Overview

Also Known As:

Executive Summary:

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is an Iranian-sponsored, anti-American Shiite militia operating in Iraq with ancillary operations in Aleppo, Syria.Farnaz Fassihi, Jay Solomon, and Sam Dagher, “Iranians Dial Up Presence in Syria,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2013, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323864604579067382861808984;
Ned Parker and Raheem Salman, “In defense of Baghdad, Iraq turns to Shi'ite militias,” Reuters, June 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/14/us-iraq-security-volunteers-idUSKBN0EP0O920140614;
Associated Press, “Assad relies on foreign fighters in push to retake Aleppo,” Fox News, December 10, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/12/10/assad-relies-on-foreign-fighters-in-push-to-retake-aleppo.html.
During the U.S.-led war in Iraq that began in 2003, KH earned a reputation for planting deadly roadside bombs and using improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs) to attack U.S. and coalition forces.“Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx; Terrorist Groups in Syria: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives, 113th Cong. 17-24 (2013) (statement of Phillip Smyth, Middle East research analyst, University of Maryland), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-113hhrg85643/pdf/CHRG-113hhrg85643.pdf. According to U.S. diplomat Ali Khedery, KH is responsible for “some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout the [U.S.-led war in Iraq].”Ali Khedery, “Iran’s Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq,” Foreign Policy, February 19, 2015,http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/19/irans-shiite-militias-are-running-amok-in-iraq/. 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.Richard R. Brennan et al., eds., Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: the Final Transition, Operational Maneuver, and Disestablishment of United States Forces-Iraq (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), 138-139, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf; Ali Khedery, “Iran’s Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq,” Foreign Policy, February 19, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/19/irans-shiite-militias-are-running-amok-in-iraq/; “Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx.

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 head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, “Iran and Hezbollah Support for Syria Complicates Peace-Talk Strategy,” New York Times, May 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/world/middleeast/iran-and-hezbollahs-support-for-syria-complicates-us-strategy-on-peace-talks.html; Suadad al-Salhy, “Iraqi Shi'ite militants fight for Syria's Assad,” Reuters, October 16, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/16/us-syria-crisis-iraq-militias-idUSBRE89F0PX20121016. As KH switched from fighting U.S. forces in Iraq to combating Sunni rebels and extremists in Iraq and Syria, KH has continued to prioritize its anti-American agenda, repeatedly boycotting battles against ISIS in which the U.S. participates.David D. Kirkpatrick, “Shiite Militias Pose Challenge for U.S. in Iraq,” New York Times, September 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/world/middleeast/shiite-militias-pose-challenge-for-us-in-iraq.html?_r=0; Saif Hameed, “Iraq special forces advance in Tikrit, U.S. coalition joins fight,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0MM0R220150327.

KH is the only Iraqi Shiite militia designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112. It is also reportedly the “most secretive” and elite of Iraq’s predominantly Shiite militias.Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112; Terrorist Groups in Syria: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives, 113th Cong. 17-24 (2013) (statement of Phillip Smyth, Middle East research analyst, University of Maryland), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-113hhrg85643/pdf/CHRG-113hhrg85643.pdf. KH has long-standing ties to Iran’s external military branch, the IRGC-Quds Force, as well as to Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.Farnaz Fassihi, Jay Solomon, and Sam Dagher, “Iranians Dial Up Presence in Syria,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2013, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323864604579067382861808984.

Doctrine:

According to the U.S. Department of State, KH is “a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology.”“Designation of Kata’ib Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” U.S. Department of State, July 2, 2009, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/july/125582.htm. The group is virulently anti-American and ideologically loyal to the Iranian regime.

Anti-American: During the U.S.-led war in Iraq, KH built its reputation by targeting U.S. personnel and interests and killing numerous U.S. soldiers in terrorist attacks.“Hezbollah threatens withdrawal over Baghdad ‘lack of support’,” April 24, 2015, http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/240420151. Since the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, KH has retained its anti-American ideology. In KH’s efforts to fight ISIS in Iraq, KH remains opposed to any cooperation with the United States. In September 2014, for example, KH released a statement saying, “We will not fight alongside the American troops under any kind of conditions whatsoever. [Our only contact with Americans will be] if we fight each other.”David D. Kirkpatrick, “Shiite Militias Pose Challenge for U.S. in Iraq,” New York Times, September 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/world/middleeast/shiite-militias-pose-challenge-for-us-in-iraq.html?_r=0. In March 2015, KH’s military spokesman reaffirmed the group’s anti-American position, saying, “It is not possible for Kataib Hizbollah or any of the resistance factions to be in the same trench as the Americans.”Saif Hameed, “Iraq special forces advance in Tikrit, U.S. coalition joins fight,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0MM0R220150327.

