NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.

IRGC’s First Martyr vs. ISIS in Iraq?

By Phillip Smyth

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Figure 1: Post claiming the IRGC member was killed fighting in Samarra.

According to Iranian media outlets Ali Reza Moshajari, a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was reportedly killed in an accident on June 14, 2014.1 In another article written by the IRGC-linked Tasnim News, Moshajari was killed in “Western Iran” while on “a mission.” In all of the articles he is described as a “martyr” or “hero martyr.” However, his death was not such an open and shut case. In fact, Moshajari’s death may be further evidence of direct IRGC presence in Iraq.

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Figure 2: Moshajari in his IRGC uniform.

Before official announcements were made by groups such as Kata’ib Hizballah or Lebanese Hizballah stating they were both involved in fighting in Syria, both organizations would give vague explanations for the funerals of their members. The former would claim members had died due to illness or for other non-combat related reasons. Lebanese Hizballah would often only state that their fallen fighter had been “killed doing his jihadist duty.” Nevertheless, on social media run by many of these elements, it would be stated that the fallen fighters had in fact been killed in Syria. This may be the same type of structured announcement.

In some ways, this mirrors the announcements for the fallen IRGC member who was not only listed as a martyr for battle on a mission of some sort, but had competing accounts for how and where he died.

On Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-linked (often these pages are run directly by the IRGC for internal and narrative purposes) social media networks–which run the gambit from Twitter and Facebook to Google Plus and YouTube—have cast Moshajari as an IRGC fighter who had been “martyred” in the IRGC deployment to Iraq.

It is possible that Moshajari was actually killed in an accident while deploying with IRGC units to sections of Iraq bordering Iran. CNN reported that 500 IRGC had been deployed to Diyala, an Iraqi province on the border with Iran.2 In Diyala Province, Kata’ib Hizballah and other Iraqi Shia Islamist groups backed by Iran have also reported being engaged in combat against units belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

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Figure 3: An IRGC Facebook page claiming Moshajari was the first IRGC martyr in Iraq while defending the shrines.

However, other Facebook-based sites with links to Iran’s regional Shia Islamist proxies and the IRGC also claimed that he had been involved in the “defense of Samarra.” Samarra has been a city of heavily publicized deployments by Iran’s Shi’a Islamist proxies within Iraq, mainly due to the fact that the holy Askari Shrine is located in the city.

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Figure 4: Killed IRGC member’s martyrdom poster. The poster was circulated primarily on Facebook and Twitter. It claims he was an “Iranian defender of Karbala.”

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Figure 5: A photo of Moshajari’s face prior to his funeral.

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NOTES:

NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s Liwa’a Kafeel Zaynab

By Phillip Smyth (psmyth@jihadology.net)

Click here for a PDF version of this post

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Figure 1: One version of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s Liwa’a Kafeel Zaynab logo.

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Figure 2: AAH-LKZ’s symbol features the normal AAH logo with the words, “Liwa’a Kafeel Zaynab” below it. This photo comes from AAH-LKZ’s official Facebook page (as denoted by the writing, “al-Safa al-rasmeea”, meaning “The official page”, underneath “Liwa’a Kafeel Zaynab”).

Formed in 2006 when it split from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi, the Shia Islamist, Iraq-based Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous, or AAH) was created with the help of Lebanese Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.[1] During the Iraq War, AAH was responsible for a number of high-profile attacks on Coalition forces, including kidnappings and the use of advanced Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) against armored vehicles.[2] Following the pullout of American soldiers from Iraq, the group claimed it would consider giving up its arms and pursue a political strategy.[3] However, despite allying itself with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, AAH retained its militia and has been sending some of these forces into Syria.[4]

When the first martyrdom announcements and funerals were held for Iraqi Shia who had been killed fighting for pro-Assad militias in Syria, it became clear that AAH was a main supplier of fighters (see earlier Hizballah Cavalcade “Roundups of Iraqis Killed in Syria” Parts 1, 2, and 3). Via these funeral announcements, the makeup of the main foreign-staffed Shia militia in Syria, namely Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), was shown to be from AAH. AAH did little to hide their involvement regarding their sending of fighters to Syria. Large public funerals have been held in Iraq since the spring of 2013 and numerous AAH propaganda posters featuring their involvement in Syria have been released.

Albeit, it was a rarity for groups like LAFA to make an official written statement over social media or on forums stating AAH was a supplier. Instead, the inference AAH was supplying fighters to the group could be made by looking at the AAH imagery for their dead, which was then reposted by LAFA.

However, starting at the end of May, 2013 a number of videos (posted to YouTube) explicitly claimed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s fighters were in Syria. This differed from the more typical rolling of AAH personnel into the ranks of LAFA or other militias. While these videos were sporadic, they were the first piece of a trend which would culminate in the announcement of a unique organizational name for AAH’s force deployment in Syria.

