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

 

The Big Picture Behind Kata’ib Hizballah’s Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Threats

By Phillip Smyth

First appearing on March 15, 2014 and posted to social media accounts linked to Kata’ib Hizballah (these included simultaneous posts on Facebook and Youtube)1, a video showing what appeared to be SA-7-type and SA-18-type Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS) was shown in the hands of Kata’ib Hizballah militiamen.

Interestingly, sections of one of the MANPADS serial numbers were also exposed in the video clip. It is possible the missile systems were not SA-7 and SA-18s, but might actually be an Iranian produced Misagh-type or Chinese produced QW-1-type MANPAD.2 This would not be the first time Kata’ib Hizballah has shown off a MANPAD capability. In 2010, the group released a video showing it possibly launching a QW-1-type missile system.

Technical details on what type of missile system was deployed aside, the video serves as a cap on a developing narrative line which has been promoted by Iran’s Shia militia proxies and via some Tehran’s own media organs.

Claims emanating from Iranian and their other proxy Shia militias have stated that the U.S. and other Coalition allies have supplied the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) via aerial deliveries. This was particularly the case in the month of February, during the run-up to the predominantly Shia militia push on Tikrit.3

As early as February 7, 2015, Kata’ib Hizballah statements were repeated in Iranian media. One report claimed the group had confirmed the U.S. was supplying ISIS via helicopter.4 Other accusations by Kata’ib Hizballah of U.S. supplies being routed to ISIS were continued. On February 20, a flurry of stories hit the media. Al-Etejah TV published a report that alleged that U.S. helicopter landed near the home of Sheikh Qasim al-Janabi.5 Janabi, a moderate Sunni tribal leader who worked with the Iraqi government was kidnapped and assassinated in Baghdad on February 14th.6 Janabi’s son and other moderate Sunni parliamentarians blamed Shia militias for his kidnapping and murder.7 Also on the 20th, Al-Etejah published a story citing representatives in Babil who claimed U.S. aircraft were dropping supplies to ISIS.8 Other outlets also published that Kata’ib Hizballah had threatened to deploy anti-aircraft missile systems in the wake of these claims that the U.S. was supplying ISIS.9

Three days later, the Badr Organization-linked Al Ghadeer TV reported that forces of the Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization, a term used to describe the umbrella grouping of numerous Iranian-backed and other local Shia militia forces) claimed to have recorded landings in Babil Province.10 This also coincided with even more baseless claims distributed via the IRGC-linked Fars News that two British planes had been “shot down” while carrying weapons to ISIS.11

These types of accusations continued, and on March 5, 2015, the head of the Badr Organization’s parliamentary bloc, Qasim Muhammed Jalal Hussein Al-Araji,12 stated that the group had documents proving the U.S. was aiding ISIS.13 In an article published a day after the Kata’ib Hizballah video release, Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba leader, Akram Ka’abi threatened U.S.-led Coalition aircraft. In the interview he stated, “Our air defenses are ready to target their planes, which are helping IS by giving them weapons and ammunition.”14

What Does It All Mean?

Needless to say, an active campaign by Kata’ib Hizballah and other Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia/jihadist organizations has been aimed at the U.S. and other Coalition allies (namely, the U.K.). The display of MANPAD systems underlines what likely appears to be messaging aimed at reducing the Coalition’s willingness to undertake further anti-ISIS air operations. In turn, if the threats succeed in that goal, it would grant more responsibility and control for Iran and its proxies on the battlefields of Iraq.

Another, more ideologically based goal is also included within these threats. The claim that the U.S. and other Western entities have supported radical Sunni extremist groups is a theme well honed by Iran and its proxies since the U.S. occupied Iraq (2003-2011) and in the war in Syria.15 The further push for these lines demonstrates another longer-term type of goal, even if it is only marginally effective, to alter the narrative and build broader distrust for the U.S. and other Western states.

1 Kata’ib Hizballah, an Iraq-based, direct Iranian proxy, was registered by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2009: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/july/125582.htm.

2 See: http://blogs-cdn.fas.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/The_MANPADS_Threat.pdf.

Note: Adam Rawnsley published a very comprehensive analysis of Kata’ib Hizballah’s MANPAD capabilities: https://medium.com/war-is-boring/iran-backed-terror-group-parades-new-anti-aircraft-missiles-in-iraq-ca0204079eb0 in the piece, Rawnsley assessed that one of the missile systems shown was a Chinese QW-1M.

3 See: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-iraq-iran-shiite-militias-tikrit-questions-about-mosul/.

4 See: http://www.alalam.ir/news/1674215.

5 See: http://aletejahtv.org/index.php/permalink/47550.html.

6 See: http://www.wsj.com/articles/leading-iraqi-sunni-tribal-sheik-killed-1423951260.

7 Note: It is possible that Kata’ib Hizballah was attempting to craft another anti-U.S. conspiracy theory (or theories) with the inclusion Janabi in their reportage.

See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/sunni-parties-consider-leaving-iraqi-parliament-after-slaying-of-sheik/2015/02/14/7e164a8c-b463-11e4-bf39-5560f3918d4b_story.html.

8 See: http://aletejahtv.org/index.php/permalink/47558.html.

9 See: http://www.alsumaria.tv/news/125515/كتائب-حزب-الله-سننشر-صواريخ-مضادة-للطائر/ar.

10 See: http://alghadeer.tv/news/detail/23789/.

11 See: http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13931204001534.

12 See: http://www.iraqiparliament.info/en/node/673.

13 See: http://almasalah.com/ar/news/48777/%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%B1–%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%AB%D8%A8%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%83%D8%A7-%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4.

14 See: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/03/iraq-shiite-hezbollah-nujaba-victory-islamic-state.html#.

15 In my monograph, “The Shiite Jihad In Syria and Its Regional Effects,” I outlined the ideological roots for claiming that Western states backed ISIS and other radical Sunni extremist elements. See: http://bit.ly/ShiiteJihadPDF. See the section marked, “Takfiris: A Perfect Enemy.”

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

 

The Shia Militant Response to Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr’s Death Sentence

By Phillip Smyth

Nimr al-Nimr

Ayatollah Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, an outspoken radical Saudi Arabian Shia cleric, has been the center of controversy and brewing conflict between Shia protesters, militant Shia groups of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and their respective Sunni governments. According to a 2012 article by Toby Matthiesen, al-Nimr was, “long a peripheral figure in the local Shia power struggle but now seems to have become the most popular Saudi Shia cleric among local youth.”1 His cause and image is spreading across the Middle East as the latest example of Sunni oppression of Shia in the region and his recent death sentence has become a potent rallying cry for regional Shia militant organizations, particularly those with links to Iran.

Arrested in 2012, Nimr was accused by the Saudi government’s Special Criminal Court of making sectarian statements to cause strife, inviting foreign intervention (shorthand for Iranian influence), and disobeying the king. Following his 2012 arrest, thousands took to the streets and Saudi police shot and killed two protesters.2 In mid-October 2014, Nimr was sentenced to be “crucified”, a process where the sheikh will be beheaded and his body displayed.3

Protests in Saudi began in early 2011 and in part addressed anti-Shia discrimination suffered by the group in the Shia majority area in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province; primarily zones around the Shia-majority towns and villages near the city of Qatif.4 Following the 2011 Saudi intervention in Bahrain, protests against the Saudi government increased in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia among Shia protesters.5 Following the 2011-2012 protests, links between Bahrain’s and Saudi Arabia’s protest movement spilled over into the more militant circles which actively promoted Nimr’s defiant stance and a hope to combine their fronts against common foes.

Of further interest are Nimr’s own ideological leanings and how they may relate to Shia militant responses. In Frederic Wehrey’s Sectarian Politics in the Gulf, the sheikh is described as a follower of the late Ayatollah Muhammad al-Shirazi.6 Shirazi was one of the founders of a radical Shia political school of thought referred to as the “Shiraziyya.” Shiraziyya clerics have been some of the most influential in the Arab Shia world. Initially al-Shirazi agreed with the Islamic revolutionary ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini, only to split from Khomeini over issues regarding how the new Islamic state (in Iran post 1979 revolution) should be led.7 In one BBC Arabic report, Nimr had been accused by Riyadh of attempting to spread Wilayat al-Faqih.8 Absolute Wilayat al-Faqih is the Khomeinist concept that serves as the basis for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nevertheless, it was not clarified whether this was the type of Wilayat al-Faqih Nimr was accused of propagating.

Despite the history of strife between Shirazi’s school of thought and that of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, al-Nimr appeared to increase public support for Tehran and send other more mixed messages. In 2008, he had also reportedly stated he supported Iran’s nuclear program by saying any attack against it should be met by a response from the Islamic world. That same year, he also said that Saudi Shia may need to call on foreign support (implying Iran) to help press their issues in Saudi Arabia.9 Later in 2009, Nimr reportedly called for secession, stating during a sermon, “Our dignity is more precious than the unity of this land.”10 His statement came as a response to discrimination against Shia in the kingdom and reflected possible repercussions if certain demands made by Shia protesters were not addressed.