Pro-Iranian: KH’s loyalty to Iran is key to the group’s ideology. A RAND Corporation report claims that “Kata’ib Hezbollah, like Lebanese Hezbollah, is used as a tool to ‘export the Islamic revolution’ as practiced in Tehran.”Richard R. Brennan et al., eds., Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: the Final Transition, Operational Maneuver, and Disestablishment of United States Forces-Iraq (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), 138-139, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf. KH openly accepts Iran’s vision of velayat-e faqih (Guardianship of the Jurists), a strain of political theology that entrusts Iran’s Supreme Leader with unique authority in the Shiite faith.Richard R. Brennan et al., eds., Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: the Final Transition, Operational Maneuver, and Disestablishment of United States Forces-Iraq (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), 138-139, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf. Members of KH swear an oath of loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and accept him as their own spiritual leader.Richard R. Brennan et al., eds., Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: the Final Transition, Operational Maneuver, and Disestablishment of United States Forces-Iraq (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), 138-139, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf; Ned Parker and Raheem Salman, “In defense of Baghdad, Iraq turns to Shi'ite militias,” Reuters, June 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/14/us-iraq-security-volunteers-idUSKBN0EP0O920140614.

Organizational Structure:

KH is considered the most secretive Shiite militia operating in Iraq.Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112. Little is known about the group’s structure, aside from the fact that KH is led by Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, also known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes.Michael Knights, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” Combatting Terrorism Center, November 1, 2010, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq; Phillip Smyth, “There Is No ‘Good’ Shia Militia in Iraq,” Daily Beast, April 17, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/04/17/is-there-a-good-shia-militia-in-iraq.html; Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112. In addition to acting as leader of KH, Ibrahimi also serves as Iraq’s deputy national security advisor and the deputy commander of the Haashid Shaabi (also called the popular mobilization forces, or PMF), Iraq’s umbrella group of anti-ISIS Shiite militias.Liz Sly, “Pro-Iran militias’ success in Iraq could undermine U.S.,” Washington Post, February 15, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iraqs-pro-iranian-shiite-militias-lead-the-war-against-the-islamic-state/2015/02/15/5bbb1cf0-ac94-11e4-8876-460b1144cbc1_story.html; Phillip Smyth, “There Is No ‘Good’ Shia Militia in Iraq,” Daily Beast, April 17, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/04/17/is-there-a-good-shia-militia-in-iraq.html. The PMF coordinates anti-ISIS military ventures between KH, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), the Badr Organization, and other predominantly Shiite and Iranian-sponsored militias.

In addition to carrying out paramilitary activities in Iraq, KH has contributed fighters to pro-Assad forces in Aleppo. Though exact numbers of these fighters are not known, KH had previously claimed in 2015 to have contributed 1,000 fighters to the fight in Aleppo.Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim, “Iran backs Assad in battle for Aleppo with proxies, ground troops,” Washington Post, October 29, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-backs-battle-for-syrias-aleppo-with-proxies-ground-troops/2015/10/19/b8bec268-765f-11e5-a5e2-40d6b2ad18dd_story.html?utm_term=.7e98b180585b. As of December 2016, KH maintains an office in the government-held section of Aleppo, decorated with the group's flags and banners.Associated Press, “Assad relies on foreign fighters in push to retake Aleppo,” Fox News, December 10, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/12/10/assad-relies-on-foreign-fighters-in-push-to-retake-aleppo.html. KH fighters are also reported to have joined Harakat al-Nujaba, an AAH offshoot in Aleppo that is allegedly in part responsible for the slaughter of dozens of Syrian civilians.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Faylak Wa’ad al-Sadiq: The Repackaging of an Iraqi “Special Group” for Syria,” Jihadology, January 13, 2014, http://jihadology.net/2014/01/13/hizballah-cavalcade-faylak-waad-al-sadiq-the-repackaging-of-an-iraqi-special-group-for-syria/;
Martin Chulov, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, and Patrick Wintour, “Iran hails victory in Aleppo as Shia militias boost Syria's Bashar al-Assad,” Guardian (London), December 14, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/14/iran-aleppo-syria-shia-militia.

