Iraqi militias backed by Iran blamed Israel and the U.S. on Sunday for a deadly drone attack that killed one fighter and seriously wounded another. The Iraqi militias are branching into areas beyond the battlefield as the U.S. imposes sanctions on the groups, their leaders and activities, Kharon found.
The latest attack comes on the heels of other strikes against Iranian-backed forces in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq over the last several days. Iraqi government leaders on Monday condemned the attacks, saying they are “hostile acts” against the country.
“These strikes won’t break us, they’ll make us stronger,” the militias’ Lt. Gen. Hussein Abed Muttar told The Associated Press at the funeral.
The Iraqi militias are a growing concern for Washington, which has imposed rounds of sanctions in recent months. “Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government, and permit the disarming, demobilization and reintegration of undisciplined armed groups in Iraq,” Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokeswoman, said June 12 to reporters.
Pro-Iran militias in Iraq are growing in economic and political power, and are attacking foreign entities on Iran’s behalf, according to a recent article in a counterterrorism journal published by West Point. Many of the militias are members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of Iraqi militias that the Iraqi government is attempting to integrate into the Iraqi military.
The groups have maintained their independence even as the prime minister tried to deepen their integration into the Iraqi Armed Forces with a July decree. Despite the passing of the deadline, there is a long road ahead for the integration, according to media reports from early August.
FOLLOWING THE HIZBALLAH MODEL
Militias such as Harakat al-Nujaba (HAN), Kata’ib Hizballah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) have followed a pattern of development similar to Iran’s longest proxy, Lebanese Hizballah. First, the militias initially focused on security operations with Iran’s backing, but later launched media outlets, built political parties, started religious organizations or charitable fronts, or a combination thereof, as they began operations outside their home countries.
In March, the U.S. sanctioned HAN and its leader Akram ‘Abbas al-Kabi. Several HAN brigades were identified as aliases of the group. HAN has recently expanded its media profile, including through the release of a music video in late May on World Quds Day. In mid-June, the U.S. sanctioned South Wealth Resources Company (SWRC), an Iraqi company said to have smuggled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Iran-backed militias. The U.S. also sanctioned two SWRC associates, saying, among other things, they helped Iran access Iraq’s financial system.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Qods Force (IRGC-QF) have supported militias and opposition groups for decades. The IRGC and Lebanese Hizballah, for example, trained members of the Badr Corps, then the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein. AAH, a splinter group of the Iraqi insurgent Mahdi Army, received up to $2 million a month from the Iranian government to support its fighters, according to a 2015 study by the RAND Corporation. The U.S. in 2009 sanctioned Kata’ib Hizballah and its leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
When sanctioning al-Muhandis, a dual Iran-Iraq citizen and former leader of the Badr Corps, the U.S. honed in on his close coordination with the Iranian government, including his role as an adviser to IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani. Additional sanctions focused on the role of IRGC officers providing training support to Kata’ib Hizballah.
The U.S. in April designated the IRGC, a paramilitary force, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO); it has been sanctioned several times, as well. The IRGC-QF was sanctioned in 2007.
EVOLUTION OF THE GROUPS
The Badr Corps, AAH, Kata’ib Hizballah and HAN all evolved in the past decade, expanding their activities in politics, charity, media and religious groups.
Badr Corps, after changing its name to the Badr Organization, withdrew from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in 2012 and entered politics. In 2014 parliamentary elections, it won 22 seats. That same year, the Badr Organization celebrated 10 years of its Islamic Cultural Center in Iraq, which “seeks to train Iraqi youth in the Islamic Republic’s ideology,” according to a RAND report.
AAH has a cultural department that oversees a variety of institutes in Iraq including the al-Ahed al-Sadiq Foundation, the Ahl al-Haq Islamic Foundation, the Muthl Cultural Foundation. The al-Ahed al-Sadiq Foundation controls its own network of educational institutions. In 2014, AAH also entered politics, establishing the Sadiquon Bloc.
Kata’ib Hizballah launched a political office and a Quranic foundation, and it controls at least three religious and cultural organizations: al-Zainabiat Feministic Culture Foundation, the Alnukhab Academic Foundation and the al-Sabal al-Wadahah Foundation. Kata’ib Hizballah also extended its reach into Iraqi media through its control of a variety of outlets including al-Ebaa TV, Aletejah TV, and al-Muraqeb Newspaper. Some of these foundations have served as fundraising vehicles for efforts organized by Kata’ib Hizballah, while al-Ebaa TV has produced propaganda to promote attacks conducted by Bahraini militant groups.
HAN, a newer militia group, was founded in 2013. The group, initially founded to “defend the homeland and holy places, especially in Syria and Iraq,” shifted its focus by 2017 to establish charitable organizations, media outlets and educational institutes. HAN controls al-Nujaba TV, identified as an alias by the U.S. government, and it maintains a political office.
Over recent years, these proxy militias, and others like Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, the Imam Ali Brigades, and Saraya al-Khorasani, have also issued statements under a grouping known as the Factions of Islamic Resistance in Iraq. Political organizations affiliated with these Iranian proxy militias participated in the Fatah Alliance in Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary election.
In the course of their evolution, the Iraqi militias also began coordinating with and supporting actors aligned with Iran beyond the country’s borders. Iraqi militias have deployed fighters and sub-units to Syria as the country’s civil war continues to rage, but the militias have also been involved in other countries in the Middle East.
Kata’ib Hizballah provided training in Iraq to fighters of the al-Ashtar Brigades, a U.S. and U.K.-sanctioned Bahraini militant group. Kata’ib Hizballah has also reportedly trained armed cells in the country, according to multiple Bahraini government investigations. Following the December 2018 opening of a political office in Baghdad by the Bahraini opposition February 14 Coalition, the group received visits from leaders of these proxy groups – including by Saraya al-Khorasani.
Kata’ib Hizballah, HAN and other Iranian proxy militias have operated on behalf of Iran’s efforts in Yemen. Kata’ib Hizballah held a fundraising campaign in 2015 in Iraq for the “support of the Yemeni people.” In the summer of 2018, Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, a member of the Factions of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, organized a solidarity event for the Houthis in Baghdad that was attended by the group’s Iraq representative. This past May, HAN met with the same Houthi representative to discuss “U.S. threats against the resistance front.”
Source » kharon