U.S. conducted a drone strike on a convoy carrying IRGC and PMF personnel near Baghdad International Airport. The strike killed KH leader Muhandis and the head of the Iranian IRGC Quds Force, Major General Qassim Suleimani.[82] The strike drew sharp admonition from Iraq and Iran. Both governments warned of “harsh retaliation” and condemned the strike as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.[83] On January 5, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution calling for the removal of U.S. troops from the country.[84]

By February 2020, Ahmad al-Hamidawi, a KH commander, had succeeded Muhandis as leader of KH under the title of Secretary General. Soon after, the U.S. Department of State designated Hamidawi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.[85] In the same month, KH also declared Abdul Aziz al-Mohammedawi, who uses the alias Abu Fadak, to be the new leader of PMF.[86] The selection of Mohammedawi was divisive both within KH and PMF as a whole. Multiple factions did not recognize Mohammedawi as the rightful leader of PMF. Additionally, internal disagreements arose regarding the use of Iranian funds, which were reduced due to the impact of sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic on Iran’s economy. Further fractures appeared in both PMF and KH as members disagreed on the groups’ level of independence from Iran and use of military versus political tactics. Although the presence of internal disagreements often precipitates organizational fragmentation in armed groups, no official splits in KH or PMF have been reported.[87]

On March 11, 2020, a rocket attack against Camp Taji, a coalition military installation near Baghdad, killed an American soldier, a British soldier, and an American contractor. The attack injured at least twelve others.[88] The U.S. held KH responsible for the attack and responded with strikes on five KH weapons sites across Iraq.[89] KH, however, did not claim responsibility. The group instead issued a statement that called for the responsible party to “be proud” and claim the attack itself.[90] Eventually, Usbat al-Thaireen, a new, lesser-known armed group, took responsibility. However, the U.S. claimed that Usbat al-Thaireen was actually a front for KH and other Iran-backed militias. The U.S. alleged that the group was created to allow PMF plausible deniability for attacks, since PMF technically exists as part of Iraq’s state security forces.[91] At the end of March, the Pentagon issued a directive to create plans to completely destroy KH by targeting group leaders, bases, and weapons. KH responded that any actions by the U.S. would be met by “full force” retaliation against Americans and any Iraqis that help the U.S.[92]

In May 2020, Mustafa al-Kadhimi became the new Prime Minister of Iraq. During his first months in office, Kadhimi showed receptivity to the demands of anti-government protestors and openness to taking a stronger stance against Iran-backed militias.[93] On June 25, Kadhimi ordered a raid on a KH base in southern Baghdad, citing intelligence that KH planned to attack the Green Zone, an area dominated by Iraqi and foreign government buildings.[94] Iraqi security forces detained at least 14 KH members, and KH responded by entering the Green Zone and storming a Counter Terrorism Service building to demand their release.[95] All but one of the KH detainees were let go. This incident weakened Kadhimi’s credibility and showcased the extensive influence of PMF in Iraq, which is compounded by PMF’s official role in Iraq’s security forces. Hamidawi released a statement shortly after the incident in which he emphasized KH’s autonomy from the state and its loyalty to Iran-backed Islamic resistance.[96]

In summer 2020, Prime Minister Kadhimi and human rights activists suspected KH was responsible for the assassination of Iraqi researcher Hisham al-Hashimi in July 2020. Hashimi was known to criticize militant groups, including KH, as well as the government for its handling of extremism. He received multiple death threats from KH and other militant groups, but the responsible party remains unknown.[97] As of September 2020, KH has not initiated any new major political or military activities.


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[2] “UK soldier and two Americans killed in rocket attack in Iraq.” BBC News, March 12, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[3] 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.

[4] “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.

[5] 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.

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[9] Salim, Mustafa and Missy Ryan. “Iraq gives militias official status despite abuse claims.” The Washington Post, November 26, 2016. Accessed August 21, 2020.

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[11] Al-Nidawi, Omar. “The growing economic and political role of Iraq’s PMF.” Middle East Institute, May 21, 2019. https://www.mei.edu/publications/growing-economic-and-political-role-ira...

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[25]Joscelyn, Thomas. “Hezbollah has ‘about 7,000 fighters’ in Syria, US says.” Long War Journal, July 27, 2017. Accessed August 25, 2020.

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[38] Knights, Michael. "A New Formula in the Battle for Fallujah." Al Jazeera, May 25, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2020.; Filkins, Dexter. "The Dangers of the Iraqi Coalition Headed Toward Mosul." The New Yorker, October 19, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2020.

