Kata'ib Hezbollah (Arabic: كتائب حزب الله, lit.'Battalions of the Party of God')[38] or the Hezbollah Brigades, is a radical Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group which is a part of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), staffing the 45th, 46th, and 47th Brigades.[39] During the Iraq War (2003–11), the group fought against Coalition forces.[38][40] It has been active in the War in Iraq (2013–2017)[41] and the Syrian civil war (2011–present).[42] The group was commanded by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis[43] until he was killed in a US drone attack in 2020.[44] Thereafter, he was replaced by Abdul Aziz al-Muhammadawi (Abu Fadak), as the new leader of the PMF.[45] KH seeks to establish an Iran-aligned government in Iraq, expel American forces from the country, and advance the regional and international interests of Iran in Iraq and the region. The group is responsible for killing hundreds of U.S. soldiers and takes a central part in carrying out attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq and acts as part of the Axis of Resistance.[46][47] Kata'ib Hezbollah has received extensive training, funding, logistic support, weapons, and intelligence from the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).[48]

Kata'ib Hezbollah
LeadersAbu Mahdi al-Muhandis (Jamal al-Ibrahimi) [1][2]
(2003–2020)
Ahmad al-Hamidawi
(2020–present)
SpokespersonJafar al-Hussaini[3]
Dates of operationOctober 2003 – present
Allegiance Iran (IRGC)
Group(s)Saraya al-Dafa al-Shaabi
Active regionsSouthern Iraq, Baghdad
IdeologyShia Islamism
Khomeinism
Anti-Sunnism[4][5]
Velayat-e Faqih
Anti-Americanism[6]
Anti-Zionism
Anti-West (alleged by the U.S.)[7]
Size2,000 (2010; at most)[8]
10,000 (June 2014)
Over 30,000 (December 2014 claim)[9]
Part of Popular Mobilization Forces
Islamic Resistance in Iraq
AlliesState allies

Non-state allies

OpponentsState opponents

Non-state opponents

Battles and warsIraq War

War in Iraq (2013–2017)

Syrian civil war

Attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq, Jordan, and Syria (2023–present)
Designated as a terrorist group by United States[35]
 United Arab Emirates[36]
 Japan[37]
Preceded by
Special Groups

Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) is officially listed as a terrorist organization by the governments of Japan,[37] United Arab Emirates, and the United States. KH is an official part of Iraq's security apparatus.[49]

History

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Formation

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KH was established in March 2003 as a result of a union between several pro-Iranian groups following the invasion of Iraq by the United States and United Kingdom that overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the Coalition forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government.[50]

The group was founded by Jamal Jafaar al-Ibrahim, known as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi-Iranian dual national designated as a terrorist by US in 2009.[51][52] Its first members were from the Badr Organization. Al-Muhandis — an adviser to the Quds Force of the IRGC and a former member of the Badr Organization — was the first commander of KH.[1][53][54] The group is directly subordinate to the Quds Force and operates under its instructions and guidance.[38][12] The US State Department has claimed that Lebanon-based Hezbollah provided weapons and training for the group.[55]

Iraqi insurgency (2003–2011)

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The group came to prominence in 2007 for attacks against U.S.-led Coalition forces in Iraq,[38][56] and was known for uploading videos of its attacks on American forces on the internet.[57] The militia's main tactics were to fire rockets and mortar shells at U.S. bases, sniper attacks, and plant roadside bombs to attack U.S. and Coalition forces.[58]

On 15 March 2007, four U.S. soldiers were killed in eastern Baghdad when IEDs planted by KH detonated near their unit.[59][60]

On 25 September 2007, Staff Sgt. Zachary B. Tomczak was shot dead by a KH sniper in Baghdad. His killing was captured on video and posted online by the KH militia.[61][62]

On 4 October 2007, U.S. Army Spc. Avealalo Milo was killed by a KH sniper shot in Baghdad. The attack was recorded and subsequently published online by the militia.[63][64]

On 4 June 2008, KH conducted a rocket attack that was meant to target Coalition forces but instead killed 18 civilians in Baghdad.[65][66]

In mid-2008, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a crackdown against the group and the "Special Groups", the US military term for Iran-backed militias in Iraq. At least 30 of its members were captured during those months. Many of the group's leaders were also captured and US officials claimed that "as result much of the leadership fled to Iran".[67][68]

On 2 July 2009, KH was added to the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The group was held responsible for numerous IED attacks, mortar, rocket and RPG attacks as well as sniper operations, targeting US and Iraqi forces, including a November 2008 rocket attack that killed two U.N. workers.[56]

In December 2009, the group intercepted the unencrypted video feed of MQ-1 Predator UAVs above Iraq.[69]

On 12 February 2010, a firefight with suspected members of the group occurred 265 km (165 mi) southeast of Baghdad in a village near the Iranian border, the U.S. military said. Twelve people were arrested, it said. "The joint security team was fired upon by individuals dispersed in multiple residential buildings ... members of the security team returned fire, killing individuals assessed to be enemy combatants," the military said in a statement. The Provincial Iraqi officials said many of the dead were innocent bystanders, and demanded compensation. They said eight people were killed.[70]

