NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.
The Big Picture Behind Kata’ib Hizballah’s Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Threats
By Phillip Smyth
First appearing on March 15, 2014 and posted to social media accounts linked to Kata’ib Hizballah (these included simultaneous posts on Facebook and Youtube)1, a video showing what appeared to be SA-7-type and SA-18-type Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS) was shown in the hands of Kata’ib Hizballah militiamen.
Interestingly, sections of one of the MANPADS serial numbers were also exposed in the video clip. It is possible the missile systems were not SA-7 and SA-18s, but might actually be an Iranian produced Misagh-type or Chinese produced QW-1-type MANPAD.2 This would not be the first time Kata’ib Hizballah has shown off a MANPAD capability. In 2010, the group released a video showing it possibly launching a QW-1-type missile system.
Technical details on what type of missile system was deployed aside, the video serves as a cap on a developing narrative line which has been promoted by Iran’s Shia militia proxies and via some Tehran’s own media organs.
Claims emanating from Iranian and their other proxy Shia militias have stated that the U.S. and other Coalition allies have supplied the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) via aerial deliveries. This was particularly the case in the month of February, during the run-up to the predominantly Shia militia push on Tikrit.3
As early as February 7, 2015, Kata’ib Hizballah statements were repeated in Iranian media. One report claimed the group had confirmed the U.S. was supplying ISIS via helicopter.4 Other accusations by Kata’ib Hizballah of U.S. supplies being routed to ISIS were continued. On February 20, a flurry of stories hit the media. Al-Etejah TV published a report that alleged that U.S. helicopter landed near the home of Sheikh Qasim al-Janabi.5 Janabi, a moderate Sunni tribal leader who worked with the Iraqi government was kidnapped and assassinated in Baghdad on February 14th.6 Janabi’s son and other moderate Sunni parliamentarians blamed Shia militias for his kidnapping and murder.7 Also on the 20th, Al-Etejah published a story citing representatives in Babil who claimed U.S. aircraft were dropping supplies to ISIS.8 Other outlets also published that Kata’ib Hizballah had threatened to deploy anti-aircraft missile systems in the wake of these claims that the U.S. was supplying ISIS.9
Three days later, the Badr Organization-linked Al Ghadeer TV reported that forces of the Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization, a term used to describe the umbrella grouping of numerous Iranian-backed and other local Shia militia forces) claimed to have recorded landings in Babil Province.10 This also coincided with even more baseless claims distributed via the IRGC-linked Fars News that two British planes had been “shot down” while carrying weapons to ISIS.11
These types of accusations continued, and on March 5, 2015, the head of the Badr Organization’s parliamentary bloc, Qasim Muhammed Jalal Hussein Al-Araji,12 stated that the group had documents proving the U.S. was aiding ISIS.13 In an article published a day after the Kata’ib Hizballah video release, Harakat Hizballah al-Nujaba leader, Akram Ka’abi threatened U.S.-led Coalition aircraft. In the interview he stated, “Our air defenses are ready to target their planes, which are helping IS by giving them weapons and ammunition.”14
What Does It All Mean?
Needless to say, an active campaign by Kata’ib Hizballah and other Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia/jihadist organizations has been aimed at the U.S. and other Coalition allies (namely, the U.K.). The display of MANPAD systems underlines what likely appears to be messaging aimed at reducing the Coalition’s willingness to undertake further anti-ISIS air operations. In turn, if the threats succeed in that goal, it would grant more responsibility and control for Iran and its proxies on the battlefields of Iraq.
Another, more ideologically based goal is also included within these threats. The claim that the U.S. and other Western entities have supported radical Sunni extremist groups is a theme well honed by Iran and its proxies since the U.S. occupied Iraq (2003-2011) and in the war in Syria.15 The further push for these lines demonstrates another longer-term type of goal, even if it is only marginally effective, to alter the narrative and build broader distrust for the U.S. and other Western states.
1 Kata’ib Hizballah, an Iraq-based, direct Iranian proxy, was registered by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2009: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/july/125582.htm.
Note: Adam Rawnsley published a very comprehensive analysis of Kata’ib Hizballah’s MANPAD capabilities: https://medium.com/war-is-boring/iran-backed-terror-group-parades-new-anti-aircraft-missiles-in-iraq-ca0204079eb0 in the piece, Rawnsley assessed that one of the missile systems shown was a Chinese QW-1M.
7 Note: It is possible that Kata’ib Hizballah was attempting to craft another anti-U.S. conspiracy theory (or theories) with the inclusion Janabi in their reportage.
13 See: http://almasalah.com/ar/news/48777/%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%B1–%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%84%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D8%AB%D8%A8%D8%AA-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%83%D8%A7-%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%B4.
15 In my monograph, “The Shiite Jihad In Syria and Its Regional Effects,” I outlined the ideological roots for claiming that Western states backed ISIS and other radical Sunni extremist elements. See: http://bit.ly/ShiiteJihadPDF. See the section marked, “Takfiris: A Perfect Enemy.”