[39] Martin, Patrick. “The Campaign for Fallujah: May 26, 2016.” Institute for the Study of War, May 27, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2020.

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[41] Knights, Michael. "A New Formula in the Battle for Fallujah." Al Jazeera, May 25, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2020.; Filkins, Dexter. "The Dangers of the Iraqi Coalition Headed Toward Mosul." The New Yorker, October 19, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2020.

[42] Nasrawi, Salah. “Iraq: Fallujah is liberated, now what?” Al Jazeera, June 30, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2020.

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[44] 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.

[45] Lamothe, Dan, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Laris Karklis, and Tim Meko. “Battle of Mosul: How Iraqi forces defeated the Islamic State.” The Washington Post, July 10, 2017. Accessed September 3, 2020.

[46] Toumaj, Amir. “Iraqi PMF attempts to cut off Islamic State in Mosul.” Long War Journal, November 4, 2016. Accessed September 3, 2020.

[47] Soley, Joan. “Iraq war: Why the battle for Tal Afar matters.” BBC News, August 25, 2017. Accessed September 3, 2020.

[48] Roggio, Bill, and Amir Toumaj. "Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces Close in on Tal Afar." Long War Journal, November 23, 2016. Accessed September 3, 2020.

[49] Rasheed, Ahmed and Saif Hameed. “Iraqi Shi’ite forces aim to clear border strip with Syria.” Reuters, December 13, 2016. Accessed September 3, 2020.

[50] Lamothe, Dan, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Laris Karklis, and Tim Meko. “Battle of Mosul: How Iraqi forces defeated the Islamic State.” The Washington Post, July 10, 2017. Accessed September 3, 2020.

[51] Arango, Tim. “Iraq Celebrates Victory Over ISIS in Mosul, but Risks Remain.” The New York Times, July 10, 2017. Accessed September 8, 2020.; Arango, Tim. “ISIS Loses Another City to U.S.-Backed Iraqi Forces.” The New York Times, August 31, 2017. Accessed September 8, 2018.

[52] 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 September 9, 2020.

[53] 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.

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

[55] “Iraq: Shia militias ‘killing Sunnis in reprisal attacks’.” BBC News, October, 14, 2014. Accessed August 30, 2020.

[56] Fordham, Alice. “After Retaking Iraqi City, Shiite Militias Accused of Targeting Sunnis.” NPR, April 7, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2020.

[57] “Iraq: Ban Abusive Militias from Mosul Operation.” Human Rights Watch, July 31, 2016. Accessed August 31, 2020.; 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.

[58] “Iraq: Shia militias ‘killing Sunnis in reprisal attacks’.” BBC News, October, 14, 2014. Accessed August 30, 2020.

[59] Fordham, Alice. “After Retaking Iraqi City, Shiite Militias Accused of Targeting Sunnis.” NPR, April 7, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2020.

[60] Morris, Loveday. “Trapped by the Islamic State, Iraqis in Fallujah say they are going hungry, too.” The Washington Post, February 1, 2016. Accessed September 2, 2020.; 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.

[61] Ohlers, Alexander. “The Uncertain Furture of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units.” The Jamestown Foundation, February 8, 2018. Accessed September 9, 2020.

[62] Gotts, Isadora. “PMU economic offices undermine fragile stability in Mosul.” Al-Monitor, May 27, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2020.; Ohlers, Alexander. “The Uncertain Furture of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units.” The Jamestown Foundation, February 8, 2018. Accessed September 9, 2020.

[63] El-Ghobashy, Tamer and Mustafa Salim. “As Iraq’s Shiite militias expand their reach, concerns about an ISIS revival grow.” The Washington Post, January 9, 2019. Accessed September 9, 2020.; Al-Nidawi, Omar. “The growing economic and political role of Iraq’s PMF.” Middle East Institute, May 21, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2020.

[64] Irish, John and Ahmed Rasheed. “Exclusive: Iran moves missiles to Iraq in warning to enemies.” Reuters, August 31, 2018. Accessed July 28, 2020.

[65] Calamur, Krishnadev. “Trump’s Latest Warning to Iran Didn’t Come Out of Nowhere.” The Atlantic, September 12, 2018. Accessed Juyl 28, 2020.

[66]“Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” Office of the Spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, April 8, 2019. Accessed September 22, 2020.

[67] Shaikh, Shaan. “Iranian Missiles in Iraq.” Center for Strategjc and International Studies, December 2019. Accessed July 28, 2020.