Since 2013, in a piecemeal fashion, social media accounts associated with Iranian proxy groups in Iraq have promoted the images and other supportive statements for Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr.11 While this does not necessitate that Nimr is a true ally or proxy of Tehran, his message and influence is likely seen by Iran as a cause to be promoted in that country’s wider struggle for the leadership of Shia Islam and as a counter to Saudi Arabia.

Nimr’s deep links and strong voice within the Saudi Shia community, particularly among youthful radicals and other more non-violent protestors, has led to Shia militant groups championing his cause from Bahrain and Iraq. Even in Yemen, Shia supporters of Ansar Allah, more commonly known as the Houthis, even launched demonstrations for the jailed cleric.12 Some Bahraini militant groups, which view the struggle of their coreligionists in a geographically close region of Saudi Arabia, as part and parcel to their conflict with the Khalifa monarchy and their Saudi government supporters. Additionally, powerful Iranian proxy groups based in Iraq—which have also maintained anti-Saudi and anti-Bahraini government narratives—have taken to issuing stern threats against Riyadh for his sentence.

The Violent Replies From Saudi Arabia’s and Bahrain’s Militants

Bahraini militant groups demonstrated the most concerted effort in terms of orchestrating violent retorts to Nimr’s jailing and sentence. While other threats and attacks were conducted since the start of 2014, this piece will focus on more recent threats and attacks beginning in the summer of 2014.

Bahrain’s Saraya al-Mukhtar (SaM), a group which once said the Saudi Shia of the Qatif and the Shia of Bahrain constituted one people with common foes, launched the most attacks over the longest period specifically addressing Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr’s arrest, trial, and death sentence.

Starting in August, SaM attacked an electricity tower in Ar-Rifā near a Bahraini military base. The group filmed the attack and stated it had been a warning related to the imprisonment and trial of Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr. Around the same time, SaM also began an online countdown for the Nimr verdict and increased their threats against Saudi Arabia. The group also ratcheted up it’s pro-Nimr messaging with the release of numerous images.

This messaging coincided with Saraya al-Mukhtar making its first direct threat against U.S. military personnel in Bahrain on August 11. Through an image posted to Facebook, SaM stated that, “The American cover on al-Saud and Al_Khalifa crimes,,Marines in bahrain will pay the price. [sic]” The message essentially claimed that the U.S. was the real backer for the Khalifa and Saud monarchies. As a result, they bore equal responsibility and could be targeted.

Nimr al-Nimr2

Figure 1: Saraya al-Mukhtar’s anti-American message posted on August 11, 2014.

Nimr al-Nimr3

Figure 2: A Saraya al-Mukhtar photo for Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr posted on August 8, 2014. The poster reads: “Sheikh Nimr[‘s trial and poor treatment] will make us put all options on the table.”

Nimr al-Nimr4

 

Figure 3: A Saraya al-Mukhtar photo posted on August 10, 2014. This poster reads: [in the red box] “A warning from Saraya al-Mukhtar to the mafia of the Sauds [in white text] Harming Sheikh Nimr will make us put all options [on the table]. Harming the Faqih Nimr means every single Saudi national will enter our country in a coffin.”

Nimr al-Nimr5

 

Figure 4: A Saraya al-Mukhtar photo for Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr posted on August 11, 2014. The poster reads: “Do not hesitate, Do not underestimate, No red lines.. after [the] discrimination [against] the Faqih al-Nimr.”

On September 16, SaM announced it had planted 6 explosive devices in retaliation for al-Nimr’s incarceration. Albeit, these bombs did not target U.S. interests and there was little confirmation as to whether any devices were actually planted.

Nimr al-Nimr6

Figure 5: Saraya al-Mukhtar’s September 16 claim to have planted 6 bombs.

Nimr al-Nimr7

Figure 6: Saraya al-Mukhtar’s claim of 2 attacks on October 18, 2014.

Then on October 9, SaM claimed to conduct an attack in the town of Karana, Bahrain utilizing an improvised firearm. SaM’s claim of responsibility stated they attacked, “herds of mercenaries” (shorthand for Bahraini police and other security entities). On October 15, SaM claimed to have launched attacks in Sanabis and Aker, Bahrain targeting “mercenaries”. In another statement from that day, the group threatened, “The occupying mafia of al-Saud and al-Khalifa [would face]…consequences for the death sentence.” Later, on October 18, SaM claimed two attacks, referring to them as “Revenge of the Faqih [an expert in Islamic jurisprudence] Nimr.” SaM’s statement declared that it had injured “ranks of the enemy occupier.”

Nimr al-Nimr8

Figure 7: SMS’s claim of attack in honor of Sheikh Nimr.

Bahraini militant group, Saraya al-Muqawama al-Sha’biya (SMS), also claimed an attack against targets in honor of al-Nimr. On October 16 (albeit, the official statement says October 17), SMS referred to an attack as the, “Nimr 1 Operations .” During the “Nimr 1” attacks, SMS stated they had targeted communications towers and an ATM.

In Saudi Arabia, resistance to the verdict and Nimr’s imprisonment took on an approach of sporadic attacks against police checkpoints. While claims of responsibility for the attacks were rarely issued, they were often launched after demonstrators protesting Nimr’s imprisonment were subject to Saudi crackdowns (some violent). In fact, one late September attack occurred in Nimr’s hometown of al-Awamiyah.13

It would appear that attacks in Bahrain and possibly in Saudi Arabia’s Shia populated areas will increase. While often small scale and non-deadly in nature, there is the potential any upsurge in attacks could cause further unrest. Bahraini militants have already committed to “responding” to Nimr’s imprisonment and sentence.

Iraqi Shia Militias Issue Threats

Nimr al-Nimr9

Figure 8: A photo circulated on some Iraqi Shia militia accounts. The picture combines the photos of Ayatollah al-Nimr (left), the logo for Kata’ib Hizballah (center), and Saudi rulers, including King Abdullah (bottom right).

Two of Iran’s many active Shia militia proxies in Iraq, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) and Kata’ib Hizballah, released anti-Saudi threats in response to Nimr’s sentence on October 15, 2014 and October 17, 2014, respectively. Kata’ib Hizballah, a U.S. State Department foreign terrorist organization, has had a long history of issuing threats against Sunni Gulf states and even launched a series of attacks against occupying U.S. forces in Iraq to show solidarity with Bahraini protesters. KSS’s social media had also praised Saraya al-Mukhtar’s attacks in Bahrain.14 One of Iran’s other main Iraqi Shia proxies, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, utilized their political branch, the Sadiqoun Bloc (Kutla al-Sadiqoun) to express their own threats against Riyadh. MP Hasan Salem of the Sadiqoun Bloc said there would be “consequences” for Saudi Arabia after the verdict.15

Intriguingly, SaM’s claims that America bore responsibility for the actions of the Saudi and Bahraini governments were also echoed in Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s released statement. KSS claimed that it was the U.S. which was behind terrorist attacks in Iraq and that along with Sheikh Nimr’s sentence, was the culmination of a wider conspiracy to pressure the Shia.

Another less well-known organization, Kata’ib Hizballah-Al-Mujahidoun, (not to be confused with Kata’ib Hizballah), offered other direct threats. Iraq’s Al-Masalah News claimed that Kata’ib Hizballah-Al-Mujahidoun was holding three Saudi hostages which the group threatened to execute if the Saudis executed al-Nimr.16 The Secretary General of Kata’ib Hizballah-Al-Mujahidoun, Sheikh Abbas al-Muhamidawi, also threatened his group would kill any Saudi the group detains or captures and also promised that “the Kata’ib Hizballah in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen will have a response which they will not expect.”17 It is important to remember that al-Muhamidawi has offered other incendiary comments in the past. In December 2012, he announced that Kurds should be removed from southern Iraq.18 In July 2014, Muhamidawi also threatened Saudi Arabia with rocket attacks and that the Iraqi government should close the U.S. and Turkish embassies in Iraq.19

With threats coming from main and lesser known Shia jihadist elements, there is the potential for increased violence against Saudi and/or Bahraini interests in Iraq.

Translation of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s October 15, 2014 Statement20:

Nimr al-Nimr10

 

Figure 9: The original KSS statement about the group’s reaction to the execution ruling for Ayatollah al-Nimr.

At a time [when] the forces of evil are pouring [down] on our country, [and] in the time of international conspiracies which are being led by the world’s imperialist powers, primarily al-Shaytan al-Akbar (The Great Satan) America, which want to destroy the land of holy shrines, at this time comes the verdict against Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in one of the Saudi courts. This verdict comes in line with the thinking of this sectarian kingdom called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Resistance of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada condemns this unfair verdict, which proves how deep the sectarian crisis [is and] that the al-Saud regime is filled with hatred against Ahlul al-Bayt (People of the House of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad). Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada calls on the Iraqi government to take responsibility and sever all ties with the Wahhabist Kingdom of Evil [Saudi Arabia].

