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

Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah & Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya: The Building of an “Islamic Resistance” in Syria

By Phillip Smyth

Al-Quwat al-Jafariyah

Figure 1: The logo belonging to Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah’s Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayyah. The symbol features two golden Kalashnikov-type rifles flanking the white dome of the Sayyida Ruqayyah shrine. The group’s logo bears many similarities to Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuahda’s. Both feature a shrine dome in the center of a roundel flanked by Kalashnikov-type rifles.

Since the creation of Syria’s pro-Assad National Defense Forces (NDF), there has been a rise in Syria-based sectarian militia groups with Iranian training and advisors.  Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah (The Ja’afari Force) has attempted to market itself as one of these types of organizations. The group has also described itself as “al-muqawama al-islamiyah fi suriya” (“The Islamic Resistance in Syria”) and has pushed its own Shia identity mixed with pro-Assad Syrian nationalist and pro-Iranian proxy material. These elements of group identity suggest the militia pulls members from Syria’s small Shia community while still being influenced by external allied actors.

A process where local pro-Assad militias have been modeled off of Lebanese Hizballah has been a continuing development.  This has especially been the case with Alawite-manned and Shia-manned militias.  Syria’s first major Shia militia, Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) maintained close links to the Assad regime and Lebanese Hizballah. Even with Lebanese Hizballah’s aid, local actors such as LAFA’s secretary general, Abu Ajeeb, generally led LAFA’s command and control functions.

Unlike many of the other groups which have also worked closely with Lebanese Hizballah, Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah has also claimed to be a Syria-based subdivision belonging to the Iraqi Shia Iran-proxy, Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).

A number of Syria-based Shia militias have their own Iraqi wings and some Iraqi Shia political parties have external branches. Nonetheless, Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah is the only Syrian Shia militia which has declared itself as a sub-division of an Iraq-based Iraqi Shia Islamist group, yet began life as a component of an established Assad element (the NDF).

The first prominent mentions of Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah or its professed sub-militia Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya came with the April 6, 2013 death of NDF leader Shaker Rashid Darwish (A.K.A. Al-Ja’afari). Despite the group being around for a number of years, it lacked a formal announcement or acknowledgement outside of a small number of accounts on social media. At different times throughout 2014, the group’s members would often pose for photos in their battle dress uniforms. These photos regularly found their way onto mediums such as Facebook and could only be accessed via private Facebook profiles.

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Figure 2: A militiaman belonging to Liwa al-Saqiyah Ruqayya wearing the group’s distinctive patch.

What set these photos aside from other uploaded images of Syrian and Iraqi Shia militiamen in Syria was that these fighters’ uniforms would feature unique patches. This patch included the group’s name along with a stylized version of the white dome of the Sayyida Ruqayya shrine in Damascus, Syria.

By late August 2015, due to an increased public presence by Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah on social media (via KSS’s own media apparatuses), and due to the death of Quwat al-Ja’afariyah commander Hasan Kana’an, more attention was granted by Arabic-language (primarily pro-Syrian rebel) media sources. In early July, Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya established a number of public Facebook pages and was also mentioned in a September 2015 piece by The Guardian (albeit, the group was incorrectly recognized as the “Sayyida Ruqayya Martyrs Brigade”).

What’s In A Name?

The term, “Ja’afari”, helps highlight Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah’s denominational membership. “Ja’afari” is often used as a synonym for “Shia Muslim”. Moreover, in the Twelver Shia tradition, Ja’afar al-Sadiq is considered the sixth and longest serving Imam. The majority of Shia Muslims also adhere to the Ja’afari school of jurisprudence.

Liwa Sayyida Ruqayya gets its name from the Sayyida Ruqayya mosque and shrine. Located in Old Damascus, the Sayyida Ruqayya mosque and shrine houses the remains of Sukayna (a.k.a. Ruqayya), the baby daughter of Twelver Shia Islam’s third Imam, Husayn ibn Ali.

Built in 1985 with Iranian funds, the design of the mosque was described by Iran analyst Nigel Coulthard as, “a pure example of post-revolutionary Iranian architecture that would have been more at home in Tehran than Damascus”. Sociology professor Marnia Lazreg claimed a Syrian policeman told her that the mosque, “was controlled by the Iranian government, which claimed its spiritual ownership.” Design and theological/political control aside, the shrine is one of Syria’s major Shia shrines.

Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya & The Militia’s Stages of Development

The main militia falling under the header of Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah is Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya (The Brigade of Sayyida Ruqayya). At the time of this writing, no other groups have yet been listed as under Quwat al-Ja’afariyah’s umbrella. The continual grouping of these two elements suggests that the groups may be one in the same, as opposed to it being a legitimate sub-militia which reports to a larger umbrella-style grouping or a parent organization.

Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya has claimed to be active in the Midan section of southern Damascus and to have fought in Jobar, Otaiba, Dekhania, and other sections to the north and east of Damascus. The group was also deployed to Shaykh Miskin in southern Syria.

Family connections between the group’s members is another noticeable trend. This speaks to how recruitment seeks new members and also shows the limited numbers from which it can recruit. During the militia’s participation in the November 2013 battles around Otaiba, Ali Mahmoud Darwish (A.K.A. Karar) and the 16 year-old fighter, Jawad Abbas Darwish (A.K.A. Abu Turab), were both killed. Reportedly, these fighters were cousins and were likely related to Shaker Rashid Darwish.

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Figure 3: The Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya martyrdom poster for Hasan Ahmed Kana’an. He is listed as a “martyr commander”. Additionally, Liwa al-Sayyida al-Ruqayya is described as, “The Islamic Resistance in Syria”. Interestingly, despite the group’s links to Irqi KSS, on this poster the “Islamic Resistance in Syria and Lebanon” is mentioned and not  the“Islamic Resistance in Iraq”.

There were number of developmental stages for the current Quwat al-Ja’afariyah and Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya. The first began with its inception as an NDF sub-militia in 2013. Then, the group’s fighters appeared under a number of different monikers. These names included, Huras al-Sayyida Ruqayya (The Guardians of Sayyida Ruqayya) and Liwa Ansar al-Husayn (The Brigade of the Supporters of Husayn). Whether these groups are still in existence, were little more than temporary fronts, or are elements of other units is unknown.

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Figure 4: A “martyrdom” poster featuring killed Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya members under the header, “Huras al-Sayyida Ruqayya”.

Still, during this initial stage, there was more direct linkages to the NDF and the Assad regime. Images promoting pro-Assad Syrian nationalism were a regular feature. The second stage of development, which immediately followed (if not coincided with the first), was the addition of links to Lebanese Hizballah. “Martyrdom” posters regularly featured a combination of Assad’s Syrian national flag and that of Lebanese Hizballah’s.