[68] Shaikh, Shaan. “Iranian Missiles in Iraq.” Center for Strategjc and International Studies, December 2019. Accessed July 28, 2020.

[69] “Iraq paramilitary chief plays down allegation against US.” BBC News, August 22, 2019. Accessed July 28, 2020.

[70] Rubin, Alissa J. “Iraq in Worst Political Crisis in Years as Death Toll Mounts From Protests.” The New York Times, December 21, 2019. Accessed July 24, 2020.

[71] “The Iraq protests explained in 100 and 500 words.” BBC News, December 2, 2019. Accessed July 24, 2020.

[72] Allyn, Bobby. “More Than 100 Killed And Thousands Injured In Anti-Government Protests In Iraq.” NPR, October 6, 2019. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2019/10/06/767711133/more-than-100-killed-and-thousa...

[73] “Iraq: Protest death toll surges as security forces resume brutal repression.” Amnesty International, January 23, 2020. Accessed July 27, 2020.

[74] Reuters Staff. “Exclusive: Iran-backed militias deployed snipers in Iraq protests – sources.” Reuters, October 17, 2019. Accessed July 27, 2020.

[75] Reuters Staff. “Inside the plot by Iran’s Soleimani to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.” Reuters, January 3, 2020. Accessed July 27, 2020.

[76] “Indirect fire” is used to describe artillery that relies on ballistic trajectories. It does not require a direct line of sight between the firing weapon and the target, which allows for concealment and shooting over obstacles. See Bailey, Jonathan B. A. “Field Artillery and Firepower.” Naval Institute Press, 2004. Accessed September 22, 2020.

[77] “U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[78] Barnes, Julian E. “U.S. Launches Airstrikes on Iranian-Backed Forces in Iraq and Syria.” The New York Times, December 29, 2019. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[79] Rubin, Alissa J. and Ben Hubbard. “American Airstrikes Rally Iraqis Against U.S.” The New York Times, December 30, 2019. Accessed July 31, 2020.

[80] “U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[81] “US attacks Shia militia: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Russia, Israel react.” Al Jazeera and News Agencies, December 30, 2019. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[82] “Iran’s Soleimani and Iraq’s Muhandis killed in air strike: militia spokesperson.” Reuters, Web. January 2, 2020. Accessed July 15, 2020.

[83] “World reacts to US killing of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.” Al Jazeera, January 3, 2020. Accessed August 3, 2020.

[84] Kittleson, Shelly. “Iraqi armed factions vow revenge for Shiite commanders’ killings.” Al-Monitor, January 5, 2020. Accessed August 3, 2020.

[85] “State Department Terrorist Designation of Ahmad al-Hamidawi.” U.S. Department of State Office of the Spokesperson, February 26, 2020. Accessed July 31, 2020.

[86] Davidson, John and Ahmed Rasheed. “Fractures grow among Iraq militias, spell political retreat.” Reuters, April 1, 2020. Accessed August 3, 2020.

[87] Davidson, John and Ahmed Rasheed. “Fractures grow among Iraq militias, spell political retreat.” Reuters, April 1, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[88] “UK soldier and two Americans killed in rocket attack in Iraq.” BBC News, March 12, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[89] “Iraq base attack: US retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed fighters.” BBC News, March 13, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[90] Jaboori, Rafid. “The Leadership and Future of Kata’ib Hezbollah.” The Jamestown Foundation, April 6, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[91] Loveluck, Lousia and Missy Ryan. “Militia attacks on Americans in Iraq are becoming more audacious. The U.S. us wrestling with how to respond.” The Washington Post, March 28, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[92] Mazzetti, Mark and Eric Schmitt. “Pentagon Order to Plan for Escalation in Iraq Meets Warning From Top Commander.” The New York Times, March 27, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[93] Rubin, Alissa J. “Iraq Chooses New Prime Minister, an Ex-Intelligence Chief Backed by U.S.” The New York Times, May 6, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[94] Salim, Mustafa and Louisa Loveluck. “New Iraqi leader tries to rein in Iran-backed militias, but task proves daunting.” The Washington Post, July 3, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[95] “Iraqi forces raid Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah base, 14 arrested.” Al Jazeera, June 26, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[96] Salim, Mustafa and Louisa Loveluck. “New Iraqi leader tries to rein in Iran-backed militias, but task proves daunting.” The Washington Post, July 3, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[97] Rubin, Alissa J. “Killing of Security Analyst Seen as Message to Iraqi Government.” The New York Times, July 7, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

 

