Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada

Executive Summary

Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada (KSS) is an Iraqi militia that has fought in both Iraq and Syria and is closely connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Houthis.Caleb Weiss, “Iraqi Shia Militia ‘Willing to Send Fighters to Yemen,’” Long War Journal, July 9, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/07/iraqi-shia-militia-willing-to-send-fighters-to-yemen.php. Its leader is Abu Mustafa al Sheibani, a U.S.-designated terrorist who also assisted in forming the IRGC-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) militias.Caleb Weiss, “Iraqi Shia Militia ‘Willing to Send Fighters to Yemen,’” Long War Journal, July 9, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/07/iraqi-shia-militia-willing-to-send-fighters-to-yemen.php; Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada: Another Supplier of Iraqi Shia Fighters in Syria,” Jihadology, June 3, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/06/03/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-another-supplier-of-iraqi-shia-fighters-in-syria/.

The group was founded in 2013. Its first public announcements were three martyrdom notices for members killed fighting in southern Damascus alongside Syrian regime forces.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada: Another Supplier of Iraqi Shia Fighters in Syria,” Jihadology, June 3, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/06/03/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-another-supplier-of-iraqi-shia-fighters-in-syria/. In Syria, KSS operates within the fold of the mixed Syrian and Iraqi Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas, another Iranian-backed militia.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada: Another Supplier of Iraqi Shia Fighters in Syria,” Jihadology, June 3, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/06/03/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-another-supplier-of-iraqi-shia-fighters-in-syria/.

KSS follows the same Shiite jihadist ideology as fellow pro-Iranian Iraqi militias, framing its fight in Syria as a defense of Shiites and the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zaynab.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria,” Jihadology, September 9, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/09/09/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-emerges-updates-on-the-new-iraqi-shia-militia-supplying-fighters-to-syria/; Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada: Another Supplier of Iraqi Shia Fighters in Syria,” Jihadology, June 3, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/06/03/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-another-supplier-of-iraqi-shia-fighters-in-syria/. In a 2013 interview, KSS’s information office stated that the group sent 500 militants to Syria.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria,” Jihadology, September 9, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/09/09/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-emerges-updates-on-the-new-iraqi-shia-militia-supplying-fighters-to-syria/. Other media statements have affirmed the presence of KSS fighters in rural Damascus along the frontlines in eastern Ghouta.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria," Jihadology, September 9, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/09/09/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-emerges-updates-on-the-new-iraqi-shia-militia-supplying-fighters-to-syria/. The Associated Press has reported that KSS fighters enter Syria via Iran.“Treasury Designates Individuals, Entity Fueling Iraqi Insurgency,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, January 9, 2008, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/hp759.aspx; Phillip Smyth, “From Karbala to Sayyida Zaynab: Iraqi Fighters in Syria’s Shi’a Militias,” Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 6, no. 8 (August 2013), https://ctc.usma.edu/from-karbala-to-sayyida-zaynab-iraqi-fighters-in-syrias-shia-militias/.

In 2015, KSS declared Saudi Arabia “a legitimate and permissible target” after that country executed a prominent Shiite cleric.Caleb Weiss, “Iraqi Shia Militia ‘Willing to Send Fighters to Yemen,’” Long War Journal, July 9, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/07/iraqi-shia-militia-willing-to-send-fighters-to-yemen.php. A 2018 KSS statement indicated the group was ready to send fighters to Yemen. KSS’s leader wrote, “I am a soldier standing at the signal of Sayyid Abdel Malek al Houthi [leader of the Houthis].”Caleb Weiss, “Iraqi Shia Militia ‘Willing to Send Fighters to Yemen,’” Long War Journal, July 9, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/07/iraqi-shia-militia-willing-to-send-fighters-to-yemen.php. Both of these actions indicate that KSS firmly sees itself as part of a global Shiite jihadist movement. In June 2020, the Republican Study Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives recommended designating KSS as a terrorist group. The recommendation also included other PMF factions Badr Organization, Kataib al-Imam Ali, Liwa Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas, and Jund al-Islam.“US Recommends Designating Badr Organization’s Leader, PMF Factions as Terrorists,” Asharq al-Awsat (London), June 12, 2020, https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2330586/us-recommends-designating-badr-organizations-leader-pmf-factions-terrorists; Joyce Karam, “Congress Republicans table largest sanctions plan against Iran,” National (Abu Dhabi), June 10, 2020, https://www.thenational.ae/world/the-americas/congress-republicans-table-largest-sanctions-plan-against-iran-1.1031877.