Also on this occasion, if these [Saudi] authorities do not reconsider this appalling execution verdict, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada announces that they will be targeting every single Saudi establishment (infrastructure and human), and they will not spare any effort in burning and destroying everything that is related to this oppressive tyranny. Also Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada will also mention that the people of Ahlul al-Bayt are in a state of being besieged and are under pressure. The last of this pressure were the attacks of terrorists and the role of the Shaytan al-Akbar in it. Additionally, the media fear mongering about the size of ISIS gangs and the [media] attempts to make it look as if the dear capital Baghdad is about to fall [added to this pressure].

Translation of Kata’ib Hizballah’s October 17, 2014 Statement21:

Nimr al-Nimr11

 

Figure 10: Kata’ib Hizballah’s original statement following Ayatollah al-Nimr’s sentence of execution.

[This is] another time the rulers of al-Saud are expressing their lack of care for all of the legitimate and humanitarian values by issuing an unfair verdict to execute the Mujahid Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. [This verdict] aims to silence the mouths and terrorize the ones who exposed their unfair practices as well as the ones who demand basic rights for the people of Nejd and al-Hijaz.

At [this] time we denounce the silence of Western governments that pretend to be defending human rights and guarantee the freedom of expression, yet do not exercise pressure on any of its agents “the oil sheikhs” to have them stop the annihilation campaigns against persecuted people. We also warn the governing family in Nejd and Hijaz that harming Sheikh Nimr will mean the launch of revenge and punishment operations [by Kata’ib Hizballah] and these operations will target members of the ruling family. They will get their punishment when they least expect it and their palaces and fortified walls will not protect them. Let them ask their masters [the West] and slaves [regional proxies] about how truthful we are as we are the sons of Ali and Husayn and that is pride enough.

NOTES:
_____________

1 See: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/23/saudi-arabia-shia-protesters.

2 See: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/11/saudi-funeral-al-felfel-idINDEE86A06020120711.

3 See: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29627766 and http://www.voanews.com/content/death-sentence-for-saudi-cleric-sparks-protests/2487771.html.

4 See: http://www.npr.org/2013/03/23/175051345/in-saudi-arabia-shiite-muslims-challenge-ban-on-protests.

5 See: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-16/saudi-arabia-demonstrators-hold-rallies-in-al-qatif-awwamiya.html.

6 Frederic M. Wehrey, Sectarian Politics in the Gulf From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), P. 118.

7 Khomeini supported a concept of rule that created the position of an absolutist Supreme Leader whereas Shirazi supported a council of clerics to rule. See: Toby Jones, “Saudi Arabia,” in Assaf Moghadam (ed.), Militancy and Political Violence in Shiism: Trends and Patterns, (New York: Routledge, 2012), Pp. 139-144.

8See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arabic/interactivity/2014/10/141016_comments_saudi_nimer.

9 Frederic M. Wehrey, Sectarian Politics in the Gulf From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013) P. 118.

10 See: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/1/saudi-government-cracks-down-on-shiite-dissiden-1/.

11 Personal observations. This is particularly the case on accounts linked to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, and Kata’ib Hizballah. Though, accounts promoting Lebanese Hizballah have rarely featured Nimr’s image.

12 See: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/10/18/uk-yemen-crisis-saudi-idUKKCN0I706H20141018.

13 See: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-arabia-1295961083.

14 See: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1486659381565338&id=1425347187696558.

15 See: http://alghadpress.com/ar/news/21989/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%82%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AD%D9%83%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A8%D8%AD%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%8A%D8%AE.

16 See: http://almasalah.com/ar/NewsDetails.aspx?NewsID=39853.

17 See: http://www.alsumaria.tv/news/113521/%D8%AD%D8%B2%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%AC%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D8%AF-%D8%A8%D8%A5%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7/ar.

18 See: http://www.dw.de/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%A9-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%B7%D9%87%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D9%82%D9%8A-%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%B6%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9/a-15875782.

19 See: http://www.alnahar-news.com/index.php?news=3530.

20 Note: Translation has been slightly cleaned-up so it can be more easily read by English speakers.

21 Note: Translation has been slightly cleaned-up so it can be more easily read by English speakers.

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

Is This Iran IRGC martyr5

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.

Is This Iran IRGC martyr2

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).

Is This Iran IRGC martyr4

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.

Is This Iran IRGC martyr

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.”

Is This Iran IRGC martyr3

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

_________

NOTES:

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

Saraya al-Dafa’ al-Sha’bi: Kata’ib Hizballah’s New Force in Iraq

By Phillip Smyth

Saraya al Dafa al-Shabi

Figure 1: Saraya al-Dafa’ al-Sha’bi’s logo.

Prompted by the launch of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s offensive against Iraqi Sunni elements, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and groups affiliated with Al-Qa’ida, Iraqi Shi’a Islamist groups loyal to Iran marched in near lock-step announcing support for the offensive. However, fighting has been hard and there has been a greater combat presence for Iranian-backed Shia Islamist forces within Iraq. These deployments are a further manifestation of what has become a growing and often unified front pitting Sunni Islamists against Shia Islamist forces in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.

Starting in late-April 2014, Kata’ib Hizballah one of Iraq’s premier “Special Groups” which had battled coalition forces during the Iraq War (2003) and is presently deploying forces in Syria, announced a new recruitment program and deployment of forces under the moniker of Saraya al-Dafa’ al-Sha’bi (the Popular Defense Brigades or SDS). According to the Herak Network, the new organization called for volunteers and generally outlined SDS’s role as defensive and organized around a popular committee type format.1 However, other announcements have established that SDS has been used in a support role for Iraqi military and police units.

Kata’ib Hizballah is one of the more secretive Iranian-backed organizations in Iraq and fields highly experienced personnel. In 2010, Dr. Michael Knights noted, Kata’ib Hizballah was a “compact movement of less than 400 personnel that is firmly under IRGC Qods Force control and maintains relatively good operational security.”2 Since the U.S. pullout from Iraq, the group has expanded and sent a number of its experienced fighters to Syria. The group has publically claimed to have lost more than 30 members since it started reporting losses of its members in Syria in early 2013.3 The group has remained as one of the more covert organizations operating in Syria and Iraq. When compared to newer Iraq-based Iranian-backed organizations fighting in Syria and Iraq, little is known via open source information about Kata’ib Hizballah’s deployments and force size.

Deploying Kata’ib Hizballah’s Newest Creation

In keeping with Kata’ib Hizballah’s higher-level of operational security, there has been a limited amount of information released about SDS. Despite the general levels of secrecy Kata’ib Hizballah has increased their online messaging targeting potential recruits. In one April video, which was released before the announcement of SDS’s existence, Kata’ib Hizballah released a well-produced music video defining themselves as defenders of Iraq. The video wrapped together the sacrifices the group made in Syria to their attacks against Coalition forces in Iraq.

Formally, the group was created as a vehicle to “defend Iraq” and certain neighborhoods. The group’s name suggests a defensive popular committee style role. However, it is clear SDS was created as part of Kata’ib Hizballah’s hope to establish a broader force within Iraq, which could be used to support the Maliki offensive and other operations currently being undertaken within Iraq.

Interestingly, Kata’ib Hizballah’s recruitment efforts for SDS have included a public call, including a somewhat restrained internet-based effort, to push the SDS name and gain fresh recruits for the organization. Yet, unlike their earlier promotions of the conflict in Syria, images of SDS units in combat or of Kata’ib Hizballah members operating in Iraq were not circulated.

It is unknown what training regimens new recruits would have undergone or what types of equipment they may have been issued. However, due to SDS’s newer presence and claims of already being deployed in certain Iraqi hotspots, it’s highly possible the group has been issued weapons systems similar to other Kata’ib Hizballah units fighting in Iraq.

While there is the possibility that a number of new recruits may have been trained and sent to fight within Iraq, it is likely the group is still comprised of mostly regular Kata’ib Hizballah members. It is also probable that as the group expands, its organizational structure will be modeled on how new groups were created and grown in Syria: First a core force of experienced combatants will be deployed and new recruits will join its ranks. The core force is then dispersed into smaller detachments and to other units as newly created subunits gain more combat experience. Nevertheless, this is still conjecture since there has been no published indications of how SDS’s structure will be expanded or crafted.