Organizational Structure

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

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

Leadership

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (2007- 2020): Muhandis was the founder of KH and served as its leader until he was killed in a drone strike in January 2020. Before establishing KH, Muhandis was a member of the Shia Islamic Dawa party before he fled Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1980.[1] Muhandis was accused of participating in a 1983 attack against the American and French Embassies in Kuwait and a 1985 assassination attempt against Kuwait’s emir.[2] 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 have held Iranian citizenship. [3]  Muhandis formed KH in 2007 as the union of five other militant organizations.[4] In 2014, he helped to establish a second Iraqi Shia militia group, Kata’ib Imam Ali (KIA).[5] He briefly served as an MP in the Iraqi Parliament under his given name, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi. He also served under Iraq’s national security advisor during the height of IS.[6] From 2014 until his death in 2020, Muhandis held the position of commander of KH and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).[7] A 2019 report described Muhandis as the “the most powerful single actor” within PMF and “in essence an Iranian agent.”[8]  Muhandis was killed in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.[9]

Ahmad al-Hamidawi (2007-present): As of September 2020, Hamidawi is the current leader of KH. He was born in Iraq in 1974 and reportedly joined KH in 2007 during its founding. He reportedly received training from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), but very little information is available about his activities prior to 2007. Until 2011, Hamidawi planned KH attacks against the U.S. coalition in Iraq. From 2011 to 2014, he led KH fighters in Syria in support of the Assad government. He returned to Iraq’s Anbar Province in 2014 and oversaw operations in the Jurf al-Sakhar region as a commander in the KH campaign against IS. Based on Human Rights Watch reports, Hamidawi likely played a central role in conducting forced disappearances, illegal detentions, and other activities that targeted Sunni civilians in the area.[10] In fall 2019, Hamidawi allegedly organized KH attacks on anti-government protestors in Baghdad and southern cities. He reportedly was a key leader of the pro-Iran protest and storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad in December.[11] In January 2020, KH leader Muhandis was killed in a US drone strike. By February 2020, Hamidawi had succeeded Muhandis as leader of KH under the title of Secretary General. As of September 2020, Hamidawi remains the recognized leader of KH.


[1] Beaumont, Peter. “Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis: Iraqi killed in US strike was key militia figure.” The Guardian, January 3, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/03/abu-mahdi-al-muhandis-iraq...

[2] Yuhas, Alan. “Airstrike That Killed Suleimani Also Killed Powerful Iraqi Militia Leader.” The New York Times, January 3, 2020. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/world/middleeast/iraq-iran-airstrike-...

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] “Hashd deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis: Iran’s Man in Baghdad.” Al Jazeera, January 3, 2020. Accessed September 22, 2020.

[7] “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.

[8] “Iran’s Networks of Influence - Chapter Four: Iraq.” International Institute for Strategic Studies, November 2019. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.iiss.org/publications/strategic-dossiers/iran-dossier/iran-1...

[9] “Iran’s Soleimani and Iraq’s Muhandis killed in air strike: militia spokesperson.” Reuters, Web. January 2, 2020. Accessed July 15, 2020.

[10] “Ahmad al-Hamidawi.” Counter Extremism Project, Date unknown. Accessed July 22, 2020.

[11] Dilshad Al-Dalawi, “After his inclusion in the lists of terrorism, “Al-Hamidawi” has a record of crimes in Iraq.” al-Ain, February 28, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.

Name Changes

Kata’ib Hezbollah has not changed its name, but it is also referred to as the Hezbollah Brigades.[1] Additionally, its name has sometimes been translated as the “Brigades of the Party of God.”


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

Size Estimates

  • 2013: 400 (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)[1]
  • 2016: 400 (State Department)[2]
  • 2016: 10,000 with a ‘core’ of 1,000 (American Enterprise Institute)[3]
 

[1] 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.

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

[3] McInnis, J. M. "Iranian Deterrence Strategy and Use of Proxies." Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. November 29, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2018..

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 Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are believed to have provided KH with extensive training at bases in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. Such training is thought to have included instruction in small arms, building and planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs), coordinating and carrying out rocket attacks, and general guerrilla warfare tactics.[1] Some sources also suggest that KH militants were sent to Iran and Lebanon for training before being deployed to Syria in 2012 and 2013.  This training allegedly taught militants how to adapt the insurgent tactics commonly used in Iraq to the urban-street fighting more common in Syria.[2]

Iran has also supplied 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.[3] Some of these weapons may have been brought into Iraq by IRGC-Quds Force operatives directly. Others were smuggled in either via the smuggling network managed by KH founder Muhandis that linked Iran to Iraq or via a similar network run by Abu Mustapha al-Sheibani, who served as Muhandis’ successor as commander of the Badr Organization.[4]