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Figure 5: A glass “martyrdom” commemoration award for Jawad Abbas Darwish. Note that his headshot has a Lebanese Hizballah logo as its background and the award’s main body features the pro-Assad Syrian national flag.

By the third stage in development, the group attained a more visible and unique identity which included recognition of links with Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. Identity based along associations with the NDF appeared to fade significantly. By early December 2014, this trend also overlapped with posted commemorations on Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah associated pages for fallen KSS members. In March 2015 when new “martyrdom” posters emerged for Jawad Abbas Darwish, no recognition of Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah’s links to the NDF were present. Still, the group’s logo featured the organization’s name, and over the dome for the Sayyida Ruqayya shrine there was text reading, “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada”.

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Figure 6: “Martyrdom” poster for Jawad Abbas Darwish featuring Liwa  al-Sayyida Ruqayya and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada markings.

The Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Connection

Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (The Battalions of the Lord of the Martyrs [a reference to Twelver Shi’ism’s third Imam]) was first announced as an independent Shia militia organization in early 2013. Around the time of its announcement KSS also declared it had sent fighters to Syria. Currently, the group is a prominent Iranian proxy with a presence in Iraq’s parliament. KSS has promoted the Iranian ideology of Absolute Wilayat al-Faqih and it has been claimed the group splintered from Kata’ib Hizballah.

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Figure 7: Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya fighters drink tea with fighters wearing KSS patches.

It is arguable whether the Quwat al-Ja’afariyah or Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya had early links to KSS. However, the late acknowledgement of this connection, which included recognition that the Syria-based group was essentially subservient to KSS, does create some intriguing questions:

Was local Syrian control degraded in some way that an Iraqi Shia proxy of Iran needed to take the reigns? Along with Lebanese Hizballah, is Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada attempting to spread its influence among Syria’s Shia? Why exactly was KSS picked to lead this effort as opposed to other groups? Is this all just another form of operational security for the group to obscure its true organizational structure? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are still concealed.

One factor is clear, during the timespan when Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah started acknowledging a link to KSS, KSS was deploying heavy numbers to Syria. These fighters were often sent to fight in Syria’s so-called, “Southern Front”. Starting in mid-2014, KSS launched a recruitment program targeting Iraqi Shia to fight in Syria. This program sporadically reared its head online from July 2014-March 2015.

Fighters belonging to Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya claimed to have deployed to Sheikh Miskin in November 2014. This too coincides with KSS sending forces to the same area around that time.

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Figure 8: A Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya martyrdom poster made for Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada commander Hamid al-Daraji (Abu Hashim).

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Figure 9: Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya fighters pose in Shaykh Miskin, Syria.

Whatever the depth of the KSS-Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah link, this connection sets the group aside from other pro-Assad Syrian Shia militias. There is always the possibility that these links represent little more than a response to conditions at a certain time (e.g. when KSS and Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya forces were deployed together). It remains to be seen if the group or KSS will further develop links and announce more formal connections. Nevertheless, Al-Quwat al-Ja’afariyah and Liwa al-Sayyida Ruqayya are representative of the amounts of power and influence held by foreign Shia proxies of Iran among Syrian Shia armed groups.

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

Quwat Sahl Nīnawā: Iraq’s Shia Shabak Get Their Own Militia

By Phillip Smyth

Liwa Sahl Ninewa

Figure 1: Quwat Sahl Nīnawā’s logo. The Iraqi (left) and Shabak (right) flags emerge out of a map of the Hamdaniya region of the Nineveh Plain. The symbol also features an AK-102 rifle.

Quwat Sahl Nīnawā (A.K.A. Liwa Sahl Nineveh or QSN) purports to be a Shia Shabak militia associated with the Democratic Assembly of Shabaks (Tajema’ al-Shabak al-Dimokrati or DAS).1 QSN announced itself via a November 23, 2014 official statement posted on the website and social media apparatus belonging to the DAS. The group has also already claimed to take casualties in the fight against the Sunni jihadist “Islamic State” (A.K.A. IS, ISIS, or ISIL).2

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Figure 2: A QSN fighter poses with martyrdom posters (one featuring the dome of Sayyida Zaynab in Syria – bottom right) and other posters featuring Badr Organization founder Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Sadr and the first Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Present in the symbols and photos, QSN mixes a limited quantity of Shabak particularism and an added emphasis on Shia identity. On some pages the group has simultaneously promoted links to Iran’s proxy forces. While the group may have relations with Iran’s proxies, its official statements have announced a commitment to “gladly serve the supreme religious authority in Najaf [Grand Ayatollah Sistani].”3 This would likely indicate the group is not an equivalent (in terms of ideology and/or levels of control) to newer Iraqi Shia Iran-proxy militias such as Hizballah al-Abrar.

Photos claiming to show the group training also indicate that they may be assembled along the lines of a “Popular Assembly/Mobilization” or “al-Hashd al-Sha’abi” type group. Photographs of claimed QSN fighters holding flags promoting al-Hashd al-Sha’abi add further credence to this likelihood. Organization along those lines would mean many of the fighters are possibly newer recruits trained and likely led by more experienced personnel and advisors.

In photos of QSN, around 100 fighters were shown posing in ranks. This suggests the numbers for the group are likely in the range of 100-500 combatants.

The creation and promotion of the group may exemplify another method Iran and its proxies are using to place pressure on Kurdish organizations. QSN, as organized along lines of the more dominant Iraqi Arab Shia militias in the south of the country, also demonstrates the direction in which other new militias may be organized. QSN further exemplifies how some of Iraq’s minority groups are mobilizing against ISIS.

The Name & Symbols

QSN’s name directly refers to an area of heavy Shabak habitation, Iraq’s Ninewa (or Nineveh) Plain. Their logo and a post by the Shabak Democratic Assembly describes the group as “Quwat Sahl Nīnawā” or the “Nineveh Plain’s Forces.”4 Albeit, via social media, one page purporting to belong to the group claimed it also went by the name of “Liwa Sahl Nīnawā” or the “Nineveh Plains Brigade”. However, such minor alterations in name are common during the early stages of many new militias.5

The group’s logo also demonstrates a rather rudimentary approach to create symbolism for the new group. Readily available images (including the pictures of an AK-102 rifle, the Shabak and Iraqi flags, and a map of the Hamdaniya area of the Nineveh Plains) were likely pasted together following a simple image search online.6

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Figure 3: A QSN fighter poses with a flag associated with the Popular Mobilization type militias.

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Figure 4: QSN fighters congregate.

Who Are the Shabak & What is the Nineveh Plain?

The Nineveh Plain is a minority rich area; home to the Shabak, numerous Christian sects (including the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholics), Turkmen, Yezidis, and Kurds.7 Considered a heartland for Iraq’s Christians, Assyrian Christian and other Syriac (Aramean, Syriac, and Chaldean) Christian nationalist organizations and political parties have pushed for autonomy in the area.8 There has also been a campaign to make the Nineveh Plain its own province (under primarily Christian leadership) within the Iraqi federal framework.9 Nevertheless, the Plain has not been granted a truly autonomous standing.

