Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, profile of an Iraqi Shiite militia handled by the Iranian Qods Force

Operatives of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq south of Albukamal. They were careful not to display identifying signs of the militia (Al-Madar al-Siyasiya, July 7, 2017)

Operatives of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq south of Albukamal. They were careful not to display identifying signs of the militia (Al-Madar al-Siyasiya, July 7, 2017)

Khazali (on the left) on the Lebanese-Israeli border, standing with a Hezbollah operative near “Fatma Gate.”

Khazali (on the left) on the Lebanese-Israeli border, standing with a Hezbollah operative near “Fatma Gate.”

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq operative Wissam al-Alyawi firing at the demonstrators. He was wounded and captured by the protesters, who lynched him (Al-Hurra, October 27, 2019).

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq operative Wissam al-Alyawi firing at the demonstrators. He was wounded and captured by the protesters, who lynched him (Al-Hurra, October 27, 2019).

Jawad Al-Talibawi, senior Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq operative in an incitement speech at the burning gate of the embassy: “This is a terrorist lair, the Americans are now hiding [in it] like rats ... With Allah’s help, revenge will be fourfold” (Al-Ghad Channel, December 31, 2019).

Jawad Al-Talibawi, senior Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq operative in an incitement speech at the burning gate of the embassy: “This is a terrorist lair, the Americans are now hiding [in it] like rats ... With Allah’s help, revenge will be fourfold” (Al-Ghad Channel, December 31, 2019).

Khazali during the demonstrations in front of the embassy, standing next to Hadi Al-Amari, head of the Badr militia (YouTube, December 31, 2019)

Khazali during the demonstrations in front of the embassy, standing next to Hadi Al-Amari, head of the Badr militia (YouTube, December 31, 2019)

Teenage boy wounded by live ammunition fired at demonstrators (YouTube, October 14, 2019).

Teenage boy wounded by live ammunition fired at demonstrators (YouTube, October 14, 2019).

Overview
  • On December 6, 2019, the US Department of State announced the imposition of sanctions on Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”), and on two other senior militia operatives. According to the American statement, members of the militia headed by Qais al-Khazali opened fire at Iraqi demonstrators which resulted in the killing of civilians. Furthermore, it was stated that Qais al-Khazali was handled by the Iranian Qods Force and authorized the use of deadly weapons against demonstrators in order to sow terror among Iraqi civilians.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”) is an Iraqi Shiite militia handled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force. It is one of the three most important Shiite militias which are prioritized by the Qods Force in terms of military and financial support. The two other militias are the Hezbollah Battalions (Kataeb Hezbollah) and the Nujaba Movement (Harakat al-Nujaba or Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba). These three militias played a key role during the fighting against the US forces while they were deployed in Iraq. They consist of commanders and operatives who had acquired extensive fighting experience and maintain particularly strong ties with the Qods Force. In recent years, these militias were handled by Iran in various missions promoting Iranian interests, including support of the Syrian regime, fighting against ISIS, and the suppression of protesters against the Iraqi regime. The US has imposed sanctions on all three militias.

  • In the ITIC’s assessment, the removal of the United States from Iran and strengthening the Iranian influence on the Iraqi government are major strategic objectives for Iran. In order to fulfil these objectives, the Qods Force will use the Shiite militias comprising the Popular Mobilization[1]. In the ITIC’s assessment, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Hezbollah Battalions, and the Nujaba Movement, which are part of the Popular Mobilization, are expected to be used as the spearhead of the Shiite militias in the campaign to remove the US forces from Iraq[2].
The three leading militias
Flag of the Hezbollah Battalions militia    Emblem of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.
Right: Emblem of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Left: Flag of the Hezbollah Battalions militia

Emblem of the Nujaba Movement militia
Emblem of the Nujaba Movement militia

  • Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq played a major role in the fighting of the Shiite militias against the US army and Coalition countries in 2006-2011, with the guidance and support of the Iranian Qods Force. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s main “specialty” was planting IEDs along the roads used by the US forces, causing the Americans heavy casualties. The militia is headed by Qais al-Khazali, a Shiite from southern Iraq, who had studied religious studies under senior cleric Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr (the father of cleric Muqtada Sadr, who wields major influence on Shiite current politics in Iraq, see below).

Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (Kanouzmidia, November 10, 2016)
Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq
(Kanouzmidia, November 10, 2016)

  • After the withdrawal of the US army from Iraq, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq did not lay down their arms and continued (along with other Shiite militias) to serve Iranian interests. Operatives of the militia were sent to Syria and were involved in the siege on Aleppo and the execution of many civilians. In addition, militia operatives took part in the campaign against ISIS and were involved in the killing and abduction of Sunni and Kurdish civilians in Iraqi regions liberated from ISIS’s control. During the protests in Iraq, operatives of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq were used by the Qods Force as the main instrument for brutal suppression of the demonstrators by firing live ammunition.[3]
  • After the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani, Qais al-Khazali promised to avenge the blood of Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization (who was killed in the attack against Soleimani). In a television interview, he undertook to implement Soleimani’s aspirations and demanded that the American forces leave Iraq immediately. He noted that they would absolutely not settle for less than the removal of all the forces of “American aggression” from the territory of Iraq. He added, addressing the Americans: “If your forces do not leave [Iraq], or even in the event of a delay in your departure, your forces will be considered as occupation forces and be dealt with accordingly.” Al-Khazali reiterated his threat, conveying a stronger message: “If you do not leave [Iraq immediately], or stall, you will be facing a strong Iraqi response that will make the earth tremble under your feet and turn the sky above your heads into hell. The decision is yours” (Al-Ahed TV Channel, January 5, 2020).

Al-Khazali sending a blatant threat at the United States: if the American forces do not leave Iraq immediately, they will pay dearly for that (Al-Ahed Channel, January 5, 2020).
Al-Khazali sending a blatant threat at the United States: if the American forces do not leave Iraq immediately, they will pay dearly for that (Al-Ahed Channel, January 5, 2020).

  • The purpose of the current study is to analyze the profile of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq as a model of a Shiite militia prioritized by the Qods Force, such that Iran is expected to use in the Iraqi arena as part of a campaign against the Americans. At a later stage, the ITIC will publish additional studies, analyzing the profiles of the militias of Hezbollah Battalions and the Nujaba Movement and examining the nature of their ties with Iran and the Qods Force.
Appendices
  • Appendix A: Profile of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq:
    • The activity of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq against the US forces in Iraq (2006-2011)
    • Handling Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq by the Qods Force after the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq
    • Selected statements by Qais al-Khazali
    • Handling Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq by Iran to suppress the protest against the Iraqi government
    • Participation of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq operatives in a break-in at the US Embassy compound in Baghdad
  • Appendix B: US imposes sanctions on senior operatives of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq

[1] The Popular Mobilization is an umbrella framework which includes about 40 militias. Most of these militias are Shiite, affiliated with Iran.
[2] The number of US military personnel deployed in Iraq is estimated at about 5,200 (New York Times, January 5, 2020).

[3] What are the reasons for the brutality demonstrated by the Iranians in Iraq as opposed to their restraint in Lebanon? In the ITIC's assessment, in the Lebanese arena, Iran has much more self-confidence due to Hezbollah’s strong position in the internal Lebanese political system, while the potential of risks estimated by the Iranians regarding their influence in Iraq is higher. This is in addition to Iranian concerns about the protest spilling over to their own country from neighboring Iraq. In retrospect, the intensive involvement in the events in Iraq cost Soleimani his life. However, one important Iranian objective has already been achieved: the anti-Iranian discourse that has accompanied the Iraqi protest against the government has almost completely disappeared and has now turned into an anti-American discourse, which is expected to be part of the campaign to oust the US forces from Iraq.