KH has used a variety of weaponry. In March 2016, Long War Journal identified several U.S. military vehicles in a video of a KH convoy. These vehicles included an M1 Abrams Tank, an M88 Recovery Vehicle, a Humvee, and a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR). The group also appeared to possess three M198 Howitzer artillery guns.[5] In the past, KH has also publicized their usage of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs).[6] In 2019, KH relied heavily on sophisticated weapons provided by Iran, including drones, Katyusha rocket launchers, and shoulder-fired missiles.[7]

In April 2018, KH also gained a significant amount of financial capital from a 25 million USD ransom paid by Qatari officials. In 2018, it was estimated that KH allegedly received an estimated 50 million USD from Iran each year.[8] More recently, Iranian funding for KH has been significantly reduced due to the effects of sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic on Iran’s economy.[9]


[1] 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.

[2] 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. 

[3] “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.

[4] 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.

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

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

[7] Reuters Staff. “Inside the plot by Iran’s Soleimani to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.” Reuters, January 3, 2020. Accessed July 27, 2020.

[8] 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.

[9] Davidson, John and Ahmed Rasheed. “Fractures grow among Iraq militias, spell political retreat.” Reuters, April 1, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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’s headquarters is reportedly located in the Shia areas of Baghdad, Iraq. The group likely recruits from across the Shia regions of southern Iraq.[1] KH began fighting against the Islamic State and other Sunni militant organizations in 2013.[2] KH cooperated with PMF, Iraqi, and sometimes U.S. forces to combat IS and its allies across central, western and northern Iraq.  Specifically, KH carried out operations in and around the Anbar province and the cities Samarra, Tikrit, and Mosul. After IS was largely defeated in early 2019, KH refocused its efforts to target the U.S. presence in Iraq, and the group carried out attacks throughout the country. KH has also operated in Syria, where its forces have fought for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and against the Islamic State.[3] Although it remains unclear when the first KH fighters arrived in Syria, it is generally believed that the group sent troops to aid the Assad regime as early as 2011.[4] Most of KH’s recent activity has been recorded in Iraq, although it continued to hold bases and weapons caches in Syria as of December 2019.[5]


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

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] “Kataib Hezbollah: Iraq condemns US attacks on Iran-backed militia.” BBC News, December 30, 2019. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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 Shia 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 Ummah, or global Muslim community.[1] 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 Shia Islamic government in Iraq with ties to Iran.[2]


[1] Aarabi, Kasra. “What Is Velayat-e Faqih?” Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, March 20, 2019. Accessed August 8, 2016.

[2] “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 a member of parliament (MP) in the Iraqi Parliament under his real name, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi. 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.[1]

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.[2] However, the group released statements challenging certain policies of Prime Minister Abadi. In September 2015, KH and other Shia militias derailed the Iraqi government’s proposed National Guard law, which would have placed PMF militias like KH under more direct government control.[3] KH and other Shia groups 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 Islamic State.[4] In 2019 and 2020, KH escalated domestic political protests and incited violence to pressure the Iraqi government to take on a more anti-American stance.[5]


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

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

[3] Adnan, Sinan. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iranian Proxies Challenge Iraq’s Proposed National Guard Law.” Institute for the Study of War, September 8, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2020.

[4] 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.

[5] “U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.; “US attacks Shia militia: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Russia, Israel react.” Al Jazeera and News Agencies, December 30, 2019. Accessed July 9, 2020.

Targets and Tactics

U.S. forces in Iraq have been a primary target of KH since the group’s founding. Although the group claimed that it has been careful not to target Iraqi civilians, reports indicate that KH has targeted anyone working with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, as well as Sunni civilians.[1] After the U.S. withdrew from Iraq in 2011, KH’s main target shifted from U.S. forces to the Islamic State (IS). U.S. forces returned to Iraq in 2014 to assist with the counter-IS campaign, and KH reportedly cooperated with American troops on some occasions, such as the siege of Amerli.[2] However, KH’s rhetoric has remained virulently anti-American.