Many Shabak insist they have a unique ethnic identity, which is neither Arab nor Kurd (albeit, primarily non-Kurdish).10 The group also speaks its own language, Shabaki.11 Most Shabak are also religiously (Twelver) Shia.12

Within the Nineveh Plain, the Shabak primarily live in villages to the east of the city of Mosul, in the Hamdaniya area, and a few thousand also lived in the city of Mosul (before the invasion). Due to ISIS advances, many Shabak hamlets have been overrun.

The Democratic Assembly of Shabak & Issues With the Kurds

While QSN was ostensibly created as a Shabak arm to fight back ISIS threats and offensives targeting the Shabak, there are other underlying trends present with the creation of the militia associated with Shabak-Kurdish relations.

Kurdish groups have shown interest in further incorporating areas of Shabak habitation into Kurdistan.13 As early as 2008, minority groups including the Shabak claimed there was an effort to “Kurdify” areas they inhabited.14

Along with the promotion of a separate non-Kurdish identity, the DAS’s leader and parliamentarian Hanin Qaddo has specifically called out Kurdish parties for claimed abuses against the Shabak. In 2008 Qaddo opposed the incorporation of Shabak inhabited areas into Iraqi Kurdistan.15 Two years later, Qaddo denounced the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) for “intimidating” Shabak voters.16 In 2012 the Shabak leader demanded the expulsion of Kurdish and Christian armed forces from the Nineveh Plain.17

With this in mind, QSN’s establishment also recalls the 2012 decision by then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow for the creation of a 500-man Shabak militia force referred to as, “The Shabak Regiment of Doom.”18

For their part, many Kurdish political leaders have not been supportive of independent Shabak efforts to create their own militias. Nevertheless, some of those Kurdish apprehensions were downgraded following the ISIS advance. Thus, QSN has not been the only Shabak armed group to come into existence. However, its other counterpart is under the control of Kurdish military commanders.19 Whereas QSN is organized along lines set by Baghdad-supported Shia militias and Iran’s proxy groups and does not appear to be taking order from Kurdish commanders.

Tensions between QSN’s DAS parent party and Kurdish parties may explain for QSN’s retention of its independence. The DAS, the largest Shabak Party, is also part of the ruling Iraqi State of Law Coalition. This is the same coalition which included former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the current Iraqi Prime Minister, the Badr Organization and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, among other Iranian proxy groups. Nevertheless, Qaddo has “wavered between the Hakim and Maliki factions,” and then ran on the Badr Organization’s electoral list.20

The increase in Iranian proxy cooperation via training, equipping, and other support also speaks to other issues related to Iran’s and their proxies’ policies in Iraq. The policies in question are particularly focused on Kurdistan. From the summer of 2014 until the present, there has been increased tension between Iran’s Iraqi Shia proxies and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.21 Additionally, Iran’s proxies have also threatened Kurdish leaders such as Masoud Barzani.22

A push for support for a group which has already had problems with Kurdish leadership seems to be another avenue for Tehran to exert pressure on the Kurds. Nevertheless, QSN’s main goals and activities have and will likely remain oriented against the existential threat that is ISIS.

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Figure 5: Around 100 QSN are shown in this photo.

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Figure 6: QSN Martyrs are shown on a poster featuring the dome of Syria’s Sayyida Zaynab. It is possible the dome was included by graphics designers to demonstrate that the fight in Syria and Iraq, marketed as “protection for shrines”, are one in the same.

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Figure 7: The martyrdom poster for Kazem Husayn al-Asharaf (Abu Sajad).

Videos

Notes: 

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2 It is important to note that an Assyrian Christian militia by the same name has also been announced.

3 See: http://www.alshabak.net/ArticlePrint.aspx?ID=479. Often, Iran’s proxies adhere to the religious-ideological concept of absolute Wilayat al-Faqih and religious and political loyalty is given to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

5 This was the case with Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas. The group was often referred to as “Kata’ib Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas” or “Kata’ib Abu Fadl al-Abbas.”

6 An example of this includes the photo of the AK-102: http://www.avtomats-in-action.com/media3/AK102right3.jpg.

12 Many Sunni Shabak often consider themselves Kurdish.

22 Ibid.

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.

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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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.

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.

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

Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria

By Phillip Smyth (psmyth@jihadology.net)

Click here for a PDF version of this post

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Figure 1: A KSS member salutes the group’s flag.

When Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) first announced their presence to the world, little was known about the organization, its leadership, or its force size. Funerals the group held for three of its fallen fighters in May not only announced the group’s existence, but also pointed to a strong link with Iran. However, following these funerals, little was heard from the group. Nevertheless, it would appear that starting in August the organization has fully redeveloped its messaging and online propaganda. This campaign has included well-organized and professional group funerals for members killed fighting in Syria, brand new and far-less amateurish imagery, and the introduction of some more unique features in KSS’s propaganda. Even the group’s uniforms have undergone a type of remake, featuring the KSS’s logo and patches showing their fighter’s commitments to “Defending Sayydiah Zaynab”.

The group has also been more open when it came to the numbers of its fighters deployed to Syria. In an Al-Sharqiya interview held with KSS’s information office, the group claimed to have sent 500 members to Syria.[1] Public announcements by the group have also established that since July, KSS has deployed a number of combat units to more rural zones around Damascus, particularly the frontlines in East Ghouta.

Additionally, via official websites belonging to the Badr Organization Military Wing, it is possible that a closer relationship exists between KSS and the Badr Organization. Since Badr did not announce its involvement in Syria until July, 2013, this may be a signal that KSS was used as a front group to send Badr fighters to Syria.

In terms of a social media presence, KSS has tried to reinvent itself. When the group’s more private group page was removed from Facebook, the organization simultaneously established a new Facebook page and more private profiles to disseminate photos and other information about the group. Since August, KSS has posted 1-4 unique new photographs of their activities in Syria. Additionally, other pro-Shia militia-in-Syria Facebook pages have re-posted their photographs.

Social media stature aside, the group’s rapid public growth, increased professionalism, combat deployments, and growing presence in Iraq—beyond its original base in Basra, demonstrates KSS as a rapidly growing Shia militia force. It is likely KSS will continue to announce its militant activities in Syria.

The Fighters

The fighters of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada appear to be uniformed with clear identifiable insignia. The combatants carry arms which are familiar to other Shia militia groups, particularly the PKM machine gun, RPG-7s, Kalashnikov-type assault rifles, and the popular SVD-style sniper rifle. KSS fighters have also been photographed with anti-material sniper rifles.

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Figure 2: A KSS fighter with a customized Kalashnikov-type rifle and an SVD style sniper rifle.

