Emblem of Kataeb Hezbollah: Above the hand holding a rifle, which rises from a map of Iraq, there appears a Quranic verse, “Fight the leaders of disbelief, for indeed, there are no oaths [sacred] to them” (Surat At-Tawbah, 9, Verse 12, Sahih International translation). The emblem draws its inspiration from the emblems of the Qods Force and the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Kataeb Hezbollah (“Hezbollah Brigades”) is a radical Shiite militia of a clearly anti-American nature with a Khomeinist ideology. It was established by the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in 2007 in southern Iraq with the objective of fighting against the US army and ousting it from Iraq. It is the most prominent among the Shiite militias handled by Iran, prioritized in military and financial support from the IRGC’s Qods Force. Kataeb Hezbollah played a key role in fighting against the United States army in Iraq from its establishment until 2011. After the US army left Iraq, the Qods Force found other objectives for Kataeb Hezbollah and continues to handle it to promote Iran’s strategic goals in Iraq and Syria. In the ITIC’s assessment, Kataeb Hezbollah is currently handled by the Qods Force first and foremost to promote the objective of removing the US army from Iraq unilaterally while disrupting the strategic dialogue between Iraq and the US.
Right: Operatives of Kataeb Hezbollah carrying a photo of Ayatollah Khomeini, expressing their loyalty to Iran and the Khomeinist ideology of the Rule of the Jurisprudent (Kataeb Hezbollah website). Left: Operatives of Kataeb Hezbollah carrying the photo of Ayatollah Khomeini in a military parade on “World Jerusalem Day” (Iraqi News Agency, November 13, 2018)
- Iraq was and has remained a very important arena in Iran’s regional policy and a major pillar in its concept of national security. At the center of Iran’s strategic goals in Iraq are compromising US political influence and putting an end to its military presence and political influence in Iraq; strengthening the Iranian influence on the Iraqi government and transforming Iraq into a state with Iranian orientation; increasing Iranian influence among the Shiite sect in Iraq while reducing the role of the United States and the International Coalition in the campaign against ISIS; additional goals are weakening ISIS by combined action of the Shiite militias and the Iraqi security forces; weakening the national Iraqi Shi’a, which is reluctant to accept Iranian dictates; securing the overland supply route between Iran and Syria, which passes through Iraq (“the overland corridor”); and using the Shiite militias to strengthen the “Axis of Resistance” led by Iran, including by using Iraqi Shiite militias to support the Assad regime.
- Kataeb Hezbollah and the other Shiite militias are perceived by the Iranians as proxies used to promote the above strategic goals while refraining from direct involvement or provoking measures which may implicate Iran and the Shiite militias in a direct confrontation with the United States. Handling Kataeb Hezbollah and other Shiite militias creates inherent tension between Iran and its militias on the one hand, and other elements in the Iraqi government and the Shiite sect in Iraq striving to preserve Iraq’s independence and sovereignty, on the other.
Emblem of Kataeb Hezbollah: Above the hand holding a rifle, which rises from a map of Iraq, there appears a Quranic verse, “Fight the leaders of disbelief, for indeed, there are no oaths [sacred] to them” (Surat At-Tawbah, 9, Verse 12, Sahih International translation). The emblem draws its inspiration from the emblems of the Qods Force and the Lebanese Hezbollah (see below).
- Kataeb Hezbollah was established by Jamal Ja’far Mohammad Ali Ibrahimi, AKA Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a Shiite Iraqi with an extensive history of terrorist activity (he was involved in a series of terrorist attacks in Kuwait, which were carried out by the Lebanese Hezbollah as part of an Iranian terrorist campaign). Following his terrorist activity in Kuwait, he fled to Iran, where he stayed for 20 years, and then came back to Iraq after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. During the Iraq War, he established Kataeb Hezbollah with the handling and support of the Qods Force. Kataeb Hezbollah’s “specialty” was planting deadly roadside charges along the roads used by the American forces and firing rockets causing the US army many casualties which precipitated its departure from Iraq (2011). Kataeb Hezbollah was perceived by the Americans as the most dangerous anti-American and pro-Iranian among the Shiite militias operating in Iraq.
- Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis continued to serve as Kataeb Hezbollah’s commander even after the US forces left Iraq on 2011. In June 2014, he was appointed deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella framework of dozens of Shiite militias, some operating under Iranian sponsorship, others independent or loyal to Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the supreme religious authority of the Shiites in Iraq (even though formally, the PMF is subordinate to the Iraqi government). The background for the establishment of the PMF was ISIS’s takeover of Mosul and its threat to Baghdad at that time. This led to a religious ruling issued by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, calling on the Iraqi residents to embark on jihad against ISIS. Thus, he actually granted internal Iraqi legitimacy to the establishment of the PMF and the existence of the armed Shiite militias. Until he was killed, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was the dominant figure in the PMF, while the formal commander, Falih al-Fayyad, served as a figurehead.
- On January 2, 2020, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis met his death in a targeted killing by a US aircraft. His friend (and handler) Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani was killed along with him. Al-Muhandis was replaced as commander of Kataeb Hezbollah by Ahmad al-Mohammadawi (Abu Fadak), one of the founders of Kataeb Hezbollah who had held a series of military and political positions in the organization. On February 26, 2020, he was included in the US terror list and was designated as an international terrorist operative due to his involvement in terrorist attacks against American forces and innocent Iraqi civilians (previously, in 2009, Kataeb Hezbollah was designated as a terrorist organization). It appears that so far, Al-Mohammadawi has not been formally appointed as deputy commander of the PMF due to internal conflicts between the pro-Iranian militias and the followers of Ayatollah Sistani.
Kataeb Hezbollah Commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis (left) and Qassem Soleimani (right). The two were very close until they met their death in a targeted killing by the US
(Al-Arabiya TV, December 30, 2019).
- Main characteristics of Kataeb Hezbollah:
- The military wing of Kataeb Hezbollah includes three brigade frameworks numbering about 9,000-10,000 fighters. Most of the fighters are deployed in Iraq or operate against ISIS as part of the PMF. Some of them are deployed in Syria (mainly in the Albukamal area).
- The funding for the activity of Kataeb Hezbollah’s military wing comes in part from the Iraqi government, through the PMF. Another part of the funding comes directly from Iran and is estimated at several millions of US dollars per month.
- Kataeb Hezbollah has an extensive network of civilian foundations, according to the model implemented by Iran in the Lebanese Hezbollah (albeit on a smaller scale). This network includes media infrastructure, religious foundations, women’s foundations, a student wing, and a youth movement.
- Kataeb Hezbollah has maintained close relations with the Lebanese Hezbollah ever since Kataeb Hezbollah’s establishment (2007). The relations between the two organizations find expression, inter alia, in the assistance provided by operatives of the Lebanese Hezbollah for training operatives of Kataeb Hezbollah (and other Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias).
- Kataeb Hezbollah adopted the Iranian ideology of the rule of the jurisprudent and nurtures the personality cult of Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Iranian leader Khamenei. At the same time, they also use Iraqi-Shiite trappings in order to rebut allegations that they are an Iranian branch serving Iran’s interests.
An examination of Kataeb Hezbollah’s patterns of activity in the last decade indicates that the organization has been employed by Iran as the main tool to promote Iran’s strategic goals in Iraq. Thus, for instance, Kataeb Hezbollah played a major role in the brutal suppression of the Shiite protest against the Iraqi government in late 2019; it was the main force in a violent demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Baghdad, during which the Embassy compound was damaged (December 31, 2019). In addition, it participated in the fighting in Syria supporting the Syrian regime, and joined forces in the fighting against ISIS in western and northern Iraq (as part of the PMF, the umbrella framework of the Shiite militias). Kataeb Hezbollah constitutes a major force of the Shiite militias securing the border area between Iraq and Syria in the Al-Qaim-Albukamal region, considered strategically important for the Iranians.