In late 2018 and early 2019, KH refocused its efforts to undermine U.S. influence in Iraq. The group has targeted U.S. military and diplomatic personnel. It carried out attacks near the U.S. Consulate in Basra in September 2018 and led a march against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in December 2019. [3] KH also killed an American contractor and wounded multiple U.S. and Iraqi troops in an attack on the Iraqi K-1 Air Base near Kirkuk in late December 2019.[4] The U.S. held KH responsible for another attack in March 2020 against a coalition military installation near Baghdad that killed an American soldier, a British soldier, and an American contractor. [5]

KH has also cooperated with Iraqi government and other Shia militia forces against the Islamic State and its allies in Iraq. The group participated in multiple operations to retake IS-held territory in Iraq. In many of these operations, KH reportedly used indiscriminate force in the fight against IS and even intentionally targeted Sunni civilians.[6] Reports have also indicated that KH was involved in violent attacks on civilian anti-government protestors in 2019.[7]

Beginning as early as 2011, KH was also been active in Syria fighting alongside the Assad regime against Syrian opposition groups.[8] KH enlisted the help of Hezbollah to train its members in the urban street fighting tactics often used in Syria.[9] Most of KH’s most recent activity has been recorded in Iraq, although it continues to hold bases and weapons caches in Syria as of December 2019.[10]

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.[11] 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 led many to speculate that the organization has a relatively sophisticated cyber unit or specialist working under its command.[12]

The group has also utilized Iran-backed television channels to solicit donations and increase its recruitment in Iraq.[13] In 2019 and 2020, KH has relied heavily on sophisticated weapons provided by Iran, including drones, Katyusha rocket launchers, and shoulder-fired missiles.[14] Some Iranian 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 were accurate or continue to hold true today.[15]


[1] “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.; “Iraq: Ban Abusive Militias from Mosul Operation.” Human Rights Watch, July 31, 2016. Accessed August 31, 2020.; 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.

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

[3] Calamur, Krishnadev. “Trump’s Latest Warning to Iran Didn’t Come Out of Nowhere.” The Atlantic, September 12, 2018. Accessed July 28, 2020; “U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[4] “U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[5] “UK soldier and two Americans killed in rocket attack in Iraq.” BBC News, March 12, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020; “Iraq base attack: US retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed fighters.” BBC News, March 13, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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

[7] Reuters Staff. “Exclusive: Iran-backed militias deployed snipers in Iraq protests – sources.” Reuters, October 17, 2019. Accessed July 27, 2020.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] “Kataib Hezbollah: Iraq condemns US attacks on Iran-backed militia.” BBC News, December 30, 2019. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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

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

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

[14] Reuters Staff. “Inside the plot by Iran’s Soleimani to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.” Reuters, January 3, 2020. Accessed July 27, 2020.

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

Cardinal Red

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.

February 19, 2008: KH launched an improvised rocket-assisted munition (IRAM) explosive device at a U.S. military base southeast of Baghdad, killing one American civilian (1 killed, unknown wounded).[1]

June 4, 2008: KH conducted an attack meant to target coalition forces but instead killed 18 civilians and destroyed 19 homes. This attack was described in a press release by the U.S. Department of Defense, and its location was not given (18 killed, 29 wounded).[2]

November 29, 2008: A KH rocket attack killed 2 U.N. contractors in a rocket attack against a U.N compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone (2 killed, 15 wounded).[3]

June 2014: In summer 2014, KH fought alongside the Iraqi security forces in counter-Islamic State operations in the Anbar province, particularly around the city of Fallujah (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[4]

August 2014: KH, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH), and other militias affiliated with PMF participated in the Battle of Amerli against Islamic State forces. KH and its allies were assisted by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters (unknown killed, unknown wounded). [5]

April 2015: KH is accused of killing Sunni civilians and looting their homes in Tikrit, Iraq after helping to liberate the city from IS (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[6]

September 2-3, 2015: 18 Turkish workers were kidnapped in Baghdad by unknown assailants. It is speculated that the kidnappers may have been associated with KH and have received direction from Iran, which competing with Turkey for influence in Syria.[7] The kidnappers identified themselves as the “Death Squads” and demanded that Turkey end its siege of several Syrian Shia towns. [8] Iraqi forces entered an area near a KH office in Baghdad while searching for the Turkish workers, and KH gunmen opened fire, killing one and injuring three of the Iraqi troops.[9] All 18 Turkish workers were eventually released.[10] KH’s involvement in the kidnapping was never confirmed (1 killed, 3 wounded).