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Figure 3: A KSS fighter poses with a mortar.

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Figure 4: A KSS fighter poses on rubble with an SVD style sniper rifle. Note the KSS logo patch.

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Figure 5: A KSS fighter holds an RPG-7.

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Figure 6: KSS fighters pose with a PKM machine gun.

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Figure 7: A small unit of KSS fighters holding a mixture of Kalashnikov type rifles, an SVD style sniper rifle, and a PKM machine gun

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Figure 8: This KSS fighter appears to be holding a Steyr HS .50 style,  .50 caliber bolt action anti-material sniper rifle. The rifle could also be an Iranian copy of the HS .50.

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Figure 9: Diya Issawi’s brother (left), pictured in a white turban of commonly found with Shia clerics. He was listed by KSS

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Figure 10: KSS members “Enjoy a simple modest lunch”. This photo was issued by the group to demonstrate the humility of their fighters.

The KSS’s New Martyrs

On August 20, a main Facebook page which publishes information about Shia militia operations and deaths in Syria, claimed that Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada was operating in East Ghouta. During their operations in the area, the page reported three fighters as killed-in-action, with another five missing (listed in the post as, “Fate unknown”).

On August 24, KSS released eight martyrdom announcements in the form of more professionally designed graphics. The photographs were first released on the KSS and then the Badr Organization Military Wing’s official Facebook page. The posted images presumably show the eight fighters who were killed or who were missing in East Ghouta, in Rif Dimashq. It is important to note that on August 21, East Ghouta was also the reported as the scene of the deadliest chemical weapons attack within Syria.[2] According to American Military University’s In Homeland Security Blog chief correspondent and chemical weapons expert, William Tucker, it is possible these KSS fighters were, “bracketing the kill box”.[3] Meaning, they had generally surrounded the area where the chemical weapons were used and then attacked any Syrian rebel elements which may have tried to breakout.

However, a video emerged on September 1st showing some of the KSS fighters being killed in an assault by rebel forces.  A longer video of the engagement was released on September 7th. The KSS fighters were reportedly stationed in what rebels referred to as a train station in East Ghouta. This would suggest that some of the KSS fighters may have been guarding transportation links in the area.

** Warning: Graphic Imagery **

In the video, it is clear to see that KSS fighters openly wear the insignia for their organization during combat operations. Some KSS and possibly Hizballah fighters are shown with Shia Islamic paraphernalia. One card removed from the pocket of a dead fighter featured a stylized photo of the assassinated Hizballah terror-leader, Imad Mughniyeh.[4]

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Figure 11: Eight of the dead KSS members are featured on this poster.

Name: Amir al-Badlawi

Death Announced: September 5, 2013

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Name: Muhammed Radi al-Shumaylawi

Death Announced: August 24, 2013. Funeral held on August 27, 2013.

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Name:  Al-Said Hasan ‘Ali Farhoud al-Furaydawi

Death Announced: August 11, 2013

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Name: Sejjad al-Shibani

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

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Name: Walid al-‘Abudi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013.

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Name: ‘Ali Hamza al-Deraghi al-Sadiqi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

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Figure 12: Sadiqi is shown in a car with what may be another KSS member and a Kalashnikov style rifle.

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Figure 13: An official KSS release of Sadiqi with other KSS fighters.

Name: Zulfiqar al-Raseetmawi

Death Announced: August 25, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

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Name: Muhammed ‘Abd al-Husayn al-Faridawi

Death Announced: August 25, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

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Name: Ala al-Ka’bi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

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Name: Watheq Hashem al-‘Anzi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

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Figure 14: An officially produced martyrdom post

Name: ‘Ali Sami al-Zubaydi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Notes: Zubaydi was one of the few KSS dead who had other photos of him in Syria uploaded to a number of pro-Shia militia Facebook pages.

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Figure 15: Zubaydi is pictured smoking a cigarette while sitting with another KSS fighter in Syria.

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Figure 16: Zubaydi is shown with other KSS fighters.

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Figure 17: KSS held a funeral for four of their members in Basra, Iraq on August 27, 2013. The group funeral mimicked those held by other Iranian-backed Shia groups operating in Syria. Four caskets can be seen mounted to the tops of white Chevrolet SUVs.

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Figure 18: The KSS honor guard surrounds a casket and flies flags belonging to the group.

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Figure 19: Posters of Iran’s late Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini (left) and Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei (right) are carried by the honor guard for the August 27th funeral.

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Figure 20: The KSS honor guard holds posters in honoring their fallen and the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei.

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Figure 21: An Iraqi Shia woman strikes a grief pose in between two SUVs carrying the caskets of KSS’s dead. The poster behind the woman features 11 KSS fighters who were killed in Syria. The Ayatollah Khamenei is also shown on this poster.

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Figure 22: Iraqi Shia women are shown grieving next to the convoy of SUVs carrying Muhammed ‘Abd al-Husayn al-Faridawi’s casket.

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Figure 23: The convoy of KSS dead driving through Iraq’s Diyala Province.  According to analyst Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, this convoy was reported by pro-Iraqi Sunni protest pages as having taken place in Meqdadiya.

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Figure 24: Another shot of the group funeral for four of KSS’s members.

Gruesome Uploads: KSS Promotes Their Kills

** Warning: Graphic Imagery **

One unusual feature found in KSS’s photographic propaganda from June-August, 2013 has been the group’s images featuring dead anti-Assad fighters. Compared to other Iraqi Shia organizations which have contributed fighters, KSS has posted a disproportionate amount of images promoting their “Kills” in relation to photographs of their own fighters.

The posting of graphic images of dead Syrian rebels has actually been a growing trend with the group since the first image-posts by KSS appeared online on various social media outlets. In fact, the only film purporting to show KSS fighters in Syria actually showed them standing over and inspecting their dead foes.

In a number of these photos, KSS militiamen are shown putting their feet on the faces of dead rebel militants. In some cases, captions for some of the more gruesome photographs mocked dead rebel fighters. One of the photographed dead rebels, whose torso had been ripped open and internal organs were exposed, had “Hahaha” written for the photo caption. Other graphic photos (note: These have not been included) have shown a rebel’s brain spilling from his head. Captions often included accusations that dead rebels were nothing but, “Saudi terrorists”.

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Figure 25: A KSS fighter stand next to dead rebels.

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Figure 26: Another photo of a KSS fighter placing his foot on the face of a dead rebel fighter. Note the black headband often worn by Sunni Islamist elements.

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Figure 27: A KSS member’s boot is shown pressed against a dead rebel’s face.

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Figure 28: A KSS member steps on the face of a dead rebel fighter.

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Figure 29: KSS fighters pose with Syrian rebels they have killed.

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Figure 30: A collection of dead rebels is claimed by KSS.