In an official Kata’ib Hizballah video first uploaded onto Facebook and then YouTube in late-May, the organization formally announced that SDS was fighting alongside Iraqi Internal Security Forces (ISF). This claim was further confirmed by an article in Iraq’s Radio Al-Kawthar stating that the SDS and ISF were fighting in the restive city of Fallujah.4

Even though announcements of the SDS’s existence had been present within internal Kata’ib Hizballah social media networks since April, the video was widely circulated as the formal announcement of its formation within most Kata’ib Hizballah online networks. Along with this announcement, the video offered other details, including claims about payoffs to their Sunni foes (namely ISIS, al-Qa’ida affiliated organizations, Hamas al-Iraq, and Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi) and other data on its leadership.

SDS’s Symbolism

One of the first, and thus far only, pieces of imagery to come out regarding SDS has been their logo. The symbol features elements common to most Iranian-backed Shia Islamist organizations. These include the extended fist clenching a Kalashnikov-style rifle (in this case coming out of the final alif in “Saraya”). Underneath the rifle rests a globe with a map of Iraq in its center. It is likely that the globe, as with the symbol for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon’s Hizballah, represents the hope for global expansion of the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution. The map of Iraq in its center, as with Kata’ib Hizballah’s and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s logos demonstrates the group’s primarily Iraq-focused agenda.

3 This number is based on my own records of Kata’ib Hizballah personnel which have been reported as killed-in-action. It’s important to note that Kata’ib Hizballah actively denied its personnel were present in Syria and even went so far as to claim that some of the group’s “martyrs” died in car accidents/via disease. Nevertheless, these members were given full funerals and described as martyrs. Others were claimed to have been killed doing their “jihadist duties” without any information as to where they were killed. Only later were some of those who were reported as having died due to non-combat/combat related issues named as having been killed while “defending Sayyida Zaynab.”

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

Singing Hizballah’s Tune in Manama: Why Are Bahrain’s Militants Using the Music of Iran’s Proxies?

By Phillip Smyth

Singing Hizballahs Tune in Manama

Figure 1: A screenshot of a Hizballah musical band performing at the 2013 “Resistance and Liberation Festival”

Bahraini officials have repeatedly accused anti-government militants and protesters in the country of being supplied, trained, and supported by Iran and its numerous regional proxies. Still, the government of Bahrain has done little to bolster their claims of deep and intrinsic links between Bahraini militants and Tehran. Along with official Iranian denials, the issue of Iran-Bahraini militant links is still quite hazy. Nonetheless, this does not mean that within the material released by Bahraini militant organizations that there are not hints of some level of Iranian influence. One of the more intriguing pieces pointing to influence from Iranian-backed organizations comes from the utilization of specific types of music in the many propaganda videos released by Bahraini militants, their sympathizers, and amplifiers.

Numerous instances of Bahraini militants producing propaganda videos with different varieties of music created and utilized by Iranian-backed proxies could indicate a connection with Iran’s proxies. Nevertheless, this type of overlap should not be viewed as a “smoking gun” affirming Iranian involvement. However, it does assist in piecing together direct and indirect influences.

The pieces of music in question were originally developed and used by Iranian proxy organizations, particularly Lebanese Hizballah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), and Kata’ib Hizballah. In fact, some of the songs that have been promoted fit a long standing media strategy employed by the aforementioned groups and Iran when manufacturing narratives and perceptions for themselves and other armed groups.

The use of music as a transferable propaganda medium follows a very formulaic strategy used by Iran and its “Islamic Resistance” proxy organizations for many years. Often, songs produced for one group are repackaged for newer organizations in other geographic locations. The songs are then altered in a way to make them appeal to the populations and target audience where the new group is located.

Possible Reasons for Using Specific Songs

Why would Bahraini militant groups utilize Hizballah and its Iraqi clones’ music and with such frequency? Some possible answers include:

  • Direct Iranian influence or assistance provided to the developing militant groups.
  • Video editing/production was offered to Bahraini militants by Iran and/or its proxies as a means to influence and shape militant organizations and to encourage the adoption of a more bellicose strategy to the broader (and more peaceful) protester audience.
  • Bahraini militants sympathize with Iranian-proxy groups, their exploits, and with the general concept of “Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya” (“The Islamic Resistance”). The hope to be as successful, feared, and/or respected as those organizations has led them to adopt the same varieties of music.
  • Thumbing their nose at the government: With the government of Bahrain accusing protesters and militants of being Iranian proxies, militant groups may use the material as a way to subtly frighten or encourage speculation among Bahraini government and other observers.
  • Narrative Goals: One song by Lebanese Hizballah’s Ali al-Attar called “Wa’ad al-Asra” or “The Prisoner’s Promise” was written to celebrate the release of prisoners Hizballah sought to free during the 2006 Hizballah-Israel War. While the song makes clear references to Lebanese Hizballah and themes related to the 2006 war, the same song was employed by some Bahraini protesters (as background music for their uploaded clips) when they protested the government’s detention of key protest-leaders.

Auto-Tuning the Revolution: Examples of the Musical Overlap

In March 2014, a music video which was claimed to have been produced by “Saraya al-Bahrainiyya al-Muqawama” or the Bahraini Resistance Brigades, (which is likely another name used by The February 14 Youth Coalition’s Saraya al-Muqawama al-Sha’biya [Popular Resistance Brigades]) was posted by the popular Revolution Bahrain’s YouTube Channel. The video featured a montage of edited clips, which purported to show Bahraini militants engaged in training. The music video also included a number of videos of bombings orchestrated by militant Bahraini organizations.

Yet, the music used was strikingly familiar in the circles of Iranian-backed Shi’a Islamist groups. In fact, Iranian-backed Iraqi group, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq had released the exact tune back in 2011 to commemorate attacks the group orchestrated against U.S. targets to demonstrate solidarity with Bahrain’s protesters. Later in 2011, when fellow Iranian proxy Kata’ib Hizballah released footage of attacks it had also launched in solidarity with Bahraini protesters, it too used the same song.

However, the song was neither originally Bahraini nor Iraqi, instead its origins were rooted father to the west, in Lebanon. The original song, “Risalat al-Thuwar” (“Message of the Rebels”), was performed by one of Lebanese Hizballah’s official bands, Firqat al-Fajr (The Dawn Band), following the 2006 Hizballah-Israel War. It first appeared on the band’s 2007 “Lahan al-Turab” or “Melody of the Soil” album. Still, the rendition dealing with Bahrain was not the only version of the song. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq had their own Iraq/Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq Sadr (as opposed to Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah) themed “Risalat Thuwar” produced in 2011.

“Risalat al-Thuwar” is not the only Hizballah song which has been adopted and rebranded by Bahraini militants and their amplifiers. Another song used by Bahraini militants also comes from Firqat al-Fajr. The song, “Ya Wa’ad Allah” (“O Promise of God”) can be found on the group’s 2008 album, “Sharit Wa’ad Allah” (“Take the Promise of God”). The song has been released in different formats, with more recent music video varieties showcasing the assassinated Hizballah terror-mastermind Imad Mughniyeh. The album also included an instrumental version of the song. Both versions have been prominent features on productions done by Hizballah’s Al-Manar TV network.

In Bahrain, “Ya Wa’ad Allah” was used as background for clips released to the popular (particularly with militant groups) Revolution Bahrain’s YouTube account. One of these videos included the firebombing of an armored car used by Bahraini government forces.

It is not just the polished music video-quality material finding its way into Bahraini militant propaganda productions. Bahraini militant group Saraya al-Mukhtar released a video of their April 2014 targeting of Bahraini police with an improvised explosive device. Another bomb attack in Bani Jamra also utilized the same background music.

The musical selection in the background matched with instrumentals used by Iraq’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. This music was first featured on the AAH-affiliated Al-Ahad TV in the late summer/fall of 2013 to commemorate Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq members killed fighting in Syria. Further pointing to some level of Iranian or Iranian proxy influence, is highly unlikely that this particular musical element could find its way into so many pieces of released footage. This may indicate some Bahraini militant footage being sent abroad (possibly to Iraq) where the footage is re-edited and put back together for a later introduction.

Another similar instrumental used by Bahraini militants with Saraya al-Mukhtar and Saraya al-Ashtar was also the same exact tune utilized in a number of Kata’ib Hizballah video releases (see: 00.17-00.40 on “Kata’ib Hizballah Anti-America Video”).

The use of the last two instrumentals create further questions. Why would these groups, which have resorted to using a variety of improvised weapons, and exist under increasing heavy security crackdowns, spend the time to find, edit, and utilize background instrumentals which already have obscure points of origin. Why pick these two exact instrumentals, which have only been found in the repertoire of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hizballah? Other Bahraini protest organizations have utilized a variety of different musical accompaniments. Thus, the use of these particular musical pieces seem out of place when compared to the rest of what has been released.

Whatever the reasons, closely assessing the propaganda published by these organizations may provide insight into rather opaque organizations. While assessing the musical selections may appear to be a tangential escapade, AAH, Kata’ib Hizballah, and Lebanese Hizballah have all demonstrated their strategy of using this material as another method to push the narrative of the “Islamic Resistance.”