Doctrine

KSS follows the same global Shiite jihadist ideology as other IRGC-backed Shiite militant groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH).Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada: Another Supplier of Iraqi Shia Fighters in Syria,” Jihadology, June 3, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/06/03/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-another-supplier-of-iraqi-shia-fighters-in-syria/. Its militant activity in Syria was framed as a holy war to protect the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zaynab, and KSS has publicly pledged its loyalty to the Houthis, indicating its support for a global Shiite armed movement.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria,” Jihadology, September 9, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/09/09/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-emerges-updates-on-the-new-iraqi-shia-militia-supplying-fighters-to-syria/; Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada: Another Supplier of Iraqi Shia Fighters in Syria,” Jihadology, June 3, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/06/03/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-another-supplier-of-iraqi-shia-fighters-in-syria/; Caleb Weiss, “Iraqi Shia Militia ‘Willing to Send Fighters to Yemen,’” Long War Journal, July 9, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/07/iraqi-shia-militia-willing-to-send-fighters-to-yemen.php.

Organizational Structure

Shiite-militia expert Phillip Smyth claimed in late 2013 that KSS appears to be closely tied to the Badr Organization, both ideologically and in terms of shared fighters in Syria.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria,” Jihadology, September 9, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/09/09/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-emerges-updates-on-the-new-iraqi-shia-militia-supplying-fighters-to-syria/. KSS claims to have sent 500 militants to Syria in 2013, where it fought alongside the Syrian regime until at least 2015.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria,” Jihadology, September 9, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/09/09/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-emerges-updates-on-the-new-iraqi-shia-militia-supplying-fighters-to-syria/; “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada,” Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, last updated December 28, 2016, https://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/629.

The group corresponds to the 14th Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) brigade.Jessa Rose Dury-Agri, Omer Kassim, and Patrick Martin, Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Forces: Orders of Battle, Institute for the Study of War (Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of War, 2017), 43, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Iraq%20-%20ISF%20PMF%20Orders%20of%20Battle_0_0.pdf. KSS is connected to the Syrian Liwa al-Muntadhir and corresponds to the 7th PMF Brigade led by Daghir al-Mousawi.Jessa Rose Dury-Agri, Omer Kassim, and Patrick Martin, Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Forces: Orders of Battle, Institute for the Study of War (Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of War, 2017), 43, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Iraq%20-%20ISF%20PMF%20Orders%20of%20Battle_0_0.pdf. According to Smyth, KSS may be essentially a front for the military arm of the Sayyid al-Shuhada Movement, a jihadist political group allegedly backed by Iran and based in Basra, Iraq.Phillip Smyth, “From Karbala to Sayyida Zaynab: Iraqi Fighters in Syria’s Shi’a Militias,” Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 6, no. 8 (August 2013), https://ctc.usma.edu/from-karbala-to-sayyida-zaynab-iraqi-fighters-in-syrias-shia-militias/; Reidar Visser, “Iraq,” in Militancy and Political Violence in Shiism: Trends and Patterns, ed. Assaf Moghadam (New York: Routledge, 2012), 107. Many of KSS’s reported casualties have been militants from the Basra region.Phillip Smyth, “From Karbala to Sayyida Zaynab: Iraqi Fighters in Syria’s Shi`a Militias,” Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 6, no. 8 (August 2013), https://ctc.usma.edu/from-karbala-to-sayyida-zaynab-iraqi-fighters-in-syrias-shia-militias/.