Financing:

As of 2008, KH was funded by Iran’s IRGC Quds Force, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.“Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx. Though little is publicly known about Iran’s financing of KH since then, it is widely believed that Iran continues to finance KH’s operations.

In November 2014, wounded U.S. military veterans and family members of deceased U.S. soldiers filed a lawsuit against European banks for processing money from Tehran that bankrolled terrorist attacks in Iraq. According to the lawsuit, KH allegedly received money from Iran to finance terrorist attacks against U.S. soldiers.Alison Frankel, “U.S. Veterans Sue Banks, Claim They Should Pay for Iraq Attacks,” Reuters, November 10, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/10/us-usa-courts-banking-iran-idUSKCN0IU1Q120141110.

Recruitment:

KH has sought to lure recruits by advertising its fight against U.S. forces in Iraq. Following the start of the Syrian civil war, the group also advertised its efforts to support Assad forces in neighboring Syria.

During the U.S.-led war in Iraq, KH filmed attacks against U.S. and coalition targets, publishing the films online for propaganda and recruitment purposes.“Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx. During the Arab Spring, KH and fellow Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) also attempted to attract recruits to fight anti-Assad rebels in Syria by advertising their involvement there. They did so by holding public funerals for fighters in Shiite neighbors in Baghdad, and by posting updates on the groups’ Facebook pages.Ned Parker and Raheem Salman, “In defense of Baghdad, Iraq turns to Shi'ite militias,” Reuters, June 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/14/us-iraq-security-volunteers-idUSKBN0EP0O920140614. The two groups also posted phone numbers around Baghdad to attract potential recruits.Ned Parker and Raheem Salman, “In defense of Baghdad, Iraq turns to Shi'ite militias,” Reuters, June 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/14/us-iraq-security-volunteers-idUSKBN0EP0O920140614.

As of late 2016, KH maintains its own website. There, the group advertises that it will have an English version of its website “coming soon.”“Kataib Hezbollah,” Kataib Hezbollah, accessed May 11, 2015, http://kataibhizbollah.com/.

Training:

KH members have received training from Iran’s external military wing, the Quds Force, as well as from Lebanese Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy.Bill Roggio, “Iran continues to train Shia terror groups for attacks in Iraq,” Long War Journal, August 15, 2008, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/08/map_details_irans_op.php; “Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx. By 2008, the Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah were running training camps in four locations in Iraq (Tehran, Qom, Ahvaz, and Mashhad). There, KH and Iran’s other Shiite militias were trained on the use of small arms and explosives.Bill Roggio, “Iran continues to train Shia terror groups for attacks in Iraq,” Long War Journal, August 15, 2008, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/08/map_details_irans_op.php. Lebanese Hezbollah also ran training camps in southern Iraq until the group was forced to relocate the camps to Iran in April 2008.Associated Press, “US: Quds, Hezbollah training hit squads in Iran,” USA Today, August 16, 2008, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/2008-08-15-3191382404_x.htm. By 2010, training camps in Iran continued to provide KH with training related to small arms, surveillance, small unit tactics, and communications.“U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic Republic of Iran: Hearing before the Committee on Armed Services,” United States Senate One Hundred Eleventh Congress Second Session, U.S. Government Printing Office, April 14, 2010, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-113hhrg85643/pdf/CHRG-113hhrg85643.pdf. By November 2013, KH members were reportedly being trained in either Iran or Lebanon and then flown to Syria to fight alongside Assad regime forces.Terrorist Groups in Syria: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade of the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives, 113th Cong. 17-24 (2013) (statement of Phillip Smyth, Middle East research analyst, University of Maryland), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-113hhrg85643/pdf/CHRG-113hhrg85643.pdf. By 2015, some KH members were receiving military training at a base near the city of Samarra in northern Iraq.Alice Fordham, “After Retaking Iraqi City, Shiite Militias Accused Of Targeting Sunnis,” NPR, April 7, 2015, http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2015/04/07/398004441/after-retaking-tikrit-shiite-militias-accused-of-violence-against-sunnis. KH has developed especially close ties with Unit 3800, the Lebanese Hezbollah wing devoted to arming and training Iraqi Shiite militias.Matthew Levitt and Phillip Smyth, “Kataib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 5, 2015, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/kataib-al-imam-ali-portrait-of-an-iraqi-shiite-militant-group-fighting-isis.