The major shift in addressing AAH’s involvement in the war in Syria took place in July. Instead of claiming AAH members were part of other Shia militia groups, AAH decided to announce the presence of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq-Liwa’a Kafeel Zaynab (AAH-LKZ or League of the Righteous-Supporters [or Sponsors] of Zaynab Brigade). The group is not a “New militia”. Instead, AAH-LKZ is a name for the group of AAH personnel who are in Syria. In some ways, it is comparable to how some militaries have fielded expeditionary forces.

As soon as the AAH-LKZ was announced on Facebook, the group also released a number of films on an official YouTube page. AAH-LKZ’s Facebook page also has (since the last count on August 13, 2013) three mirror sites. This is likely due to the fact that many Hizballah and Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas Facebook pages have been banned by the website.

AAH-LKZ has been quite prolific in their postings of unique photographs showing the group’s operations in Syria. In some cases, the main page (which has around 33,000 members) has posted five unique photographs in one day. Compared to other Shia militia Facebook pages, such a release of original images is quite uncommon.

Primarily, AAH-LKZ’s military maneuvers utilizing snipers and machine-gun teams are showcased. Additionally, their use of mortars, rockets, and possibly armored vehicles has also been featured. Photos of the group’s martyrs are also posted on the page.

AAH-LKZ has also posted a number of propaganda videos on an official YouTube station. Many of the videos mock Syrian rebels, showing mishaps the rebels have had with their weapons or rebels being successfully attacked. In a surreal twist, AAH-LKZ starts all of their officially released videos with a clip the group’s video editor(s) cut from the Mel Brooks’ 1987 comedy, Spaceballs.[5]

AAH-LKZ’s Imagery & Videos From the Battlefield

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Figure 3: AAH-LKZ members pose with a mixture of Kalashnikov-type rifles, Dragunov-type sniper rifle, an RPG-7, and a PKM machine gun.

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Figure 4: AAH-LKZ members pose with a mixture of Kalashnikov-type rifles, Dragunov-type sniper rifle, RPG-7s, and a PKM machine gun.

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Figure 5: An AAH-LKZ fighter stands with the Saydah Zaynab Shrine in the background.

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Figure 6: A shot of AAH-LKZ fighters celebrating in a Syrian street.

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Figure 7: An edited photo of AAH-LKZ members talking.

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Figure 8: An AAH-LKZ member loads what appears to be a Chinese-made Type 63 107 mm rocket launcher.

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Figure 9: In AAH-LKZ photographic and video propaganda, pickup trucks feature prominently as a tool used to transport their fighters.

In the video clip, AAH-LKZ members are shown playing a popular militant Iraqi Shia song, “Support Those Who Defend Zaynab” by Ali al-Delfi and Ahmed al-Sa’adi. In fact, most AAH-LKZ video clips are set to songs which can be found on this Hizballah Cavalcade post dealing with militant Shia Iraqi music made for/to praise Shia fighters in Syria.

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Figure 10: AAH-LKZ members sitting in front of a checkpoint with posters of former Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

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Figure 11: An AAH-LKZ fighter sights a mortar.

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Figure 12: An AAH-LKZ fighter holding a PKM machine gun is shown in a rural setting with two other AAH-LKZ fighters.

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Figure 13: An AAH-LKZ militiaman poses inside a tank turret.

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Figure 14: AAH-LKZ members stand atop a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle.

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Figure 15: A photo from a pro-AAH Facebook claiming to show members of “Liwa’a Kafeel Zaynab”.

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Figure 16: An AAH-LKZ member poses with a destroyed technical belonging to a faction of the Free Syrian Army. The AAH-LKZ member shown was reported killed in Syrian fighting by AAH.

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Figure 17: Photographs and videos of AAH-LKZ’s snipers are a regular addition to the group’s social media pages.

AAH-LKZ’s Go-To Martyrs

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Figure 18: AAH-LKZ’s Karar is shown holding a Dragunov-type sniper rifle in a propaganda poster for Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas.

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Figure 19: A photo of Karar’s funeral and a shot of him during deployment to Syria. The photo was posted on AAH-LKZ’s official Facebook page.

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Figure 20: A photo showing Karar’s membership in Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq from his official Facebook martyrdom page.

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Figure 21: The original LAFA photo for Karar napping (right) with the copy re-released by AAH-LKZ (left).