May 2016: KH and other Shia militias affiliated with PMF participated in the Iraqi army’s capture of Fallujah from the Islamic State. KH was among the Shia militias accused of beating and executing dozens of Sunni civilians in the re-captured city (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[11]

February 2017: KH and other Shia militias affiliated with PMF participated in the Iraqi army’s capture of Mosul from IS (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[12]

December 2017: KH and other Shia militias affiliated with PMF joined Syrian forces and seized the town of Abu Kamal on the Syria-Iraq border (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[13]

June 2018: Members of KH engaged in a shootout with Iraqi police in Baghdad (0 killed, 3 wounded).[14]

September 2018: KH allegedly conducted a rocket attack near the U.S. Consulate in Basra, prompting its evacuation and closure (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[15]

May 2019: KH carried out a drone attack that destroyed oil pumps in Saudi Arabia (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[16]

December 2019: KH conducted a rocket attack against K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk, Iraq and killed an American contractor. The attack was believed to have been a part of IRGC Major General Qassim Suleimani and KH leader Muhandis’s plan to provoke a U.S. military response in order to redirect Iraqi anger towards the U.S. and away from Iran (1 killed, 6 wounded).[17]

December 2019: KH fighters led a mass protest and that escalated into an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in response to retaliatory U.S. airstrikes against KH bases. Protesters breached and burned perimeter buildings (0 killed, unknown wounded).[18]

March 2020: KH reportedly conducted a rocket attack against Camp Taji, a U.S. coalition military installation near Baghdad. Usbat al-Thaireen, allegedly a front for KH, claimed responsibility. The attack was believed to have been in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of KH leader Muhandis in January 2020 (3 killed, 12 wounded).[19]


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

[2] “Operations Continue Against Al Qaeda, Kataib Hezbollah.” U.S. Department of Defense, October 19, 2008. Accessed September 22, 2020.

[3] Zoepf, Katherine. “Rocket Kills 2 Contract Workers at U.N. Compound in Baghdad.” The New York Times, November 29, 2008. Accessed September 22, 2020.

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

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

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

[7] 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.

[8] Yeginsu, Ceylan. “Shiite Militia Releases 16 Turkish Workers Abducted in Iraq.” The New York Times, September 30, 2015. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/middleeast/turkey-construction-...

[9] Adnan, Sinan. “Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iranian Proxies Challenge Iraq’s Proposed National Guard Law.” Institue for the Study of War, September 8, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2020.

[10] Yeginsu, Ceylan. “Shiite Militia Releases 16 Turkish Workers Abducted in Iraq.” The New York Times, September 30, 2015. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/world/middleeast/turkey-construction-...

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

[12] "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.

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

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

[15] Calamur, Krishnadev. “Trump’s Latest Warning to Iran Didn’t Come Out of Nowhere.” The Atlantic, September 12, 2018. Accessed Juyl 28, 2020.

[16] Shaikh, Shaan. “Iranian Missiles in Iraq.” Center for Strategjc and International Studies, December 2019. Accessed July 28, 2020.

[17] “U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[18] “U.S.-Iran Conflict and Implications for U.S. Policy.” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020. Accessed July 9, 2020.

[19] “UK soldier and two Americans killed in rocket attack in Iraq.” BBC News, March 12, 2020. Accessed August 4, 2020.

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

  • July 2, 2009: The U.S. Department of State designated KH as a foreign terrorist organization.[1]
  • July 2, 2009: The U.S. Treasury Department identified Kata’ib Hezbollah and the group’s leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as entities “ threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and the Government of Iraq” under Executive Order 13438. This designation allowed the U.S. to impose certain financial sanctions on the group and associated individuals.[2]
  • November 2014: The United Arab Emirates designated KH as a foreign terrorist organization.[3]

[1] " Foreign Terrorist Organizations.” Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[2] “Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq.” U.S. Department of Treasury. July 2, 2009. Accessed August 4, 2020.

[3] “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 Shia 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. In 2016, KH allegedly executed hundreds of Sunni civilians after helping to retake Fallujah and Mosul from IS, and was accused of similar atrocities in 2014 and 2015 in Samarra and Tikrit.[1] More recently in 2019, KH was accused of firing on civilian anti-government protesters demonstrating against Iranian interference in Iraq.[2]


[1] “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.; 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.

[2] Reuters Staff. “Exclusive: Iran-backed militias deployed snipers in Iraq protests – sources.” Reuters, October 17, 2019. Accessed July 27, 2020.

Relationships with Other Groups

Since its formation in 2007, KH has maintained close relations with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah and the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (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 reportedly held Iranian citizenship.[1] Many sources speculate that the IRGC had a direct role in KH’s founding. 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.[2] In the case of Hezbollah, KH has maintained particularly close ties with Unit 3800, the Hezbollah sub-group dedicated to training Iraqi Shia militias.