Key Leaders

  • Jaafar al-Husseini

    Spokesman
  • Omar Abdullah al-Jbara

    Leader (as of April 2015)
  • Jassim al-Saidi

    Commander (as of December 2014)
  • Abu Hamza

    Commander (as of November 2014)
  • Abu Abdullah

    Commander (as of November 2014)
  • Raad Al Kafaji

    Commander (as of November 2014)
  • Abu Fadl

    Commander (as of June 2016)
  • Erfad

    Commander (as of June 2016)

History

 

Violent Activities

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

July 2, 2009: The U.S. Department of State designated “Kata’ib Hizballah” as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on July 2, 2009.“Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx. July 2, 2009: The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated “Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes” as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) on July 2, 2009.“Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

November 2014: The United Arab Emirates designated “Hizbollah Brigades in Iraq” as a terrorist organization in November 2014.“List of groups designated terrorist organisations by the UAE,” National (Abu Dhabi), November 16, 2014, http://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/list-of-groups-designated-terrorist-organisations-by-the-uae.

Associations

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH)

Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and the Badr Organization are considered “Iran’s three big Iraqi militias.”Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112. All three groups are part of the Haashid Shaabi, an umbrella organization of Shiite militias also called the popular mobilization forces (PMF). As of April 2014, KH and AAH were making up the bulk of Shiite militia forces aiding the Iraqi security forces (ISF) in combatting Sunni extremists. At the time, KH and AAH members were, according to senior Shiite politicians, defending the country as part of an organization called the Sons of Iraq, a group reportedly attached to the prime minister’s military office.Reuters, “Sectarian Strife Threatens Iraq Ahead of Election,” New York Times, April 27, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2014/04/27/world/middleeast/27reuters-iraq-strife.html?_r=0. Members of both AAH and KH have been trained in Iranian training camps. The two groups have similarly recruited Iraqis to fight in Syria, allegedly at the behest of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.Ned Parker and Raheem Salman, “In defense of Baghdad, Iraq turns to Shi'ite militias,” Reuters, June 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/14/us-iraq-security-volunteers-idUSKBN0EP0O920140614; Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, “Iran and Hezbollah Support for Syria Complicates Peace-Talk Strategy,” New York Times, May 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/world/middleeast/iran-and-hezbollahs-support-for-syria-complicates-us-strategy-on-peace-talks.html.
Badr Organization

Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, the leader of KH, joined the Badr Organization’s predecessor, the Badr Corps, in 1985. By 2001, he had risen to become one of the deputy commanders of the Badr Corps.Michael Knights, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” Combatting Terrorism Center, November 1, 2010, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq. Ibrahimi’s connection to the Badr Corps is not unique. According to U.S. intelligence officers, the majority of KH’s members as of 2010 had served in the Badr Corps before 2003.Michael Knights, “Shia strength - Iraqi militants adapt to the US drawdown,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 30, 2011, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/opeds/4e8b0eba7c0a2.pdf. The connection between KH and the Badr Organization (so renamed in 2003) has continued. In early 2013, KH and the Badr Organization formed Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS or “The Master of the Martyrs Brigade”) to fight in Syria.Phillip Smyth, “All the Ayatollah’s Men,” Foreign Policy, September 18, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/09/18/all-the-ayatollahs-men/. Further, while KH does not affiliate with any one political party in Iraq, the group is reported to have a “familial” relationship with political figures within the Badr Organization, according to a RAND Corporation report.Richard R. Brennan et al., eds., Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: the Final Transition, Operational Maneuver, and Disestablishment of United States Forces-Iraq (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), 139, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf. KH and the Badr Organization, along with Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) comprise “Iran’s three big Iraqi militias,” according to Reuters.Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112. All three groups are part of the Haashid Shaabi, an umbrella organization of Shiite militias also called the popular mobilization forces (PMF).
Hezbollah (Lebanon)

While Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Lebanese Hezbollah share a name, the two Iranian proxies operate independently. KH has ideological ties to Lebanese Hezbollah and may have received support from the latter group, according to the U.S. State Department.“Country Reports on Terrorism 2009: Chapter 6. Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, August 5, 2010, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2009/140900.htm. In particular, KH has developed especially close ties with Unit 3800, the wing of Lebanese Hezbollah devoted to arming and training Iraqi Shiite militias.Matthew Levitt and Phillip Smyth, “Kataib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 5, 2015, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/kataib-al-imam-ali-portrait-of-an-iraqi-shiite-militant-group-fighting-isis. The U.S. State Department wrote in 2010 that KH is suspected to receive its aid from Iran through its Lebanese Hezbollah proxy.“Country Reports on Terrorism 2009: Chapter 6. Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, August 5, 2010, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2009/140900.htm. The U.S. Treasury Department wrote more explicitly in 2008 that KH had been receiving weapons training and support from Lebanese Hezbollah.“Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx.