Financing

KSS receives funding directly from the IRGC’s Quds Force—a special branch of the IRGC tasked with achieving sensitive missions beyond Iran’s borders—and, as a member of the PMF, from the Iraqi government.“Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada,” Mapping Militant Organizations, last updated December 28, 2016, https://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/629.

Recruitment

Based on its reported losses, apparently KSS largely recruits from the southern Iraqi city of Basra, as well as from the Dhi Qar Province.Phillip Smyth, “Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada: Another Supplier of Iraqi Shia Fighters in Syria,” Jihadology, June 3, 2013, https://jihadology.net/2013/06/03/hizballah-cavalcade-kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-another-supplier-of-iraqi-shia-fighters-in-syria/; Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada—Threats to Saudi Arabia: Translation and Analysis,” Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi’s Blog, October 17, 2014, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2014/10/kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-threats-to-saudi-arabia.. On September 15, 2016, KSS released a new call for recruits.Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’ Launches New Recruiting Advertisement,” Jihad Intel, September 15, 2016,  https://jihadintel.meforum.org/184/kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-launches-new-recruiting.

Training

An August 2016 video, which has since been removed by YouTube, showed KSS fighters training in Syria with heavy machine guns.YouTube: “منوعات عراقيه Iraqi news,” كتائب سيد الشهداء ع في سوريا تدريب ع سلاح بي كيسي, August 6, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWcRAFxDGvc. The group also receives training directly from the IRGC. The U.S. Treasury Department accused IRGC commander Ahmed Foruzandeh of training the Basra-based Sayyid al-Shuhada movement. Shiite-militia expert Phillip Smyth believes KSS is a front for the Sayyid al-Shuhada organization’s military arm.Phillip Smyth, “From Karbala to Sayyida Zaynab: Iraqi Fighters in Syria’s Shi’a Militias,” Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel 6, no. 8 (August 2013), https://ctc.usma.edu/from-karbala-to-sayyida-zaynab-iraqi-fighters-in-syrias-shia-militias/.

KSS has also reportedly trained extensively in the use of drones. KSS Secretary General Abu Waala al Wa’eli expressed “enthusiasm for drone warfare” and stated in a 2019 interview, “We are working day and night to develop drones that can be put together in a living room.”Patrick Cockburn, “Just as Iraq Begins to Find Peace, It Once Again Becomes the Battleground for an American Proxy War,” Independent (London), September 27, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/iraq-us-iran-israel-proxy-war-middle-east-peace-abu-alaa-al-walai-shia-a9123436.html.

Also Known As

  • Type of Organization:
    Militia, political party, religious, social services provider, terrorist, transnational, violent
  • Ideologies and Affiliations:
    Iranian-sponsored, Shiite, Jihadist, Khomeinist
  • Place of Origin:
    Iraq
  • Year of Origin:
    2013
  • Founder(s):

    Abu Mustafa al Sheibani

  • Places of Operation:

    Iraq, Syria

Abu Waala al Wa’eli

Secretary-General

Falih Khazali

Spokesman

Abu Mustafa al Sheibani

Senior leader and commander

  • Associations
  • Rhetoric

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Abu Waala al Wa’eli, KSS Secretary-General, November 19, 2021

“With the approaching hour of decisiveness and a major confrontation, the Islamic Resistance, the Sayyid al-Shuhada Brigades, announces the opening of the door to belonging and volunteering to its ranks and calls on our resistant Iraqi people and the resistance factions to raise the level of readiness in preparation for the decisive and historic confrontation with the American occupation on 12/31/2021 after 12:00 a.m.” (Tweet)Tom O’Connor, “Iraq Militias, Seeing Taliban’s Success, Plan to Force U.S. Troops Out After Dec. 31,” Newsweek, November 22, 2021, https://www.newsweek.com/iraq-militias-seeing-talibans-success-plan-force-us-troops-out-after-dec-31-1652065.