Karar Abed al-Amir Fatlawi Abu Assad (A.K.A. Karar Fatlawi and Karar Abed al-Amir Aziz Abu Assad)—often simply referred to as just Karar—has been a main face highlighted by AAH-LKZ as an example of a brave martyr. Earlier in 2013 (April-May), he was featured prominently in many Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas photo-releases on their official and unofficial social media pages. Additionally, AAH did not disguise his membership with the group when martyrdom posters were produced for and after his funeral. In fact, Karar was featured in one of the first Hizballah Cavalcade posts. In the post it was noted that, “Karar has one of the best developed narratives of any of the Iraqis killed. His story comes complete with numerous photos, a Facebook page, and supposed videos of him engaged in fighting.” AAH-LKZ has simply repackaged available imagery of Karar and is currently using his image as a way to promote the group’s struggle in Syria.

Karar is not alone with being featured in AAH martyr propaganda. Salem al-Ghanami, another AAH-LKZ fighter who was killed in Syria, has become another symbol of AAH-LKZ martyrdom in Syria. On July 25th, AAH-LKZ established an official Facebook martyrdom page for al-Ghanami with unique images of the fighter. Some of these photos showed him in civilian dress, riding horses, and generally pushed the theme that he was like most average young men.

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Figure 22: Ghanami’s tombstone.

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Figure 23: Ghanami is shown with another AAH-LKZ fighter. He is dressed in modern digitized camouflage.

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Figure 24: Ghanami is featured in another official AAH-LKZ photo.

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Figure 25: Ghanami is pictured riding a horse in an officially released photo.

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Figure 26: The banner photo for Ghanami’s official Facebook page. The Saydah Zaynab Shrine is pictured on the left.

AAH, Hizballah, & The Syrian Army

Since the establishment of LAFA, the group’s constituent elements have included fighters from Lebanese Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Based on this data, it was clear the two groups were cooperating with one another under a united front inside Syria. Following the announcement of AAH-LKZ, the organization has released videos which the group claims show their members and Lebanese Hizballah fighting side by side. Since Lebanese Hizballah played an integral role in creating AAH-LKZ’s parent organization, it should come as little surprise that there is continued cooperation in Syria.

Since the first announcement of LAFA being involved in the fighting in Syria, their own propaganda had shown their fighters were working in close concert with Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA). This has also become a regular theme with AAH-LKZ. At times it has included videos and photographs of the group offering infantry support to armored vehicles.

One video claims to have been filmed following the “Liberation of Damascus Airport”, which may reference a small counteroffensive launched by Assad’s forces in the late winter of 2012-early 2013. The video also claims that Lebanese Hizballah members and AAH-LKZ were present. The clip also shows Karar Abed al-Amir Fatlawi Abu Assad as being present. In another video, AAH members are shown offering infantry support to SAA armored units.

This film purports to show Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq fighters with Syrian army armored support. The video also was reported to have taken place in the vicinity of the neighborhood around the Saydah Zaynab Shrine.

Tabatabai Visits the Troops

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Figure 27: Tabatabai is shown in this AAH-LKZ propaganda photo visiting the group’s men in Syria.

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Figure 28: Tabatabai (in the black turban) is pictured with AAH-LKZ members in Syria.

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Figure 29: Tabatabai is shown with AAH-LKZ fighters and bodyguards touring the neighborhood around the Saydah Zaynab Shrine.

Muhammad al-Tabatabai, a former Sadrist leader, and a founder AHH, was recorded visiting AAH-LKZ fighters in Syria.[6] Tabatabai has also been described as “part of AAH’s core leadership”. [7] His visit helps demonstrate the importance of AHH forces in Syria. Films of his meetings with AAH militiamen in Syria were released in mid-July (July 18th). During his visit to Syria, Tabatabai was also shown with wounded AAH members and greeting other AAH personnel.


[1] Sam Wyer, “The Resurgence of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq”, Institute for the Study of War, Middle East Security Report 7, December 2012, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ResurgenceofAAH.pdf.

[5] See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UunQXXxAWY and “Have a nice day”.

[7] Sam Wyer, The Resurgence of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Istitute for the Study of War, Middle East Security Report 7, December 2012, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/ResurgenceofAAH.pdf.

NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.

Iran’s Losses In the “35th Province” (Syria), Part 1

By Phillip Smyth

Click here for a PDF version of this post

“Syria is…[Iran’s] 35th province and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to take either Syria or Khuzestan, the priority for us is to keep Syria…If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too, but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.” –Mehdi Taeb, a high-level Iranian cleric speaking to to Iran’s Basij (paramilitary group attached to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), February, 2013.[1]

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Iran’s (Iraqi and Lebanese) Shia proxies are not the only groups losing members due to their involvement in combat in Syria. Iran is actively contributing infantry personnel to bolster regime of Bashar al-Assad. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Quds Force (IRGC-QF); Iran’s long-arm used to create, command, bolster Tehran’s proxies, and execute attacks overseas, has been rather active in Syria.[2] Their movements have not simply been limited to acting as behind-the-scenes guides for proxy or Assad’s forces. In fact, the IRGC-QF has engaged in combat and taken a number of casualties and their losses are becoming increasingly more public.