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

Selling Sectarianism: Shia Islamist Groups & Maliki’s Anbar Offensive

By Phillip Smyth

As the Iraqi government offensive in Anbar continues to engage Sunni groups which are protesting the government (some have now taken up arms against the government) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), sectarian messaging by Shia Islamist groups which support the government and its offensive has also increased.

Coming after the operation against jihadi militants on December 23, 2013 and following protests by Sunni groups (including a number of tribes), on December 25 Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced an offensive against ISIS and “armed groups” in Iraq’s Anbar province. The offensive has been controversial regionally and within Iraq, with some accusing Maliki of engaging in sectarian politics.[1] Analyst Charles Lister even called the coordinated offensive, “one move too far”.[2]

Sectarian language explaining the Iraqi government onslaught has been utilized by all sides. Even Nouri al-Maliki called the operations, “a fierce confrontation between the supporters of Hussain and the supporters of Yazid”.[3] Shia Islamist groups, including Iranian-backed and possibly those claiming to back Iraqi Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, have taken the opportunity to issue statements, upload photos, and produce music in support for the Iraqi government’s operations.[4] For these groups, the offensive was viewed as a golden opportunity to demonstrate their importance to the Iraqi Shia community and to demonstrate they were assisting the fight against jihadi-type organizations.  These groups also played upon sectarian sentiments to promote the Iraqi government’s operations and suggest that the Iraqi Army is a pro-Shia sectarian entity. There were also claims that some Iraqi Shia Islamist forces which had fought in Syria, returned to fight ISIS and other Sunni groups in Iraq.

Statements of Support

On December 28, Ahmed al-Alwani, a Sunni parliamentarian and protest leader, was arrested by Iraqi security forces. The raid against him resulted in the death of Alwani’s brother and a number of guards from his security profile.[5] Alwani was well-known for vitriolic anti-Shi’ite statements.[6] His arrest by Iraqi security forces was immediately praised by some Shia Islamist groups, particularly Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which praised the raid (see photos below). The day also saw a near simultaneous release of statements by Iranian-backed Shia Islamist organizations which are also fielding armed units in Syria.

Liwa’a Zulfiqar, a Syria-based Shia Islamist armed group, also announced its support for the Iraqi Army in its operations against ISIS and announced they would stand by them against, “racist Zionist terrorism”. This represents a continuance of the narrative that armed Shia Islamist groups (primarily backed by Iran) consider al-Qa’ida and its allied organizations as merely agents of Israel. On the same day, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, released its second publicly available official communique. The statement stressed their support for the Iraqi Army’s fight in Anbar. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq also issued their own messages of support for the offensive against ISIS.

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Figure 1: An announcement of support for the Iraqi Army’s efforts in Anbar from the official Liwa’a al-Zulfiqar Facebook page.

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Figure 2: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s release in support of the Iraqi government’s offensive into Anbar.

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Figure 3: Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s statement about their support for the Iraqi government and military against ISIS and armed groups in the country.

Main Messaging Themes:

  • National Institutions: Shia Islamist groups have claimed to fully support the Iraqi Army and present themselves as integral elements to the Iraqi military and police operations in Anbar. This theme coincides with other Iranian-backed organizations messaging, namely the narrative presented by Lebanese Hizballah and their claims of fully backing the Lebanese Armed Forces.[7]
  • One Army, One Sect: Photos and statements implying the Iraqi military and police are engaging in the fight against ISIS to defend Shi’ism. These themes are also combined with photos claiming to show members of the military and/or police showing support for certain Shia political leaders and clerics. This sort of rhetoric had gone on since the spring of 2013 during the initial announcements of foreign Shia fighter involvement in Syria. In one May 2013 photo, a soldier reportedly from the Iraqi Army is shown holding a Shia religious banner on top of what is claimed to be an Iraqi military armored vehicle (see below).
  • Two Fronts, One War: Tying the war in Syria to the fighting in Iraq involves extending the “Defense of the Sayyida Zaynab” (the defense of the Sayyida Zaynab shrine in southern Damascus is held as the reason for Shia Islamist fighters are in Syria) narrative which claims Shia Islamist armed groups are present in Syria to protect holy shrines/Shi’ism and stop jihadi-linked fighters. As a result, the engagements within Iraq which claim to also target ISIS and other organizations are grouped together as part of a unified effort to protect Shi’ism.

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Figure 4: A photo uploaded in mid-January with the caption, “We will not be defeated”. The photo reportedly shows an Iraqi Army soldier saluting a Shia religious poster.

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Figure 5: Photo claims to show an Iraqi soldier saluting a picture of martyred Shia leader, Imam Husayn. The photo was posted onto numerous social media pages catering to Shia Islamist fighters in Syria.

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Figure 6: This photo claims to show an Iraqi soldier holding an Imam Husayn flag in front of an armored vehicle. The photo was widely circulated on Shia Islamist social media pages.

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Figure 7: Photo purports to show an Iraqi soldier under a Shia banner following the, “Capture of Ramadi”. The photo was posted on Badr Organization and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq social media pages.

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Figure 8: This photo claimed to show an Iraqi soldier saluting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

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Figure 9: First uploaded to Shi’a Islamist social media in May 2013, this photo claims to show an Iraqi soldier atop an armored vehicle holding a Shi’a religious banner.

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Figure 10: An Iraqi armored personnel carrier (APC) flying flags for Shia Imam Husayn with a sign partially reading, “Welcoming visitors to Imam Husayn [mosque and shrine in Karbala, Iraq]”. While the context of the photo is probably more innocuous—It is likely this APC was simply part of a guard set up in Karbala and was used to welcome pilgrims—ISIS/Sunni Islamist activists and Shia Islamist groups circulated the photograph as proof of the Iraqi Army’s sectarian loyalties.

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Figure 11: Top photo: “This is how they kill us”. Bottom photo: “And this is how we treat them”. The top picture shows Iraqi soldiers executed by ISIS. The bottom references reports of Shia Muslims taking in Sunni Muslim refugees from Anbar.[8] The photo was not widely distributed, but could be found on pages and profiles catering to Iranian-backed Shia Islamist organizations (mainly Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq).

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Figure 12: This photo, spread on Sadrist and Sadr-splinter group social media, claims to show an Iraqi soldier reaching out to a Muqtada al-Sadr poster.

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Figure 13: Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq leader Qais al-Khazali smiles (right) while Iraqi Sunni MP Ahmed al-Alwani is detained by Iraqi security forces (left).

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Figure 14: Qais al-Khazali is portrayed as walking on the captured Iraqi Sunni MP Alwani.

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Figure 15: “Thus, we support you”. An AAH poster shows AAH leaer Qais al-Khazali looking down on Iraqi army soldiers and an Iraqi helicopter.

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Figure 16: Selfie Taunts: On the right an ISIS supporter holds up a picture near the Imam Husayn Mosque/Shrine complex in Karbala. The sign reads, “Qadimoun” (“We are coming”). As a response to the pro-ISIS message, (on the left) “We are waiting for those coming, [we] the young men of sacred Karbala Soldiers of Husayn”.

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Figure 17: Right Left (top) An edited photo shows deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Husayn emerging from a dirty sewer. Left (bottom) Alwani is shown following his capture. The photo was spread on Sadrist and Iranian-backed Shia Islamist pages. The image promotes a theme of “how the mighty have fallen.”  

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Figure 18: Another photo released on social media claiming to show Iraqi APCs flying Shia religious flags. The photos were shared online by ISIS sympathizers and Shia Islamist groups. The latter used the photos as a subtle way to suggest the Iraqi Army had Shia Islamic sectarian loyalties.

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Figure 19: Shia Islamist and Sunni supporters of the protests and of ISIS circulated this photo on social media (including Twitter and Facebook). The photo purports to show an Iraqi Special Forces/SWAT member wearing epaulettes reading, “Labayk ya Husayn” (“At your service, O Husayn”), a Shia slogan used to show support for the Shi’ism’s first Imam.

One video uploaded claimed to show Iraqi units assembling before heading into Anbar and flying Shia religious flags. Due to the lower quality of the images in the video, the claim could not be confirmed. Accounts affiliated with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq also uploaded a response to the offensive against ISIS. In their clip, a man sets up a system for a unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which then spots what can assumed to be ISIS positions. The ISIS positions are then destroyed. The clip was entitled, “A message from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq to Da’sh” (note: Da’sh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS).

Redeployments from Syria?

The charge that Iraqi Shia Islamist fighters who were initially placed in Syria, and that have returned to Iraq in order to fight ISIS and other Sunni groups, has been a reoccurring theme among fighters aligned with Shia Islamist groups, ISIS supporters, and those who back local Sunni groups. On social media a number of hints were left in posted images. One Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq profile claimed that an Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq had sent fighters (possibly those who had fought in Syria and rotated back to Iraq) to battle ISIS and other groups in Fallujah. Another image claimed fighters from the Rapid Reaction Force (a group of Iraqi Shia fighters who were some of the first trained units of Shia foreign fighters in Syria) were also redeployed to Anbar after operating around the Sayyida Zaynab mosque and shrine in Damascus.