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Figure 31: A KSS photo showing numerous dead rebels.

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Figure 32: KSS fighters pose with a man they claim was a rebel fighter.

Khamenei, Hakim, Khomeini & Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada

Unlike other Iraqi Shia organizations which have sent fighters to Syria, the main—generally the only—religious figure the KSS has featured on its propaganda imagery has been that of Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. In some instances, Ayatollah Khomeini is shown. This is a sharp contrast from groups such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which has shown Iraq’s late Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq Sadr along with Khamenei. In fact, only one KSS poster has shown an Iraqi clerical leader other than Khamenei or Khomeini, Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir Hakim. Hakim was instrumental in the formation of the Badr Brigade, which today has morphed into the Badr Organization (see section below for possible KSS connections to the Badr Organization).

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Figure 33: A KSS fighter holds the group’s flag as he and other KSS fighters look into the sky. In the sky, Khamenei smiles down at them. The Zaynab shrine’s golden dome can be seen by Khamenei.

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Figure 34: Khamenei is shown waving to KSS fighters as they stand in front of the golden dome of the Zaynab shrine.

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Figure 35: Khamenei and Khomeini smile down on three KSS fighters who were killed in Syria.

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Figure 36: Martyrdom poster for Hadi Jasm al-‘Azawi. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is shown on the right.  Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir al-Hakim, the pro-Iranian founding member and leader of the Badr Brigade, is shown on the left.

The Badr Connection

Another development which started in late-July, 2013 was the appearance of growing links between Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Iraq’s Badr Organization. Around this time, the Badr Organization formally announced it had sent forces to Syria.

The Badr Organization Military Wing’s official Facebook page has not only published a number of KSS deaths, but has also posted special photographs implying possible joint Badr-KSS cooperation in Syria. Making the connection more unique was the fact that other Iranian-backed Shia organizations operating in Syria have not published similar styles of photos. The Badr Organization Military Wing has also published many KSS announcements regarding deaths of KSS fighters.

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Figure 37: An official KSS poster released on the Badr Organization Armed Wing’s Facebook page. This could suggest that the fighters found in Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada have some type of connection to the Badr Organization’s Armed Wing.

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Figure 38: A Badr Organization Military Wing photo showing a fighter and featuring the combined symbols of the Badr Organization and KSS.

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Figure 39: Another photo showing militiamen and a combined KSS-Badr Organization logo.


[1] See: http://www.alsharqiya.com/?p=67524, August 27, 2013.

[3] Personal conversation, August 27, 2013.

[4] H/T to othm_ali and @pettybooshwah for sending me videos of rebel operations which killed the KSS fighters.

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

The Lion of Damascus, and Afghans, and Africans! Oh My!: Fighters From Exotic Locales In Syria’s Shia Militias

By Phillip Smyth (psmyth@jihadology.net)

When monitoring funerals for Shia militants killed fighting in Syria and the Shia militia organizations supplying those fighters, it becomes clear the majority of fighters have originated in Iraq and Lebanon. Additionally, the majority of organizations supplying fighters are admitted followers of Iranian revolutionary ideology. Nevertheless, it is possible that not all of the Shia fighters deployed to Syria have come from Arab states with very large Shia populations.

Since early 2013, there were announcements (mainly on social media and forums) of non-Arab Shia militants who made up part of the Shia militia, Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA). LAFA has functioned as the main front militia set-up by Iran and the Assad regime for foreign Shia fighters in Syria.

One of the most explosive claims made by pro-LAFA supporters and rebels was of LAFA fighters who originated from Afghanistan or Pakistan (the latter is furthered only by pro-rebel elements). By July 26, 2013, there was also an announcement of a combatant from West Africa taking part in the “Defense of Saydah Zaynab”.

However, with all of these reports, there is little data to confirm the nationality or the ethnic groups to which these fighters belong or belonged. Indeed, the presence of Afghan, Pakistani, and/or African fighters is—if they amount to more than just select individuals—most likely negligible within Syria’s Shia militia organizations.

Instead, there may be other reasons possible non-Arab presence in Syria’s Shia militias has been announced and furthered. For Iran, furthering narratives which support the theme of a broad Shia front fighting to support Assad has been a developing strategy. For rebels, furthering the story of Afghans fighting for Assad is a damning demonstration of the Assad regime’s hypocrisy. Since 2012, Assad has lambasted the rebels, going so far as to call their military operations a, “Foreign invasion”.[1]

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Figure 1: According to one pro-LAFA Facebook page, this  LAFA militiaman was an Afghan Shia who was killed. This photo was also found on Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s official Facebook group page.

Are There Afghans In Syria’s Shia Militias?

Starting in late January 2013, there were social media posts from both pro-rebel and pro-LAFA Facebook pages suggesting there were Afghan Shia, possibly from the Shia Hazara ethnic group, fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces. This claim was supported by photos and via a video (presented below) showing Shia militiamen operating a technical.  In addition to social media claims, in April, the Afghan government also stated it would start an investigation into Afghans sent to Syria “by Iran”.[2]

Syrian rebels were the first to heavily promote the idea that Shia militia organizations were utilizing Shia fighters from Afghanistan. In April, the pro-rebel Al-Ghad TV even reported that Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas included, “fighters from Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan”.[3]

Thus far, there has been no evidence demonstrating Shia fighters from Pakistan are in Syria. Even though definitive and detailed data is lacking, the narrative of Afghan Shia fighting in Syria is still a popular theme with rebels on social media and blogs.[4]

Shia militias in Syria have done little to counter the claims of Afghans fighting in their ranks. Instead of refuting numerous pro-rebel postings about Afghan Shia fighters in Syria, Shia supporters of Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas, and its allied foreign-staffed Shia militias, have also furthered the narrative of Syria’s Afghan Shia fighters. One pro-LAFA page went so far as to suggest there was a, “Martyr from the Shia in Afghanistan” in Syria. Before the official Facebook group page for Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada was removed from the website, pro-KSS members of the group also claimed there were Afghan Shia fighters in Syria.

Regardless, data confirming an Afghan presence is still slim. On none of the pro-LAFA Facebook pages were any of the names of the Afghan fighters listed. The mens’ nom de guerres, which are commonly listed by some Shia militia pages, were not presented. There were also no other details about the fighters or their origins posted online. Furthermore, no publicized funerals for Afghan Shia killed in Syria have been held.

If reports of Afghan Shia fighting in Syria are true, one possible source for these fighters may be from Afghanistan’s Hazara community. The Hazara speak dialects of Persian and are generally Twelver Shia (like other Arab and Iranian fighters based in Syria). Iran is also home to one of the largest populations of Hazara refugees.[5] Despite Hazara presence in, and historical interactions with Iran, this does not necessitate that most Hazara adhere to Iranian ideology. However, there are Hazara who are Khomeinists.[6]

Since Iran has used its other ideologically allied proxies to supply Shia militias in Syria, recruiting from Afghan Shia, who adhere to Khomeinist ideology, would be a logical path for Tehran to follow.