On 13 July 2010, General Ray Odierno named KH as being behind threats against American bases in Iraq. "In the last couple weeks there's been an increased threat ... and so we've increased our security on some of our bases," Odierno told reporters at a briefing in Baghdad.[71]

On 6 June 2011, KH militants fired rockets at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in eastern Baghdad killing six U.S. soldiers.[72] Another five soldiers were also wounded in the attack.[73]

On 29 June 2011, KH fired IRAM rockets that struck a US base near the Iranian border – COP Shocker. The attack resulted in the deaths of three American soldiers.[74] A videotape of the rocket attack was published online by the militia.[75]

In July 2011, an Iraqi intelligence official estimated the group's size at 1,000 fighters and said the militants were paid between $300 and $500 per month.[76][77]

The Al-Qa'im border crossing has seen hastened military activity as the group is expected to play an important military and security role as the crossing with Syria is officially opened on September 30, 2019.[78][79]

Post-US withdrawal

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Wathiq al-Batat, a former KH leader, announced the creation of a new Shia militia, the Mukhtar Army, on 4 February 2013, saying its aim is to defend Shiites and help the government combat terrorism.[80]

In 2014, the group began taking a role in the fight against ISIL in Iraq.[41] Also in 2014, they and six other predominantly Shia Iraqi paramilitary groups formed the PMF.[81] Since October 2016, KH along with the Iraqi army and other PMF groups has taken part in the Battle of Mosul against ISIL.[82] They have been, alongside other PMF, active in fighting around Tal Afar, severing ISIL's link from Mosul and Tal Afar to the rest of their territory.[83]

During protests in Iraq in 2019, KH militiamen were reportedly involved in abducting and murdering hundreds of peaceful protesters.[84][85]

On 29 December 2019, the United States bombed the headquarters of KH near Al-Qa'im.[86] The airstrikes targeted three KH locations in Iraq and two in Syria, and included weapons depots and command posts, according to Reuters and a US military statement.[87] The attack was in retaliation after a barrage of over 30 rockets were fired towards the K-1 base two days earlier and other attacks on bases with US forces in Iraq. The earlier attack killed a US contractor and wounded several Iraqi and US soldiers.[88] Twenty-five people were reportedly killed in the US airstrikes and 51 members wounded.[89][90][91]

In response to the American bombing of the KH headquarters on 29 December, protesters attacked the US embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad on 31 December 2019.[92] Many of the protesters were members of the KH militia, including KH commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.[93][92] Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned on 2 January that the group may be planning new attacks in Iraq, and that the U.S. is prepared to launch preemptive attacks.[94] Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed by a US drone strike at the Baghdad International Airport on 3 January 2020.[44]

On 27 February 2020, the U.S. State and Treasury departments designated Ahmad al-Hamidawi, the secretary-general of KH, as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist."[95]

In March 2020, U.S. launched air raids against KH facilities in Karbala in retaliation for the Camp Taji attacks.[96]

On 25 June 2020, Iraqi security forces raided KH base in Dora, southern Baghdad and detained at least 14 militia members.[97]

On 11 October 2020, KH announced that they have agreed to conditional ceasefire against United States interests in Iraq.[98]

On 26 February 2021, U.S. air strikes hit targets used by the KH militia and other Iranian-backed groups in Syria.[99] These strikes were carried out in retaliation for an attack on a U.S. air base in Erbil on 15 February 2021.[100]

On 26 March 2023, KH kidnapped Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov in Baghdad's Karrada district.[101]In November 2023, the group released footage of her for the first time. [102]

On 17 November 2023, United States expanded the scope of sanctions on KH by blacklisting six high-ranking officials affiliated with the militia following attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.[103][104][105]

On 21 November 2023, a US AC-130-gunship struck a KH vehicle near Abu Ghraib, in response to the Islamic Resistance In Iraq's November 20 attack on Al-Asad Airbase.[106][107]

On 24 January 2024, U.S. launched a round air strikes that targeted KH, killing seven militiamen.[108] According to a statement from U.S. Central Command, the air strikes hit the group’s “headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.”[109]

A spokesperson for the US Department of Defense has said that the Tower 22 drone attack which killed 3 US soldiers and injured 47 others had the "footprints" of KH.[110]

On 30 January 2024, KH announced the suspension of all its military operations against US forces in the region after the Tower 22 drone attack which killed 3 US soldiers and injured 47 others. They announced this decision was taken out of preventing "embarrassment" of the Iraqi government which has called for all resistance parties to de-escalate the situation.[111]

Foreign interventions

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In 2013, KH and other Iraqi Shia militias acknowledged sending fighters to Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, against the Sunni rebels seeking to overthrow him in the Syrian Civil War.[42]

On 9 January 2024, the KH spokesperson Jafar al-Husseini warned that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq would help Hezbollah fight Israel if war erupted between the two sides.[112] This statement was a few weeks after the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a Karish rig which Lebanon claims to hold sovereignty to.[113]

On 7 February 2024, a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed three members of KH. Among those killed was Abu Baqir Al-Saadi, while another was tentatively identified as Arkan al-Elayawi.[114] Al–Saadi was the commander of Kataib Hezbollah's operations in Syria.[115]

See also

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References

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