In Syria, KH has fought alongside the IRGC, Hezbollah, and many of the other Iraqi Shia militias. These Shia groups include Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH), the Badr Organization, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).[3] KH’s relationship with the Badr Organization stems from KH founder Muhandis’ affiliation with the group that predates the establishment of KH. In 1985, Muhandis purportedly joined the Badr Organization’s predecessor group, the Badr Brigades (also known as the Badr Corps). He 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. After leaving the Badr Brigades, Muhandis reportedly retained close ties with Ameri. 

Muhandis is also believed to have maintained connections to his successor at the Badr Brigades, Mustapha al-Sheibani.[4] 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 Shia militias (such as AAH and KH) during the Iraq War.[5] Following the war’s conclusion, Sheibani went on to command Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), an Iraqi Shia militia founded in 2013 by KH and the Badr Organization. KH and KSS retain close ties and reportedly have fought together in both Iraq and Syria.[6]

KH is also believed to have ties to Kata’ib Imam Ali (KIA), a Shia Iraqi militant group founded in July 2014. Although there is little direct evidence of coordination between the two organizations, Muhandis was believed be a senior figure in KIA. Muhandis simultaneously served as the head of KH, leading many experts to speculate about the relationship between the two groups.[7]

KH and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (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.[8] In June 2013, AAH and KH purportedly co-founded Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN), an Iraqi Shia militia still active in Syria. Both KH and AAH are believed to have maintained close ties with HHN.[9]

In addition to its role in the formation of KSS and HHN, KH has also established several other small Shia militias. In 2012, KH, AAH, the Badr Organization, and other existing Iraqi Shia militias helped to establish KH front group Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) to assist the Assad regime in Syria.[10] Beginning in 2013, KH, AAH, and the Badr Organization sent fighters under their own banners to fight in Syria, and LAFA became effectively independent.[11] In April 2014, KH also formed Saraya al-Difa al-Shabi (KH-SDS), a KH subgroup and PMF militia dedicated specifically to fighting IS in Iraq.[12]

KH is also a dominant member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization of Iraqi Shia militias formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State. PMF is nominally under the control of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, but its largest and most powerful faction answers to the Iranian IRGC. Muhandis was a key founder of PMF and served as its leader until his death in January 2020.[13] Other major organizations in PMF include AAH, the Badr Organization, KSS, KIA, HHN, and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Peace Brigades (formerly known as the Mahdi Army).[14]

Between 2014 and 2017, KH cooperated with Iraqi forces and Shia militias in Iraq to target the Islamic State (IS).  In 2017, IS declined in strength and lost control of large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria. [15] As the threat of IS diminished, KH refocused its efforts on attacking the U.S. coalition in Iraq. KH also considers some other Iraqi militant groups to be its enemies, including the Sufi-Baathist Jaysh al-Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN) and the Sunni 1920s Revolution Brigades (1920s RB).[16]


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] “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.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

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

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] Smyth, Phillip. “From Najaf to Damascus and onto Baghdad: Iraq’s Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas,” Jihadology, 18 June 2014. Web July 2014.; Joscelyn, Thomas. “Hezbollah has ‘about 7,000 fighters’ in Syria, US says.” Long War Journal, July 27, 2017. Accessed August 25, 2020.

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

[13] Dury-Agri, Jessa Rose, Omer Kassim, and Patrick Martin. “Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Forces: Orders of Battle.” Institute for the Study of War, December 2017. Accessed August 24, 2020.

[14] 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.

[15] 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.

[16] 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 and identifies Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, as its spiritual leader. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) directs much of KH’s activity and provides a significant amount of the group’s funds and training.[1] As a leading member of PMF, KH nominally lies under the authority of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, although PMF effectively answers to Iran.[2] KH also maintains close relations with the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy organization, which has provided both training and funding to KH.[3]

In Syria, KH has fought alongside the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.[4]  Some reports have claimed that KH’s relationship with Assad predated the conflict. Additionally, the Syrian government allegedly allowed KH fighters to use Syria as a smuggling route to and from Iraq during the Iraq War.[5] As of December 2019, KH maintains bases and munitions storage in Syria, but the extent of its ongoing involvement in Syria is unknown.[6]


[1] Dury-Agri, Jessa Rose, Omer Kassim, and Patrick Martin. “Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Forces: Orders of Battle.” Institute for the Study of War, December 2017. Accessed August 24, 2020.

[2] “The caliphate strikes back.” The Economist, May 23, 2015. Accessed August 20, 2020.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] Barnes, Julian E. “U.S. Launches Airstrikes on Iranian-Backed Forces in Iraq and Syria.” The New York Times, December 29, 2019. Accessed July 9, 2020.

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.