As described in a report by the RAND Corporation, “Kata’ib Hezbollah, like Lebanese Hezbollah, is used as a tool to ‘export the Islamic revolution’ as practiced in Tehran.”Richard R. Brennan et al., eds., Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: the Final Transition, Operational Maneuver, and Disestablishment of United States Forces-Iraq (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), 139, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf. According to 70 USF-I staff officers, KH, like Lebanese Hezbollah, “should be considered a direct action arm of the Quds Force.”Richard R. Brennan et al., eds., Ending the U.S. War in Iraq: the Final Transition, Operational Maneuver, and Disestablishment of United States Forces-Iraq (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2013), 140, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf.
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) formed KH in 2006 or early 2007, during the U.S.-led war in Iraq.Farnaz Fassihi, Jay Solomon, and Sam Dagher, “Iranians Dial Up Presence in Syria,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2013, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323864604579067382861808984; “Country Reports on Terrorism 2009: Chapter 6. Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, August 5, 2010, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2009/140900.htm; Michael Knights, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” Combatting Terrorism Center, November 1, 2010, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq. As of 2008, KH was being funded, trained, and controlled by the IRGC.“Treasury Designates Individual, Entity Posing Threat to Stability in Iraq,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 2, 2009, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg195.aspx; Michael Knights, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” Combatting Terrorism Center, November 1, 2010, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq. In September 2010, Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote that the interaction between KH and the IRGC goes both ways, as KH leader Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi has acted not only as the head of his militia, but as an adviser to Iran’s military envoy to Iraq, IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.Michael Knights, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” Combatting Terrorism Center, November 1, 2010, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq. Soleimani reportedly oversees the three main Shiite militias in Iraq – KH, the Badr Organization, and AAH.Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112. The IRGC’s Quds Force is charged with spreading Iran’s Islamist ideology and system of governance beyond the country’s borders.Martin Chulov, “Qais al-Khazali: from kidnapper and prisoner to potential leader,” Guardian (London), December 31, 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/dec/31/iran-hostages-qais-al-khazali. In al-Mohandes’s first press conference in January 2015, he described himself as a military commander and “defector” from the IRGC.Othman al-Mukhtar, “Fugitive from international justice now militia leader in Iraq,” al-Araby al-Jadeed, January 4, 2015, http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/politics/2015/1/4/fugitive-from-international-justice-now-militia-leader-in-iraq#sthash.Cmu7vyP5.dpuf.

Ties to Extremist Individuals:

Bashar al-Assad
KH has sent fighters to defend the Assad regime in Syria, allegedly at the behest of IRGC-Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.Michael R. Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, “Iran and Hezbollah Support for Syria Complicates Peace-Talk Strategy,” New York Times, May 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/22/world/middleeast/iran-and-hezbollahs-support-for-syria-complicates-us-strategy-on-peace-talks.html; Suadad al-Salhy, “Iraqi Shi'ite militants fight for Syria's Assad,” Reuters, October 16, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/16/us-syria-crisis-iraq-militias-idUSBRE89F0PX20121016. In March 2013, KH became the second group to declare it has lost fighters in Syria, although the group had begun recruiting and sending fighters to defend the Assad regime in Syria long before.Suadad al-Salhy, “Iraqi Shi'ite militants fight for Syria's Assad,” Reuters, October 16, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/16/us-syria-crisis-iraq-militias-idUSBRE89F0PX20121016. As of January 2015, KH claims to have lost around forty fighters in total to the war in Syria. The group has even built a new martyrs section in Najaf's Wadi al-Salam cemetery devoted to these fighters. In support of Assad’s regime, KH has also helped build Syria-based Shiite militias such as Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA).Matthew Levitt and Phillip Smyth, “Kataib al-Imam Ali: Portrait of an Iraqi Shiite Militant Group Fighting ISIS,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 5, 2015, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/kataib-al-imam-ali-portrait-of-an-iraqi-shiite-militant-group-fighting-isis.
Qasem Soleimani
KH leader Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi works closely with the commander of Iran’s IRGC Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani. In September 2010, Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote that Ibrahimi acts not only as the head of his militia, but as an adviser to Soleimani.Michael Knights, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” Combatting Terrorism Center, November 1, 2010, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq. In his post as commander of the Quds Force, Soleimani has reportedly overseen military operations for the three main Shiite militias in Iraq – KH, the Badr Organization, and AAH.Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Special Report: The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran,” Reuters, November 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112. U.S. diplomat Ali Khedery has confirmed Soleimani’s strong connection with KH leader Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi in particular. According to Khedery, “I heard from Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish officials and virtually all of them told me that the real prime minster of [Iraq] is Qasem Soleimani and his deputy is [Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, also known as] Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.”Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent, “The U.S. Is Providing Air Cover for Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq,” Foreign Policy, March 28, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/28/the-united-states-is-providing-air-cover-for-ethnic-cleansing-in-iraq-shiite-militias-isis/.