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Figure 20: A January 8 post claiming AAH was deploying to Fallujah and wished for quick recovery (due to an injury) for one of AAH’s fighters.

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Figure 21: A January 28 post claiming the Rapid Reaction Forces which have been involved in fighting in Syria were returning to Iraq to fight ISIS in Anbar.

A Da’sh of Music

Musicians who could broadly be described as “Sadrist” and those who have supported Iranian-backed organizations have produced a number of songs with content calling out ISIS and demonstrating their support for the Iraqi government. These musicians have acted as additional amplifiers for the uploaded imagery, videos, and other material available online. Since their work is already known and exposed to those familiar with it, the circulation of the released material is at least guaranteed among a certain subset of Shia Islamists in Iraq and possibly those fighting in Syria.

Usama al-Salihi, a Sadrist performer, released a song called “Ya Da’sh” or “O Da’sh” in early January.

Ali Delfi, Ahmed Sa’adi, Ghassan al-Shami, Fadhl Hasan, and Malik al-Asadi teamed-up to create the “Operetta for [Our] Master and Precious One”, a song full of praise for Muqtada al-Sadr, which mocks ISIS. Fadhl Hasan, a poet/lyricist, claims to be a Sadrist and has published material supportive of Kata’ib Hizballah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud, and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada on his Facebook page. Al-Asadi is known for his religious songs. Delfi and Sa’adi (who have performed together) have a long history of making songs for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and praise the group’s actions in Syria.  Their music video featured Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud attacks against Coalition vehicles during the Iraq War (2003), footage of the Iraqi Army, and praise for Muqtada al-Sadr.

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Figure 22: A post for Fadhl Hasan’s page with Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq Sadr in the center. The logos for Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud (top left), Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (top right), Kata’ib Hizballah (bottom left), and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (bottom right) are in the background.

Issa al-Fareeji, a Sadrist singer who has performed songs praising Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud (The Promised Day Brigades, a Sadrist successor group to Jaysh al-Mahdi which received assistance from Iran), released one piece with relative Hussam al-Fareeji. Their song, “La Da’sh” or “No ISIS”, was released onto YouTube in late January 2014.

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Figure 23: Usama Salihi posing with a picture of Muqtada al-Sadr (center), Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr (left), Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr (right).

Their song was one of a small wave of songs performed by artists who affiliate with Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Iranian-backed organizations. Since January 25, 2014 around ten songs praising the Iraqi Army and criticizing ISIS have been released online. Some songs have music videos while others are simply audio releases. All of the artists have had links with Liwa’a al-Yum al-Mawud or other Iranian-backed organizations.

Another song produced by a Shia Islamist performer and gaining in popularity on social media was performed by Ahmed Zarkani. Zarkani’s song, “Minu Da’sh” (“He is not Da’sh”—Note: This is Iraqi slang) also laces into ISIS and praises the Iraqi Army.

Zarkani is best known for his overtly sectarian latmiyat-type performances which have included a portion of tatbir, or the period of mourning which includes ritualistic self-flagellation for Imam Husayn ibn Ali.[9] At times during this mourning ritual there is the ceremonial cutting of one’s head with a sword (zanjeer zani). The cutting of one’s head is used to represent suffering by the martyred Imam Husayn.[10] Latmiyat, or sad spoken word poems are meant to commemorate loss (during Ashura many latmiyat are about Imam Husayn). These themes have found its way into a number of Zarkani’s works and underline the Shia-oriented messaging. His releases have often included the rhythmic sounds self-flagellation (often from hands slapping the chest) and have been popularized (and also been used for more militant and political uses) in recent years as an intrinsic piece of Shia identity (Islamist and non-Islamist).  Zarkani’s material has also praised efforts by Shia Islamist fighters in Syria and is often found as background music for propaganda videos showcasing the “Defense of Sayyida Zaynab” in Damascus.

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Figure 24: Zarkani (right) having his head cut with a sword during the practice of zanjeer zani.


[3] See: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/malikis-war-on-al-qaeda-is-tainted-by-sectarian-politics. Yazid, the first Ummayad leader is despised by Shia and is viewed as a representation of deceitfulness and oppression. On the other hand, Husayn, who was martyred by Yazid’s forces during the 7th century Battle of Karbala, is considered by Shia to be the first Imam and is a symbol of justness and martyrdom.

[4] It’s important to note that Muqtada al-Sadr issued statements of support for Sunnis protesting the government in January 2013. See: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138838/eli-sugarman-and-omar-al-nidawi/back-in-black?page=1.

[7] In 2014 Lebanese Hizballah began promoting the so-called “Army, Resistance, People formula” in terms of dealing with the Lebanese state and the military. See: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Jan-15/244096-berri-says-committed-to-army-resistance-people.ashx#axzz2rxbrVjdG. In October 2013, Lebanese Hizballah also publicized the handover of their checkpoints to the Lebanese military. See: http://www.voanews.com/content/hezbollah-hands-over-checkpoints-in-lebanon-to-avoid-strife/1762098.html During the June 2013 battles in Saida, Lebanon it was claimed by reporters and commentators that Lebanese Hizballah actually fought alongside the Lebanese Army against fighters aligned with radical Sunni Salafi Sheikh Assir. See: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/28/195327/lebanese-army-threatens-media.html#.UflE1I2TiSo and http://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/commentaryanalysis/hezbollah-using-laf-to-further-its-own-ends.

[9] This ritual is often performed during Ashura which takes place during the holy month of Muharram. Still, the ritual has been morphed into a form of identity expression.

[10] See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54PomCU9Txw. It is important to note that from 0.52-1.12 there is a segment in the music video showing a person dressed (and sporting a similar beard) to appear as a Sunni Salafi. The music video then shows the performers acting out their killing of him. This performance attempts to show the Sunni Salafi interrupting an important Shia ritual, but he is then struck down by a strong Shia Islamic hand. See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJC0Ro44KX4. This is another version of one of al-Zarkani performing a latmiya-type piece with zanjeer zani.

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

Faylak Wa’ad al-Sadiq: The Repackaging of an Iraqi “Special Group” for Syria

By Phillip Smyth

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Figure 1: Faylak Wa’ad al-Sadiq’s logo. The top line reads: “The Islamic Resistance in Iraq” (“Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq”). The bottom says, “The Truthful Promise Corps” (“Faylaq al-Wa’ad al-Sadiq”). The logo features the map of Iraq in the center with a blackened figure holding an RPG-7.

Officially known as Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq-Faylaq al-Wa’ad al-Sadiq or The Islamic Resistance in Iraq-The Truthful Promise Corps (FWS), this organization has made some waves in Arabic-language media following the discovery of some of its images on social media networks.[1] Led by a Secretary General, FWS’s current leader is Iraqi Shia Sheikh Abu ‘Ammar al-Tamimi (A.K.A. Shiekh ‘Ammar). The organization also claims to be based in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq. It is clear from assessing the trajectory of public statements and their social media presence that the FWS appears to be increasing its public presence in an effort to establish the belief there are further organized Shia Islamist force deployments in Syria.

The group’s name references Lebanese Hizballah’s Secretary General’s long-standing goal to kidnap Israeli soldiers. This “promise” came to fruition in July 2006, when fighters from Lebanese Hizballah attacked an Israeli military convoy and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed three. The attack spurred what would turn into the more than a month long 2006 Hizballah-Israel War.[2]

It is unclear whether it was created immediately following the 2006 Hizballah-Israel War or if it was established later in 2010-2011.

Reportedly, the FWS was first established to “fight the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the collaborators [associated with it]”.[3] In January 2012, FWS claimed it had no interest in running for elections or becoming part of the Iraqi government.[4] In August 2012, the FWS’s spokesperson Sheikh ‘Amr al-Lami, claimed the group changed paths and stated it would instead focus on civil projects. One year later, the organization claimed to have sent its first fighters (from a “military wing”) to Syria in order to, “defend shrines”.[5] “Shrine defense” has been the most prevalent narrative used by Iranian-backed Shia Islamist fighting groups which have deployed to Syria.

The group also made its first video and a group musical anthem public in January 2014. Though it appears to have been uploaded in February 2012. It is possible FWS uploaded the clip many months ago, then made it “private”, only to re-release it as part of a ramping-up of their public image. In the short clip, the FWS-subgroup which claims the attack is called Kata’ib Musa al-Khadhim-Sariyya ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir (The Musa al-Khadhim Brigade-‘Ammar Ibn Yasir Unit). Musa al-Khadhim references the seventh Imam in Twelver Shia Islam.[6] The targeted vehicle in the clip appears to be a U.S. armored HMMWV. [7] The naming of subdivisions after imams is a common form utilized by Iranian-backed Iraqi special groups.[8]

Little was known about the organization during the Iraq War (2003) and it had few announcements. The group also claimed to have its own webpage (since 2011). However, when the page is visited, it does not load.[9] Instead, with public appearances and statements by its leadership, it seems that since the summer of 2013, FWS has been dusted-off and repurposed for a new mission in Syria. September 2013 saw FWS start its initial postings on social media pages it had done little with since opening them in 2011.