Back in August, 2012, 48 Iranian “Pilgrims” were kidnapped by Syrian rebels, when they were heading to the Saydah Zaynab Shrine.[3] Rebel forces accused these men of all being IRGC fighters.[4] It was later reported by the Iranians that the group included “Retired” IRGC members.[5] Rebels have also accused the IRGC of acting as commanders for Lebanese Hizballah’s May, 2013 offensive in Qusayr.[6]

Following Lebanese Hizballah’s official May recognition of their full-involvement in Syria, it would appear that Iran is not only becoming more open about their involvement, but also utilizing many of the same narrative points first honed by its regional Shia proxies.

February, 2013, witnessed the loss and public funeral of a senior IRGC-QF commander in Syria. It was claimed by Tehran he was simply working on “Reconstruction projects” in war torn Aleppo. Even with such a high-profile death, little additional information was offered by Iran regarding their activities in Syria.

However, In June, three IRGC members were claimed by Iranian sources to have been killed while operating around Damascus’s Saydah Zaynab Shrine. Proclaiming IRGC members have been killed defending the shrine recycles the exact narrative Lebanese Hizballah and other Iraqi Shia groups have been utilizing for many months. This line also demonstrates that Tehran has become more comfortable with using sectarian-based messaging to convey why it is willing to lose men in the Syrian war.

Based on the released data regarding killed IRGC-QF members, it is likely that Summer-Fall 2013 may witness several more announcements and public funerals.

As opposed to previous Hizballah Cavalcade posts, this post did not rely on the monitoring of social media, forums, or other sources. Instead, announcements of death and photographs were taken from official and officially approved Iranian sources.

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Name: General Hassan Shateri (A.K.A. Hossam Khoshnevis)

Death Announced: February 13, 2013. It was claimed by Iranian media that Shateri was killed in Syria on February 12, 2013. His funeral was held on February 15, 2013.

Notes: Shateri was a high-level IRGC-QF leader and the highest ranking Iranian killed in Syria. His work with Lebanese Hizballah (and possibly other Iranian-backed organizations in Iraq) was of great importance to the Iranians.[7] This connection was displayed openly at his funeral with funeral-goers waving Lebanese Hizballah flags and placing a Lebanese Hizballah flag on his casket.

Iran’s English-language PressTV reported that Shateri was killed, “by unknown gunmen as he was traveling by road from Syria to Lebanon.” Iran also blamed “Suspected Israeli agents” for Shateri’s death.[8]

Mashregh News posted a number of photos showing Shateri going about his duties in Lebanon (one is reposted here).[9] In Iranian media, the narrative used to explain Shateri’s tasks in Lebanon and Syria was that he was an overseer for the reconstruction of south Lebanon (from damage suffered during the 2006 Hizballah-Israel War). Additionally, Iranian-government-backed Fars News Agency described Shateri’s presence in Syria as the result of, “Reconstruction and development projects” he was working on in Aleppo.[10]

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Name: Lt. Colonel Amir Reza Alizadeh

Death Announced: May 4, 2013 (It was announced Alizadeh was killed in Syria on May 1, 2013).

Notes: Iranian reports claimed Alizadeh was killed by an explosion which occurred outside of the Iranian embassy in Damascus. The bombing, according to Iranian state media, was orchestrated by, “Wahhabi terrorists”.[11]  Alizadeh’s funeral was held in Rudsar, Iran.[12]

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Name: Mehdi Khorasani

Death Announced: June 10, 2013

Notes: Since Shanaei and Khorasani had a shared funeral service, photos for both are located after the entry for Shanaei. Iran’s Damghan News published a full album of funeral photographs. However, the link did not work two days after the photos were posted. Shanaei and Khorashani were pictured together holding AK-47 type rifles in front of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine. Their funeral was the first group funeral (for two or more killed) held in Iran for personnel killed in Syria.

Name: Ali Asqar Shanaei

Death Announced: June 10, 2013

Notes: Shanaei and Khorashani were pictured together holding AK-47 type rifles in front of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine. Their funeral was the first group funeral (for two or more killed) held in Iran for personnel killed in Syria.

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Name: Muhammed Husayn Atareh

Death Announced: June 10, 2013

Notes: Atareh’s casket included numerous IRGC symbols. It was also claimed that Atareh was killed in fighting around the Saydah Zaynab Shrine.

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Name: Amir Kazem Zaydeh

Death Announced: June 9, 2013

Notes: Iran’s Mashregh News claimed Zaydeh was killed by a bomb during “Clashes with terrorists”.[13]

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[6] See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C03FDXqkOkI. Reportedly, this is an intercepted radio transmission.