Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN) is an Iranian-backed, U.S.-designated militia formed in 2013 by Akram al-Kaabi, co-founder of the IRGC-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). The exact relationship between AAH and HHN remains unclear. Kaabi denies there are any ideological disagreements with AAH, stating that the formation of HHN occurred due to disagreements “on style and how the work should be managed.” HHN is primarily comprised of former members of AAH, Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), and possibly the “Promised Day Brigades.”
HHN is closely tied to Iran and Hezbollah and has been at the forefront of the fight against ISIS alongside the Syrian army, Hezbollah, and other Iran-backed Iraqi militias. Recent reports indicate that HHN has taken a new central role among the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) following the deaths of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and PMF deputy chief and Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
HHN’s secretary general, Akram al-Kaabi, has long been affiliated with Iranian-backed terrorist groups operating in Iraq. He began as a commander in the Sadrist militia Jaysh al-Mahdi, where he planned and led attacks against both the Iraqi army and coalition forces. In 2008, Kaabi was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department “for threatening the peace and stability of Iraq.” Kaabi formed HHN in 2013 in response to the rise of ISIS in Syria, calling for Iraqi Shiite militias to travel to Syria and fight on the behalf of the Assad regime. At the same time, he threatened to attack Turkish forces operating north of Mosul. HHN fought against Syrian opposition forces in Aleppo city and its countryside during the regime’s 2016 offensive to retake the city. The United Nations accuses HHN of deliberately killing civilians attempting to flee the city during the offensive.
According to Iraqi lawmaker Shakhwan Abdullah, HHN is “helping Tehran create a supply route through Iraq to Damascus.” In December 2019, HHN and other pro-Iran PMFs attacked and killed more than 500 peaceful anti-government protestors in Baghdad.
HHN follows a Shiite jihadist ideology rooted in the teachings of Iraqi Ayatollah Mohammed al-Sadr and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While HHN spokesman Hashim alMousawi has downplayed the group’s loyalty to Khamenei, HHN leadership has praised the Quds Force and declared “complete solidarity and support” with Hezbollah. Furthermore, in August 2016, HHN leader Akram al-Kaabi spent a week in Iran meeting with top Iranian government officials and clerics, including the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezaei.
In January 2020, Kaabi visited the family of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani after his assassination, and met with Soleimani’s successor, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani. At the same time, the group stated its willingness to oust any government in Baghdad that opposed Iran.
A Washington Institute for Near East Policy report describes HHN as a “front group for Harakat Hezbollah and AAH to send forces to Syria.” The group fielded an estimated 10,000 fighters in 2019 and is reportedly part of the 12th Brigade of the PMF. Despite this, Kaabi claims that HHN is “not affiliated with the [PMF] organizationally.”
In 2013, the group contained three subunits: Liwa al‐Hamad, Liwa Ammar Ibn Yasir, and Liwa al‐Imam al‐Hassan al‐Mujtaba—all of which were formed in or deployed to Syria. In 2015, Kaabi said the group also contained a fourth subunit, the Golan Liberation Brigade, as well as a the reserve al-Tabia forces, a paramilitary volunteer militia established by Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Liwa Ammar Ibn Yasir
In June 2013, HHN announced the formation of the subgroup Liwa Ammar Ibn Yasir (LAIY). The name refers to the Shia Ammar ibn Yassir shrine in Raqqa, Syria, that was destroyed by Sunni rebels. In spring 2014, the group was deployed in Iraq, despite its stated purpose of defending the Shia Sayyeda Zainab shrine in Damascus. In December 2016, Kaabi said that LAIY had 3,000 fighters in Aleppo. LAIY was also shown in Aleppo on social media posts in February and March 2014.
Liwa al‐Imam al‐Hassan al‐Mujtaba
On July 23, 2013, the creation of Liwa al-Imam al-Mujtaba (LIHM) was officially announced on social media. This group claims to predominantly protect the Damascus Airport and sections of rural Ghouta. LIHM also has publicized subunits: Kata’ib al-Ashtar (Ashtar Battalion), the “mortar and rocket battalion” Kata’ib abu Hamr (Abu Hamr Battalion), and the Martyr Ahmed Kayara unit. The Ahmed Kayara unit was named after Abu Hamza, a commander in the largely Iraqi Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas. The Kata’ib al-Ashtar unit has been described as a “rapid response unit” and was reportedly deployed to al-Buidha, Rif Dimashq. LIHM also fought in the southern Damascus suburb of Hajira and the southeast suburb of Jaramana in November 2013.
Liwa al‐Hamad (Praise Brigade)
Liwa al-Hamad, or the Praise Brigade, was first announced in a YouTube video in July 2013. The group is less present on social media than other HHN subunits and little is known about the group’s activities. The Praise Brigade was reportedly in Aleppo in January, March, April, and May of 2014, according to the group’s Facebook posts.
Golan Liberation Brigade
In 2017, HHN media announced the formation of the Golan Liberation Brigade. Upon its formation, Kaabi stated that the group was prepared to work with the Syrian Arab Army to “liberate” the Golan Heights from Israel. He claimed the unit was well equipped and included “special forces” fighters.
HHN was formed in 2013 with direct support from the IRGC. Kaabi openly admitted in 2015 that “technical and logistical support comes from the [Iranian] Islamic Republic.” In a 2015 interview, Kaabi acknowledged that HHN “received military and logistical support from the Republic [of Iran] in continuing form and according to the needs of the fronts.” He also confirmed the gifting of a reconnaissance aircraft (known as Yasir) by the IRGC to the group.
In May 2019, a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy stated that U.S. and Israeli intelligence were concerned that Iran was supplying “long-range artillery rockets” to its Iraqi proxies, including HHN. The report claimed that HHN and other Iranian-backed PMFs are able to import missiles and equipment from Iran without Baghdad’s knowledge. Additional funding comes via the Iraqi government, thanks to HHN’s membership in the PMF system.
The group has been described as a “leading network of recruiters for foreign fighters in Syria” and a “pioneer of online recruitment for foreign fighters.” New recruits reportedly began in Iranian training camps before deploying to Aleppo, Syria, where they were then placed in HHN. It is unclear if this system continued after the Assad regime’s capture of Aleppo city in December 2016.
In a January 2019 interview, Kaabi openly stated that the group receives “all levels of training, arming and the provision of advice through the presence of leaders and field advisers from the brothers in the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards,” as well as from Hezbollah. Kaabi further stated that the group received a reconnaissance aircraft from the IRGC, as well as training to use it.
Also Known As:
- Harakat al-Nujaba
- Nujaba Movement
- Hezbollah al-Nujaba
- Harakat Hizbollah al-Nujaba
- Movement of the Noble of the Party of God
- Ammar ibn Yasir Brigade
- Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba Brigade
- al-Hamad Brigade
- al-Nujaba TV
- Liwa Ammar bin Yasir