This may indicate that the FWS was little more than a front-type group during the Iraq War (2003) which may now field rebranded fighters from other groups for the fight in Syria. In turn, this helps create perception of broader Iraqi Shia support for the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih and of this ideological grouping’s war in Syria. Comments on the page largely praised the leadership of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. This mirrors newly created front groups such as Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba (or Harakat al-Nujaba), which fields fighters from Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), has a leader from AAH’s ranks, yet is cast as independent organization. Photos of fighters from Harakat al-Nujaba front militias in Syria and those from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq have found a presence on FWS’s Facebook page and adjoining profiles.

In addition to the organization’s name and links to other Iraqi Shia “special groups”, another element further cementing its relationship with Iran and its proxy militant groups, was the group claiming adherence to the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih. Wilayat al-Faqih, or the Absolute Guardianship by a Jurisprudent is Iran’s form of radical theocratic governing system. In August of 2013, the reported leader of FWS visited Beirut and confirmed his loyalty to the political-religious ideology.[10] The lead jurisprudent, or Wali al-Faqih, who is followed by FWS is Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The organization’s imagery also details their loyalty to Khamenei.

Little is known about FWS’s combat abilities, force size, or deployments. In photos released by the group, it has been shown they have what can be considered a normal small-arms accompaniment, ranging from PKM-type machineguns to Kalashnikov pattern rifles. One important detail about deployments in Syria was that the FWS has only claimed (so far) to have specifically fought in one area, Aleppo. This further helps tie the group to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s Harakat al-Nujaba and their Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir (LAIY). LAIY was the first Iraqi Shia Islamist group to announce they were fighting in Aleppo. The announcement also coincided with the December 2013-January 2014 increase in announced Shia Islamist military activities in Rif Aleppo and the city.

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Figure 2: These photos, posted in mid-December, claimed to show an FWS fighter in Aleppo, Syria.

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Figure 3: The FWS flag flies on a BMP-1 armored personnel carrier. It is unknown whether this flag was placed on an Iranian, Iraqi, or Syrian BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle.

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Figure 4: “ma’rkat al-haq dhud al-batl al-wa’ad sadiq qadm” or the “Battle of truth against falsehood, the truthful promise is coming”.

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Figure 5: This photo claims these are Faylak Wa’ad al-Sadiq personnel. However, the photo has been posted by other Shi’a Islamist fighting groups. 

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Figure 6: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq Sadr look from the sky down at burned-out U.S. armored vehicles. An Iraqi flag graphic is flows from the lower-right corner.

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Figure 7: Another poster featuring Iranian Surpreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Muhammed Muhammed Sadiq Sadr.

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Figure 8: FWS fighters pose in front of a tank.

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Figure 9: Uniformed FWS members pose with the group’s flag while flanked by Iraqi flags. Note the FWS patches worn by these 6 members.

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Figure 10: The FWS flag.

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Figure 11: FWS fighters hold up the group’s flag.

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Figure 12: Another piece of FWS symbolism.


[4] Ibid.

[6] It’s interesting to note the potential connections between Harakat al-Nujaba’s Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir and the FWS. In this case, the FWS supposedly named one of their units after him too. It is likely this is not a coincidence. See paragraphs below this section.

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

Khamenei’s Cannon: .50 Caliber Anti-Material Rifles & Shia Fighters in Syria

By Phillip Smyth

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Figure 1: Combatants from Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir. The fighter on the left likely holds an Iranian-copy of the HS.50 rifle.

Since April 2013, around the same time Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas was first gaining broader exposure and name-recognition, another sub-trend started to appear in the photos showing Shia Islamist fighters in Syria. This trend remained minor and occasional. However, starting in October, there have been increasing examples of foreign Shia Islamist fighters being pictured with long range bolt-action anti-material rifles.[1]

It is possible these weapons were the bolt-action HS.50, .50 caliber (12.7x99mm) rifles produced by Austria’s Steyr Mannlicher. According to The Telegraph, 800 of the rifles were shipped to Iran in 2007.[2] However, according to the Brown Moses Blog, it is far more probable that these rifles are actually Iranian copies which were shipped to Syria.[3] Since the winter of 2012, pro-Iranian social media has also praised the Iranian-made copy of the rifle.[4] Still, serial numbers on the weapons are often hidden, making absolute confirmation difficult.

The original Steyr Mannlicher sale of these long-range weapons caused worries among British and U.S. policymakers and military personnel due to the fear they would be supplied to Iranian-created and supplied Shi’a Islamist “special groups” in Iraq. These groups included Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hizballah. Both of these organizations are now sending forces to Syria.

Anti-material sniper rifles of this caliber have found a welcome place in Western military services. The U.S. military fields the M107 semi-automatic .50 caliber rifle as do a number of other militaries. In October, 2012 one of these weapons killed a Taliban member in Afghanistan from a distance of 2,475 meters.[5]

Presently in Syria, these types of rifles have been used by both rebels and pro-Assad forces. Nevertheless, the outfitting of highly organized foreign Shia fighter manned organizations may demonstrate a shift in tactics and training.

Groups using the rifle in Syria span the full spectrum of organizations backed by Iran. Lebanese Hizballah has been a primary poster of images with the weapon. Additionally, Iraq-based Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba’s (a front for Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq) Syria-based front militias, Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir and Liwa’a al-Hamad have posted photos of their militants with the rifle. Iraq’s Badr Organization’s Quwet Shahid Muhammed Baqir Sadr and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada have posted their own images of their fighters with the HS.50 type rifle. Other Shia fighters from unnamed organizations have also been pictured with the weapon.

Films featuring Shia militia groups using the HS. 50 type rifles in combat in Syria have been extremely rare. Usually only photos are posted.

The first film showing Shia Islamist militias in Syria using the rifle was posted to Facebook and YouTube pages associated with the Badr Organization’s Quwet Shahid Baqir Sadr (BOQSBS), the group’s expeditionary unit in Syria. The BOQSBS has also been a main poster of high-quality images showing their combatants wielding these types of anti-material rifles. Around a minute of footage showing BOQSBS fighters using the weapon was inserted into a much longer film made to demonstrate the group’s activities in Syria (see below at minute markers 1:59-2:23).

Due to the high level of operational security employed by these groups, potential failures or successes of the rifle in combat are often not showcased. Operations using the rifle have also not been detailed on the many social media pages run by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups inside Syria. In fact, the rifle has rarely been named or described by Shia Islamist militia pages. Nevertheless, these rifles have become a regular feature in images featuring fallen fighters.

Such a capability, even if deliberately showcased for propaganda purposes, should be taken seriously by regional and global military forces. Iranian equipped and trained snipers, utilizing smaller caliber rifles, demonstrated a lethal efficiency during the Iraq War (2003). Their utilization of smaller caliber-wielding snipers (particularly using the SVD-type rifles) demonstrates a concentration on sniping tactics.

Some Possible Reasons Why the Rifles Are Appearing More

  • Propaganda Purposes: Some of the photos of fighters holding the rifle appear to be posed images meant to showcase the size of the weapon (representing power) in comparison to the fighter. Additionally, since it is probably a copy, showing the rifle in operations overseas is a sign that Iranian-made weapons are of a high quality. Proxy organizations may also see the rifle as a symbol of advancement and as a sign they are comparable to first-world armies. The weapon may also be a sign to rebel groups that Shia militants have more advanced capabilities.
  • General Incorporation into the Order of Battle: The rifle could have possibly become more prolific with increased foreign-manned Shia militia operations.
  • Offensive Operations: Since the start of main offensives in October and increase in numbers of Shia fighters, it is possible the rifle has found more use and acceptance by fighters.

The Rifle & Its Shia Islamist Users

Lebanese Hizballah:

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Figure 2: Lebanese Hizballah’s Ali al-Hadi Nuwn shown holding the weapon on his shoulder. (Left)

Figure 3: Another posed-photo of Lebanese Hizballah’s Ali al-Hadi Nuwn. In this picture he is taking aim with the .50 caliber rifle. (Right)

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Figure 4: Hizballah commander Ja’afar Husayn Hashim with the rifle. He was reported to have been killed in Syria on November 1, 2013.

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Figure 5: Hizballah’s Khadr Ahmed Matar, declared killed in Syria on December 20, is shown standing in the snow with the rifle.