Right: Kataeb Hezbollah’s flag waving above the US Embassy wall (Baghdad al-Youm, December 31, 2019). Left: US Embassy wall set on fire (YouTube, December 31, 2019)
- After the killing of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, Kataeb Hezbollah (and other Shiite militias handled by Iran) launched a threat campaign against the United States, which was accompanied by sporadic rocket fire at American bases and facilities without formally claiming responsibility. The campaign was intended to prevent Iraqi-American talks on the manner of departure of the US army from Iraq, and bring about a unilateral departure of the US army from Iraq without an American-Iraqi agreement. Kataeb Hezbollah was the main Shiite militia launching rockets at bases of US and International Coalition soldiers and facilities (including the Taji base north of Baghdad, Baghdad’s international airport, and the “Green Zone” in central Baghdad). The rocket fire forced the Americans to evacuate several bases and divert part of their attention and efforts to cope with Iran and the Shiite militias at the expense of fighting against ISIS.
- In the second half of June 2020, there were several shooting incidents targeting American/Western sites in the Baghdad region and the Taji base. In the ITIC’s assessment, Kataeb Hezbollah was the main Shiite militia behind the rocket fire, acting on orders from Iran, with the purpose of disrupting the strategic dialogue between the US and Iraq, which is to determine the future of American presence in Iraq. These firing incidents with no casualties took place without any claim of responsibility on the part of Kataeb Hezbollah or any other Shiite militia in order not to trigger fierce American responses against either Iran or the Shiite militias in Iraq.
- Following those incidents of rocket fire, on June 25, 2020, a force of the Iraqi government counterterrorism unit raided the Kataeb Hezbollah headquarters in southern Baghdad. Fourteen Kataeb Hezbollah operatives were reportedly detained, to be released four days later. The raid was intended to convey a threatening message to Kataeb Hezbollah, with the purpose of making them stop firing rockets at the American bases or facilities. Kataeb Hezbollah responded with threats against Iraqi Prime Minister Mostafa al-Kazimi and a statement that their armed activity in Iraq “is totally legitimate.” However, the power struggle between Iraqi sovereignty and Kataeb Hezbollah and the other Shiite militias working to promote the Iranian interests is far from over.
The structure of the study
- The study includes the following sections:
- Historical background: the period of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
- Kataeb Hezbollah’s ideology
- Profile of the Kataeb Hezbollah organization:
- The military infrastructure
- Kataeb Hezbollah’s leadership
- Funding the organization
- The political support in the internal Iraqi arena
- The civilian infrastructure:
- Religious system
- Women’s institutions
- Dissemination of studies and articles
- Student wing
- Scouts movement
- Media infrastructure:
- Al-Ittijah Channel
- Social media
- Combat Information Unit
- Other media platforms not directly subordinate to Kataeb Hezbollah
- Collaboration with the Lebanese Hezbollah
- Support of the Lebanese Hezbollah
- Resemblance between the emblems
- Milestones in Kataeb Hezbollah’s activity in the last decade
- Fighting in northern Syria against the rebel organizations
- Fighting against ISIS as part of the PMF
- Securing the Iraqi-Syrian border region
- Suppressing Shiite protest against the Iraqi government
- Violent demonstration in front of the US Embassy
- Threat campaign against the US and the Iraqi government
- Rocket fire at American bases and facilities
- Exerting pressure on the US during the strategic dialogue
- Preemptive operation of the Iraqi government
- Kataeb Hezbollah’s response
- Iranian response
 Two other Shiite militias prioritized in the allocation of Iranian resources are Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Nujaba Movement. See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from January 13, 2020, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq, profile of an Iraqi Shiite militia handled by the Iranian Qods Force.” See also the ITIC's Information Bulletin from December 31, 2017, “The Movement of the Noble Ones (Harakat al-Nujaba)” ↑
 See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from July 14, 2020, “Iran faces growing Challenges in Iraq but is determined to further its vital Interests,” by Dr. Raz Zimmt. ↑
 The “Green Zone” is a heavily secured area in central Baghdad where the American and international presence is located, including the US Embassy. ↑