For immediate release | Friday, December 16, 2016

Iraqi Shiite Militias Bolster Pro-Assad Forces in Aleppo, Accused by U.N. of Human Rights Abuses

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(New York, NY) – The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) today released updated resources on powerful Iraqi Shiite militias Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), trained and supported by Iran, that are fighting with Hezbollah for the Assad regime in Syria.

On December 13, 2016, the United Nations implicated AAH’s Syrian wing, known as Harakat al-Nujaba, in the slaughter of dozens of civilians in Aleppo. Although supposedly operating independently of AAH in Iraq, Harakat al-Nujaba is comprised primarily of AAH fighters and those from fellow Iranian-backed militia KH.

Iraq’s Shiite militias are referred to as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). In a July report, Human Rights Watch documented killings, disappearances, torture, and the destruction of homes by PMF groups during the fight to retake Fallujah and other Sunni-dominated areas in Iraq from ISIS. Nevertheless, the Shiite militias were formally recognized by the Iraqi Parliament in November 2016.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) has approximately 10,000 fighters and in one of the most powerful militias in Iraq. AAH claimed responsibility for more than 6,000 attacks on American and Iraqi forces. Its founder and leader, Qais al-Khazali, reportedly led the January 2007 attack in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers. AAH’s Syrian unit, the Harakat al Nujaba militia—is reportedly the largest Iraqi militia operating in Aleppo, where reports of war crimes against Sunni civilians are widespread. Another AAH unit, Imam Ali Brigades, dispatched forces to both Aleppo and Palmyra in 2016. AAH forces are themselves reported to maintain unofficial units in Syria under the direct control of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). AAH seeks to establish an Islamist, Shiite-controlled Iraq and promote Iranian objectives. The group is openly loyal to Iranian leaders, most notably the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei.

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is an Iranian-sponsored, anti-American Shiite militia operating in Iraq and in Aleppo, Syria, under the control of Iran’s IRGC. During the U.S. war in Iraq, KH earned a reputation for attacking U.S. and coalition forces using deadly roadside bombs and improvised rocket-assisted mortars. After the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, KH sent fighters to defend the Assad regime in Syria, allegedly at the behest of Qasem Soleimani. The group’s leader, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi—also known by his alias Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes—is the alleged mastermind behind the U.S. and French embassy bombings in Kuwait in 1983 and the assassination attempt on Kuwait’s emir in 1985. KH is the only Iraqi Shiite militia designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. It is also reportedly the “most secretive” and elite of Iraq’s predominantly Shiite militias.

To read CEP’s report on Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, please click here.