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Figure 2: A photograph showing what numerous pro-LAFA Facebook pages have suggested were two Afghan Shia members of LAFA. Some of the Facebook pages have claimed the two were killed during fighting around the Saydah Zaynab Shrine. The fighter on the left was also recorded in a video (see below).

 

In addition to photos, videos of “Afghan Shia fighting for Assad” have also surfaced. The first video shows one of the supposedly Afghan fighters (in the video he is holding a PKM machine gun) while other Shia militiamen fire a large caliber machine gun from a technical. The “Afghan” speaks briefly in accented Arabic. Unfortunately, the fighter’s accent could not be placed.

In another video showing “Killed Assad soldiers and Iranians”, a number of comments surrounding the video suggest a killed fighter was a “Hazara Shia” from Afghanistan. The video was spread around to numerous social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, with the claim that the dead man pictured in the clip was an “Afghan Shia”. In an Afghan media report, the dead man was claimed to be, “Safar Mohammad son of Khan Ali and is the resident of northern Balkh province of Afghanistan.”[7] Nevertheless, none of these claims could be independently confirmed nor were they carried by other media outlets.

From Abidjan to Damascus: Zaynab’s African Defender

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Figure 3: The original photo of Kuwni circulated on Facebook pages managed by pro-LAFA/LAFA administrators.

Called the, “First African martyr” for the Sayyidah Zaynab Shrine, Muhammed Suleiman al-Kuwni was reported dead on the pro-LAFA/LAFA administered “Al-Shiaa” Facebook page on July 26, 2013. One pro-LAFA Facebook page claimed Kuwni was killed due to injuries he suffered during fighting. Interestingly, Kuwni was not reported to be a member of Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas or of another announced Shia militia in Syria. Instead he was simply listed as a “Defender of…Zaynab”.

His death was later reported by Iranian media outlets on July 27, 2013.[8] On that same day Iranian media started covering Kuwni’s story, Hizballah’s SouthLebanon.org webpage also included a prayer for him.[9] Most importantly, both Iranian and pro-LAFA Arabic language sources reported Kuwni was originally from the West African state of Côte d`Ivoire, home to almost half a million Shia Muslims.[10]

Stories about Kuwni did not include details on any burial plans. Additionally, more comprehensive information covering his family, or a detailed biography stating where he was originally from in Côte d`Ivoire was also not presented.

Hizballah and Iranian activities have been rather extensive in West Africa.[11] According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, Hizballah has also pieced together an extensive fundraising and recruiting network in Côte d`Ivoire.[12] It is possible Kuwni passed through Hizballah recruitment in Africa, was trained (likely in Lebanon), and was then deployed to fight in Syria. However, his case remains unique and unusual. Iran has primarily utilized Arabic-speaking proxies from Iraq and Lebanese Hizballah to bolster Assad. The addition of African fighters demonstrates Tehran is more open to using proxies from all over the world.


[5] Grant Farr, “The Hazara of Central Afghanistan”, in Barbara Brower and Barbara Rose Johnston (eds.), Disappearing Peoples?: Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Minorities in South and Central Asia, (Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Inc., 2007), P. 164.

[10] Shireen Hunter, Iran’s Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era: Resisting the New International Order, (Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2010), P. 227.

[11] In Nigeria, Hizballah has been involved in maintaining arms caches and the creation of groups pushing Iranian revolutionary ideology. Nigeria even has its own political organization (the Islamic Movement of Nigeria) which was created as a near mirror image of Lebanese Hizballah. See: http://www.islamicmovement.org/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17908704.  See also: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/07/12/nigeria-judge-refuses-bail-for-3-lebanese-nigerians-accused-hoarding-hezbollah/ and http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.530327. For some earlier examples (2009-2010) of Iranian diplomatic, cultural, and financial moves in West Africa, see: http://www.irantracker.org/analysis/ahmadinejad-west-africa-iranian-outreach-reveals-tehran-foreign-policy-aug-3-2010-3242. See also: http://www.aei.org/article/foreign-and-defense-policy/regional/subsaharan-africa/forgotten-africa-turns-to-iran-as-a-result-of-western-neglect/.

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

Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir: A New Shia Militia Operating In Aleppo, Syria

By Phillip Smyth (psmyth@jihadology.net)

Click here for a PDF version of this post

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Figure 1: The logo for Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir. The group’s name is stylized into a pattern which includes the Lebanese Hizballah/Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps style symbol of a fist gripping an AK-47. (In Gold) “Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir” (‘Ammar Ibn Yasir Brigade) and (in blue) “Al-Muqawama al-Islamiya” (“The Islamic Resistance”).

Since the first announcement of organized Iraqi Shia fighting on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria, their geographic displacement in the country was often matched with their propaganda statements. Both Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas and Liwa’a Zulfiqar have stated on their multitude of social media platforms, videos, and through photographs, that their primary area of operation is Damascus. In particular, the Saydah Zaynab Shrine features heavily in their propaganda and the groups are self-proclaimed “Defenders” of the Shrine.

However, with the creation of Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir (‘Ammar Ibn Yasir Battalion or LAIY), the “Defenders of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine” narrative is now encompassing an organization which—according to its statements and other sources—does not operate in Damascus or directly maintain a presence at the Saydah Zaynab Shrine. In fact, LAIY advertises the fact that it is operating in the areas surrounding the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. In videos released by the group onto YouTube, the films’ titles proclaim LAIY fighters are present in rural sections of Aleppo. While this could not be independently confirmed, it would appear the group is attempting to cast another narrative that LAIY is the pro-Assad Shia militia organization which handles combat operations in the Aleppo area.

The fact the group is announcing it is operating in Aleppo is very important when assessing the manner Iranian-backed Shia militias have been utilized in Syria. Initially, most analysts and journalists have acknowledged these groups have fought around the Saydah Zaynab Shrine in Damascus or, as with Lebanese Hizballah, fought at Qusayr. This represents a major departure from the accepted line and shows that Iraqi-staffed Shia militias are likely operating in other urban areas throughout the country.

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Figure 2: Since the creation of LAIY’s official Facebook page, the group has made attempts to demonstrate they are posting statuses from Aleppo.

Initially, LAIY announced their presence to the world through the creation of a Facebook page made at the end of May, 2013. The page only posted basic status updates including quotes from Lebanese Hizballah General Secretary and in a blatant display of their loyalty to Iran, postings of two photographs featuring Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The caption for one of the photographs read, “Labayka ya Khamenei” (“We are here for you, O Khamenei”). Other early photographs emphasized the same “Defenders of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine” narrative first promoted by Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas and Lebanese Hizballah.