Media Coverage

  • Western Media

    Although Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) has been active in Iraq since at least 2007, Western media did not cover the group significantly until the...

Rhetoric

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KH Statement, March 21, 2016

“We have vanquished the American occupation with our quality and quantity in the past and we will continue attacking them, with our resources significantly increased. Iraq’s streets are still filled with the ruins of their vehicles that destroyed our explosive devices, and those injured by their soldiers are still hospitalized.”Maayan Groisman, “Hezbollah Brigades vows to attack US forces ‘defending ISIS’ in Iraq,” Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2016, http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Hezbollah-vows-to-attack-US-forces-defending-ISIS-in-Iraq-448657.

KH Statement, March 21, 2016

“The coward [U.S.] soldiers should understand that however protective their vehicles are, these vehicles will become an obstacle for them and they will burn to death inside them.”Maayan Groisman, “Hezbollah Brigades vows to attack US forces ‘defending ISIS’ in Iraq,” Jerusalem Post, March 21, 2016, http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Hezbollah-vows-to-attack-US-forces-defending-ISIS-in-Iraq-448657.

Kata'ib Hezbollah Propaganda Song, January 2016

“The enemies of God will not be safe.… Ali’s [Shiite Islam’s first imam’s] enemies fear him [Nimr].… We will avenge Sheikh Nimr if he is executed.… Our brigades will roar like a lion.”Phillip Smyth, “Iran's Martyrdom Machine Springs to Life,” Foreign Policy, January 5, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/05/irans-martyrdom-machine-springs-to-life/.

Jaafar al-Husseini, KH spokesman, December 2015

“We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq.”Ahmed Rasheed and Stephen Kalin, “Iraqi PM, militias reject foreign troops after U.S. announcement,” Reuters, December 1, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/mideast-crisis-usa-iraq-idINKBN0TK5L420151202.

Jaafar al-Husseini, KH spokesman, December 2015

“Any such American force [deployed in Iraq] will become a primary target for our group. We fought them before and we are ready to resume fighting.”Ahmed Rasheed and Stephen Kalin, “Iraqi PM, militias reject foreign troops after U.S. announcement,” Reuters, December 1, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/mideast-crisis-usa-iraq-idINKBN0TK5L420151202.

Jaafar al-Husseini, KH spokesman, October 2015

“We refuse to have the US or any of it's allies take part in any airstrikes, trainings, or material support. They are not serious about the fight against terrorism, and they have been actually in support of IS.”David Enders, “Powerful Iraqi Militias Would Gladly Welcome Russian Airstrikes,” Vice News, October 7, 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/powerful-iraqi-militias-would-gladly-welcome-russian-airstrikes.

KH Statement, April 24, 2015

“The current government and the leadership of Hashd al-Shaabi militia have not provided any support for us… [So] we will step out of eastern Fallujah if they fail to support us... Let the Americans protect the areas in north of Amiriyah, Tariq camp and Baghdad Airport.”“Hezbollah threatens withdrawal over Baghdad 'lack of support,'” Rudaw, April 24, 2015, http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/240420151.

Jaafar al-Husseini, KH spokesman, March 2015

“It is not possible for Kataib Hizbollah or any of the resistance factions to be in the same trench as the Americans.”Saif Hameed, “Iraq special forces advance in Tikrit, U.S. coalition joins fight,” Reuters, March 27, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0MM0R220150327.

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