Abu Waala al Wa’eli, KSS Secretary-General, August 2019

“If fighting broke out between Satan and America, I would stand with Satan, because America is the Greater Satan.”“Iraqi Shiite Militia Leader Abu Alaa Al-Walai: If U.S.-Iran War Breaks Out, We Will Fight alongside Iran, All Americans in Iraq Will Be Held Hostages by the Resistance; We Could Easily Send Drone to Strike (U.S.) Embassy,” Middle East Media Research Institute, August 28, 2019, https://www.memri.org/tv/iraqi-shiite-militia-leader-walai-sayyid-shuhada-battalions-war-america-iran-side.

Abu Waala al Wa’eli, KSS Secretary-General, August 2019

“The easiest thing for me to do, if I were considering a disproportionate retaliation [for attacks on the PMU]… Just like drones bombed our bases, as well as our men near the Syrian border and our camp in Amerli, the easiest thing for us to do would be to send drones, armed with the same weapons or even better ones, and bomb their embassy and all their military bases.”“Iraqi Shiite Militia Leader Abu Alaa Al-Walai: If U.S.-Iran War Breaks Out, We Will Fight alongside Iran, All Americans in Iraq Will Be Held Hostages by the Resistance; We Could Easily Send Drone to Strike (U.S.) Embassy,” Middle East Media Research Institute, August 28, 2019, https://www.memri.org/tv/iraqi-shiite-militia-leader-walai-sayyid-shuhada-battalions-war-america-iran-side.

Abu Waala al Wa’eli, KSS Secretary-General, August 2019

“All Americans will be held hostage by the resistance factions in the event of a war.”“Iraqi Shiite Militia Leader Abu Alaa Al-Walai: If U.S.-Iran War Breaks Out, We Will Fight alongside Iran, All Americans in Iraq Will Be Held Hostages by the Resistance; We Could Easily Send Drone to Strike (U.S.) Embassy,” Middle East Media Research Institute, August 28, 2019, https://www.memri.org/tv/iraqi-shiite-militia-leader-walai-sayyid-shuhada-battalions-war-america-iran-side.

Abu Waala al Wa’eli, KSS Secretary-General, July 2018

“I declare I am a soldier standing at the signal of Sayyid Abdel Malek al Houthi [the leader of the Houthi movement]…I announce that Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada is a faction among your factions O’ Ansar Allah [the official name of the Houthis].”Caleb Weiss, “Iraqi Shia Militia ‘Willing to Send Fighters to Yemen,’” Long War Journal, July 9, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/07/iraqi-shia-militia-willing-to-send-fighters-to-yemen.php.

KSS Statement, October 2015

“We in the Sayyid al Shuhada Battalion consider Saudi interests a legitimate and permissible target on all levels, and we will strike and destroy them whenever it pleases us…The rulers of petroleum will learn that the followers of Ahl al Bayt [family of Mohammad] will not be content with defeating [the Saudi government] in Baiji, Ramadi, and other Iraqi areas, but will take the battle to the spider’s own nest.”Bill Roggio, “Popular Mobilization Committee Militia Threatens to ‘Strike and Destroy’ the Saudi Government,” Long War Journal, October 30, 2015, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/10/popular-mobilization-committee-militia-threatens-to-strike-and-destroy-the-saudi-government.php.

KSS Statement, October 2014

“Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada considers anything of Saudi origin on the level of building or person a target for it; and will not hold back capability in burning or destroying anything tied to this tyrannical kingdom if these authorities do not review this unjust execution decision.”Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada—Threats to Saudi Arabia: Translation and Analysis,” Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi’s Blog, October 17, 2014, https://www.aymennjawad.org/2014/10/kataib-sayyid-al-shuhada-threats-to-saudi-arabia.

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