The logic behind the continuance of the “Defenders of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine” narrative for a group not directly defending it, is likely a way to express that despite LAIY not directly defending the shrine, the very fact they are countering anti-Assad forces in other parts of Syria helps save the shrine. Extending the narrative in this way allows for later potential announcements addressing the presence of other pro-Assad Shia militia in other areas of Syria. The rhetoric also acts and as a blanket explanation for why the groups’ directly cooperate and back the regime of Bashar al-Assad. For LAIY’s messaging campaign, it is key to demonstrate that backing Assad on all fronts means the Saydah Zaynab Shrine and other Shia religious structures will be protected.

Off of the internet, LAIY made its presence known in the same way Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada did during the Spring of 2013; Via extravagant funeral cum demonstrations for fallen members of the organization. On June 4, a large funeral in Iraq’s Maysan was held for seven members of LAIY. Like Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, at the group funeral, representatives from the organization announced they would defend shrines, “All over the world”.[1]

LAIY has also exhibited a number of advanced messaging strategies. When the organization was announced, it already had its own song (posted below), a symbol, fighters dressed in similar combat fatigues, and a clear messaging strategy to address its presence in Syria.

LAIY’s Name

Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir takes its name from ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir. Described by historian Matti Moosa as, “one of Ali’s [considered by Shia to be the Islamic prophet Muhammed’s true successor for leadership of the Muslim community] most zealous companions and champions”, Yasir is revered by Shia for his loyalty.[2]

The group’s name also references the tomb of ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir which was located in Raqqa, Syria. The tomb was blown-up by Sunni Islamist rebels forces in March, 2013. These forces also recorded the destruction of the tomb and distributed their video online.[3] The video then made its rounds on pro-Assad media outlets. In terms of narrative development, the adoption of the name of a destroyed Shia shrine in Syria further underlines the line the group previously established as, “Defenders of shrines”.

Nevertheless, there have been no specific mentions of the destruction of ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir’s tomb via the group’s statements to the media or through their social media presence.

LAIY’s complete name is, Al-Muqawamah al-Islamiya fi Iraq Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir Hizballah al-Nujaba’ (The Islamic Resistance In Iraq ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir Brigade Hizballah Movement of the Outstanding). Adding further complication to the group, LAIY claims to be a part of Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba’ or Harakat al-Nujaba’ (The Hizballah Movement of the Outstanding). This group, in and of itself, is also new. Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba’ draws its name from the regularly used “Hizballah” term, a name found and utilized by a multitude of Iranian-backed organizations. It has also added that it is a “Harakat” or “movement”, most likely a way to appear as if it has greater numbers. The addition of the term, “al-Nujaba’” (plural for “The Outstanding”) references a term sometimes used in relation to the return of Imam al-Mahdi (for Shia, the Mahdi will return in a messianic form and establish a truly just earthly regime).[4]

LAIY’s Links, & Ideology

Based on the large amount of imagery, videos, and direct statements praising Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and repeated insistences where the group has said it is, “at Khamenei’s service”, LAIY does not hide its allegiance to Iranian leadership and ideology. The utilization of the exact “Defense of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine” narrative, honed by Lebanese Hizballah, Iran, and Iran’s many Iraqi Shia proxies—Many of whom have contributed fighters to the battle in Syria—also demonstrates a mirroring of larger Iranian strategies.

Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi, a founder and leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed organization which has lost members in Syria, has also featured prominently in LAIY propaganda. Al-Kaabi has described as a “Leader” by the group’s Facebook page and on posters the group has issued. The link to Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq further suggests LAIY and Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba’ may be front groups for other existing Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia parties. Additionally, imagery used for martyrdom posters matches those found with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. These posters normally feature Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr and Iranian Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei with a dark background or one featuring the Saydah Zaynab Shrine (see: Hizballah Cavalcade’s Roundup of Iraqi’s Killed in Syria, Parts 1, 2, and 3).

The utilization of the phrase, “Islamic Resistance” has also been a hallmark for Iranian-created organizations and has made a strong presence among the multitude of groups under Tehran’s guidance. Lebanese Hizballah calls itself, “Al-muqawama al-islamiya fi lubnan” (“The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon”).[5] Both Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hizballah have characterized themselves as the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq”.[6] Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have been utilizing the phrase more since May, 2013. In one Basra propaganda poster, the “Islamic Resistance” name was used by Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. According to LAIY’s Facebook page, the group offers a self-description as “Al-muqawama al-islamiya fi suriya” (“The Islamic Resistance in Syria”).

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Figure 3: Two LAIY propaganda posters featuring Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi.

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Figure 4: A sign for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Basra from the “Islamic Resistance” (Photo Credit: Anonymous source in Basra). The poster was put up in late June, 2013.

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Figure 5: Underneath the dome for the Saydah Zaynab Shrine there is text reading, “Labayka Khamenei” (“We are here for you Khamenei”).  On the left, the Iran’s Supreme Leader strikes a forceful pose with masked fighters gazing up at him. The photo serves as the banner image for LAIY’s Facebook page.

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Figure 6: A LAIY spokesman, observed at the June 4th group funeral, is shown with the golden dome of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine, LAIY’s logo, with his remarks about how the organization will address those who engage in the “Demolition of graves”.

Pan-Shia Sectarian Themes

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Figure 7: A poster from LAIY linking the lynched Sheikh Hassan Shehata to Iranian ideologue and first Supreme Leader for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini.

Iranian media outlets have regularly reported attacks on Shia shrines as part of a conspiratorial narrative where US and Israeli-backed Sunni Islamists have initiated a global campaign against Shi’ism.[7] When Egyptian Shia leader Sheikh Hassan Shehata and four other Shia were brutally murdered by a mob, Iranian propaganda covered the lynching as another example of “Takfiri extremists” targeting the Shia.[8] While this is not entirely false, their reporting of the incident was an attempt to link the event to the Iranian narrative on Syria. This line says that the West and Israel are backing “Takfiris” (note: All rebels are branded as “Takfiris”) in order to destroy Islamic unity and destroy the Shia. In a May 27th Facebook post, LAIY utilized the “U.S. and Zionist” conspiracy narrative to praise the success of “Jihadist media” (meaning Iranian-backed Shia jihadists) in the face of such opposition.

The attempt to draw Shehata as in some way ideologically or religiously related to Khomeini is also a way for the group to lump all Shia under the Iranian ideological umbrella. Additionally, it also attempts to show how Iranian-backed groups like LAIY are the only organizations defending Shi’ism.

LAIY took these concepts and produced a poster to commemorate Shehata’s murder and attempt to convey that they would defend against future incidents like his public lynching. For the increasingly targeted Middle Eastern Shia community, it is possible LAIY was attempting to play off of sentiments for the need to defend Shi’ism.