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Figure 6: Qasim Ghamloush is shown holding the .50 caliber rifle. His death was announced by Hizballah on December 7, 2013.

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Figure 7: Ali Husayn Salah (A.K.A. Sheikh Hadi) is seen holding the rifle over his Kalashnikov-pattern weapon. Salah was also reported to have been killed in Syria on December 7, 2013.

Liwa’a al-Hamad:

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Figure 8: An October photo of a fighter from Liwa’a al-Hamad taking aim with the HS.50-type rifle.

The Badr Organization – Quwet al-Shahid Muhammed Baqir Sadr

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Figure 9: Following the announcement that the Badr Organization had created its own expeditionary force for Syria, this was one of the first photos they posted online.

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Figure 10: A Badr Organization-Quwet al-Shahid Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr is shown holding the HS. 50 type rifle.

Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir:

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Figure 11: A commander from Liwa’a Ammar Ibn Yasir is seen holding the .50 caliber rifle.

Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada:

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Fighters from Other Groups:

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Figure 12: The Shia militia effort’s “first African martyr”  (Muhammed Suleiman al-Kuwni)  is shown holding the rifle.

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Figure 13: A fighter from an unnamed Shia Islamist militia (likely Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir) take aim with his rifle.

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Figure 14: Alla’ Ibrahim (possibly from Liwa’a Zulfiqar), an Iraqi Shi’a fighter buried on November 30, 2013 holds the rifle over his shoulder.

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Figure 15: An edited shot of Alla’ Ibrahim shows him posting with the rifle.

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Figure 16: A Shia fighter from an unnamed militia group is shown with the HS. 50-type rifle.


[1] The Oryx Blog has an excellent post on HS. 50-type rifles in Syria: http://spioenkop.blogspot.com/2013/04/syria-and-her-hs50s.html. The post is from April 27, 2013 and pictures of Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas members with the rifle.

[3] See: http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2013/04/anti-material-rifles-in-syria.html. See also: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2012/07/16/mysterious-iranian-50-cals-part-3/. This post by The Firearms Blog should also be read when assessing the rifle in question.

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

Liwa’a al-Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba: A Shia Militia Fighting in Rif Dimashq/Ghouta  

By Phillip Smyth (psmyth@jihadology.net)

Click here for a PDF version of this post

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Figure 1:  A vidcap of the LIHM’s logo. The symbol reads: “Liwa’a al-Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba. A red flag reading, “Ya Zaynab”, a reference to what Shia militias in Syria claim to be fighting for (e.g. the “defense of [the] Sayyida Zaynab” shrine in Damascus) flies on the alif in Liwa’a.

Throughout the summer of 2013, a collection of new Shia militias were announced to be fighting in Syria via social media. On July 23rd, one of these groups was announced on Facebook, carrying the name of Liwa’a al-Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba-Sariyya Shahid Ahmed Kayara (The Brigade of Imam Hasan the Chosen-The Martyr Ahmed Kayara Unit or LIHM). LIHM purports to operate in rural and urban sections outside of the city of Damascus. According to material the group has published on social media, the militia has been particularly deployed to defend the Damascus Airport road near Shebaa, in the southeast of Damascus.

The LIHM’s name references Shia Islam’s 2nd Imam, Hasan ibn Ali, who is often referred to in Shia literature as, “The Chosen”. Unlike other Shia militias operating in Syria, LIHM appears to have named sub-divisions of the organization and seems to be more open with announcing the establishment of these groups.  Thus, based on social media posts by the group, it can be established that LIHM is split into smaller battalions with differing tasks. This is markedly different from how other Shi’a militias have presented themselves on social media. While it is possible they too have smaller units, usually the names of these groups and the fighters in them are rarely publicized.

Generally, LIHM’s claimed units only post photographs featuring 5-8 fighters. It is unknown if these combat units are limited to only that amount or if they are comprised of larger numbers. LIHM has also claimed to have its own mortar and rocket unit. Other infantry units are called The Abu Hamr Battalion and there is a so-called “Rapid Intervention” unit. The latter is called The Ashtar Battalion (Kata’ib al-Ashtar). It is likely this grouping was named after Malik al-Ashtar, “a long-standing and dedicated follower of the Imam [‘Ali].”[1] The existence of most of these units was announced in September 2013.

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Figure 2: Ahmed Kayara (left holding the SVD-type sniper rifle) stands with other Shi’a militia commanders.

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Figure 3: A martyrdom poster featuring Kayara and the late Iraqi Shia Islamist Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr.

Another one of these subdivisions is Sariyya Shahid Ahmed Kayara or The Martyr Ahmed Kayara Unit. In fact, LIHM’s official Facebook page includes this subdivision in its title. It is claimed that Hajji Thamer leads this group. Ahmed Hasan Kayara, also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Hamza, was one of the first publicly announced dead from the Damascus-based Shia militia, Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas. Videos of him in combat could be found online in early 2013. It was slowly established on social media circles that he was held a command position in Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas.

In late May and early June, comments on Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s (KSS) original private Facebook group (before it was closed) claimed that some of the killed KSS members in Syria had been part of the Martyr Ahmed Kayara Unit. However, claims of the existence of a similarly named fighting group were only presented by the Facebook supporters of the different Shia militia groups, not by official administrators. Only with the creation of the LIHM’s Facebook were the militia and this particular subunit’s existence formally established.

Unlike other Shia militias operating inside Syria, LIHM has not posted any photographic material showing a link to Iran. However, when basic details regarding their fallen fighters are analyzed, it is clear these militiamen came from an Iranian-backed Iraq-based front group known occasionally as Harakat Nujaba. It has been established that Harakat Nujaba is a front for the Iranian-backed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hizballah.[2] This front organization was first analyzed on Hizballah Cavalcade when it announced that it was supplying fighters to Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir, a Shia militia which claims to operate in Aleppo. The reasons for excluding the Iranian Revolution (1979) themed material may be part of an effort to create more support for Shia militia operations in Syria along a broader Pan-Shia line.

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Figure 4: LIHM’s “Rapid Intervention” unit, The Ashtar Battalion.

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Figure 5: LIHM’s “Abu Hamr Batallion” (Kata’ib Abu Hamr) which claims it, “protects the holy shrines”.

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Figure 6: LIHM claims this is their “Mortar and Rocket Battalion”.

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Figure 7: Haji Thamer, the commander of LIHM’s Martyr Ahmed Kayara Unit.

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Figure 8: An LIHM fighter by the name of Saif al-Salam sits wrapped in a blanket near a sandbagged position.

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Figure 9: Sajad al-Iraqi, reportedly a member of the LIHM’s Martyr Ahmed Kayara Unit, takes aim with a PKM-type machine gun. Note the distinctive shoulder patch.

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Figure 10: Abu Muqtada al-Baghdadi, another LIHM militiaman. Note the distinctive shoulder patch.

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Figure 11: LIHM’s Hashim al-Baghdadi holds a FAL-type rifle mounted with optics. Note the distinctive shoulder patch.

LIHM’s Martyrs

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Figure 12: Fala’ Hasan Rahman (left) and Fala’ Hasan Rama’ al-‘Aqabi (right) are pictured in a joint martyrdom poster. In the center sits the golden dome of the Sayyida Zaynab Shrine in Damascus. This and other posters identify them as members of Harakat Nujaba.

Name: Fala’ Hasan Rama’ al-‘Aqabi

Death Announced: September 2, 2013

Notes: ‘Aqabi’s was listed as a member of the Harakat Nujaba. Harakat Nujaba is a front set-up by Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq to funnel fighters from Iraq to Syria. The group is the main front which supplies fighters to Liwa’a Ammar Ibn Yasir.

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Name: Fala’ Hasan Rahman

Death Announced: September 3, 2013

Notes: Rahman was listed as a member of Harakat Nujaba.

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Combat Videos

LIHM’s fighters have been featured in a number of videos uploaded to YouTube and Facebook. In one of the videos, an interviewer claims the group is fighting, “irhab al-kafir” or “infidel terrorism”. Shia identity is also reinforced with the singing of an ad hoc nashid and chants which praise historic and symbolic Shia leaders like Abbas and Zaynab.

Like other Shia militias in Syria, these videos often feature videos demonstrating the group’s acumen when it comes to deploying snipers. One interesting feature of these clips is to show LIHM fighters firing a round and then showing a split screen utilizing footage of Syrian rebels being shot and killed.  Additionally, common Syria-oriented Shia militia songs used by other Shia militias and some older footage from Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (particularly video of Ahmed Kayara) has been repackaged in these videos.


[1] Reza Shah-Kazemi, “A Sacred Conception of Justice: Imam ‘Ali’s Letter to Malik al-Ashtar” in M. Ali Lakhani, The Sacred Foundations of Justice in Islam: The Teachings of ʻAlī Ibn Abī Ṭālib, (North Vancouver, B.C.: Sacred Web Publishing, 2006), P.64.