LAIY’s Martyrs

Reportedly, seven members of LAIY had a group funeral in Iraq’s Maysan province on June 4, 2013. While limited recordings of the funeral are available, not all of the dead could be positively identified. On July 3, 2013 another, older member of LAIY was announced as having been killed in Syria via LAIY’s Facebook page.

Interestingly, LAIY members who have been killed have been referred to (individually) as, “Shaheed al-Jihad” (“Martyr of the Jihad”) as opposed to the phrases “Shaheed al-Batal” (“The Hero Martyr”) or “Shaheed al-Mujahid” (“The Holy Warrior Martyr”). The latter two are commonly used by other Iraqi Shia groups who have lost fighters in Syria.

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Name: Hamid Abd al-Hasan ‘Ali

Death Announced: July 3, 2013

Notes: Hamid Abd al-Hasan was described in a few posts as a commander of LAIY forces. His older age may also indicate his role as some type of a leader for the group’s fighters in Syria.

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Figure 8: An announcement for the death of Hamid Abd al-Hasan ‘Ali. The deceased Iraqi Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr looks on from the left side of the poster.

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Figure 9: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in a martyrdom announcement/poster with Hamid Abd al-Hasan ‘Ali.

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Figure 10: Both the Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei (left) and the late Iraqi Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr (right) hold their heads in sadness. Hamid Abd al-Hasan ‘Ali is pictured in the middle in front of the dome for the Saydah Zaynab Shrine.

Name: Husayn ‘Abd al-Sadah

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

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Figure 11: Husayn ‘Abd al-Sadah is shown holding an AK-47 type rifle with the late Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr (left) and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei (right).

Name: Mustafa Muhammed al-‘Abadi

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

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Figure 12: A photo of Mustafa Muhammed al-‘Abadi’s martyrdom poster taken in Nasiriya, Iraq. The poster claims he was a member of “Harakat al-Nujaba’ Liwa’a ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir” (“Movement of the Outstanding ‘Ammar Ibn Yasir Brigade”).

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Figure 13: A GMC Yukon was used as a hearse (his coffin was placed on the roof) for al-‘Abadi as it drove with other vehicles carrying other LAIY fighter’s bodies.

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Figure 14: A compilation of the June 4th group funeral photos posted by the group on June 5, 2013.

Name: ‘Abbas Fadhl

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

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Figure 15: It would appear the same photograph which was used for Husayn ‘Abd al-Sadah had Fadhl’s head pasted into place.

Name: ‘Ali Husayn Jaber

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

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Figure 16: A vid-capture of a larger martyrdom poster with Jaber’s face.

Name: Abbas Fadhl Qasim (al-Sudani)

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

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Figure 17: A headshot of the bearded Qasim can be seen behind a LAIY spokesman and in front of the Saydah Zaynab Shrine.

Name: Hasan ‘Abd al-Sada Burhan

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

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Figure 18: A vid-capture of a larger martyrdom poster with Burhan’s face.

Name: Husayn Jaber al-Maliki

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

*No photo available*

Name: ‘Alla’ Muhammed Salman al-Nasimi

Death Announced: June 4, 2013

Notes: Funeral was held alongside other LAIY dead during the group funeral in Maysan.

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Figure 19: A screen-capture of Nasimi’s martyrdom poster. As with posters for members of Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas, Lebanese Hizballah, and Iraqi Shia groups, the dead individual’s head shot is placed in front of a photo of Damascus’s Saydah Zaynab Shrine.

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Figure 20: A shot of the LAIY honor guard at the June 4, 2013 group funeral. The first sign prominently displays, “Harakat Al-Nujaba’.”

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In videos of the funeral, those present chanted, “Labayka ya Zaynab” (“We are here for you, O Zaynab”). In two of the videos, LAIY’s official anthem can be heard being played by trucks carrying speakers. Posters with the late Iranian radical leader, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, his successor and Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and late Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq al-Sadr are present.

Combat Videos

Most of the major videos have come from a YouTube account by the name of, “Kata’ib Jaysh al-Mahdi” (The Mahdi Army Brigades). This name invokes memories of Iraqi religious and political leader, Muqtada al-Sadr and his Jaysh al-Mahdi (the Mahdi Army). Thus far, Sadr has been reluctant to send fighters to Syria and has had a complicated relationship with Iran’s leadership.[9]

Due to the fact that LAIY claims to be part of Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba’ (Harakat al-Nujaba’) and the prolific photographs and posters featuring Iranian leaders Ayatollah Khomeini and Khamenei, it is more likely the group is utilizing general themes which would appeal to Sadrists to win greater Iraqi support.

Videos of LAIY engaged in combat first appeared in early July and were posted by two accounts and all of the videos were posted between late June and early July, 2013. In one of the videos, a captured Syrian rebel can be viewed tied-up while being questioned by a LAIY fighter, gunfire can also be heard. In another far more graphically violent video, LAIY fighters recorded Syrian rebels they killed.

It is interesting to note that LAIY fighters are wearing yellow ribbons on their clothing. This addition is often recognized by rebels as signifying these fighters are foreign Shia militants. Lebanese Hizballah donned the ribbons when they fought in Qusayr and it has been reported by some rebel sources that these ribbons are used by Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas in Damascus.

In two other videos, the poster of the clips claims to show LAIY fighters engaged in combat in the Aleppo area. One video is set to LAIY’s song and shows fighters firing a machine gun and carrying RPG-7s. In another video, also marked as having been from the Aleppo area, photos of LAIY members and video of LAIY members firing a machine gun, an RPG-7 from a roof, and holding RPG-7s can be viewed. Also, a photo LAIY fighters posing with a captured Sunni Islamist rebel jeep is present. The second video is also set the a song, “Support Those Who Defend Zaynab” (see the 4th music video from the bottom of the post), by Ali al-Delfi and Ahmed al-Sa’adi. The song directly praises Liwa’a Abu Fadl al-Abbas.

**Warning: Graphic Images**

 


[2] Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects, (New York, Syracuse University Press, 1988), P. xix.

[4] An interesting example of this can be found here: http://www.alameli.net/books/?id=3453. The book discusses the Egyptian relationship with early Islamic leaders, including the Shia. This particular chapter discusses “Egyptian assistance for the Mahdi”.

[5] Hizballah proudly wears the “Islamic Resistance” title. See: http://www.moqawama.org/

[6] Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s original webpage used to be www.iraq-moqawama.com (“Iraq-Resistance”—Note how Lebanese Hizballah’s is Moqawama.org) and group leaders often refer to the group as the “Islamic Resistance Movement” or the “Ahl al-Haq Islamic Resistance Movement”. See the new Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq website: http://www.ahlualhaq.com/. Kata’ib Hizballah has also called itself “The Islamic Resistance Kata’ib Hizballah”. See: http://www.aletejahtv.org/ArticleShow.aspx?ID=32244. See also: http://www.abna.ir/data.asp?lang=2&Id=427805.