Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq
Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH; Arabic: عصائب أهل الحق ‘Aṣayib Ahl al-Haq, "League of Righteous People"), also known as the Khazali Network, is an Iraqi Shi'a paramilitary group active in the Iraqi insurgency and Syrian Civil War. During the Iraq War it was known as Iraq's largest "Special Group" (the Americans' term for Iran-backed Shia paramilitaries in Iraq), and claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on American and Coalition forces. The group is currently fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as part of the Popular Moblization Forces. The group is funded and trained by Iran's Quds Force.
Qais al-Khazali split from Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army after the Shi'a uprising in 2004 to create his own Khazali network. When the Mahdi Army signed a cease-fire with the government and the Americans and the fighting stopped, Qais al-Khazali continued fighting, and during the battle Khazali was already issuing his own orders to militiamen without Muqtada al-Sadr's approval. The group's leadership (which includes Qais Khazali, Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji (a politician in Muqtada al-Sadr's Sadr Movement) and Akram al-Kaabi), however, reconciled with al-Sadr in mid-2005. In July 2006, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq was founded and became one of the Special Groups which operated more independently from the rest of the Mahdi Army. It became a completely independent organisation after the Mahdi Army's disbanding after the 2008 Shi'a uprising. In November 2008 when Sadr created the Promised Day Brigade to succeed the Mahdi Army, he asked AAH (and other Special Groups) to join, but they declined.
The group has claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks in Iraq including the October 10, 2006 attack on Camp Falcon, the assassination of the American military commander in Najaf, the May 6, 2006 downing of a British Lynx helicopter and the October 3, 2007 attack on the Polish ambassador. Their most known attack however, is the January 20, 2007 Karbala provincial headquarters raid where they infiltrated the U.S. Army's offices at Karbala, killed one soldier, then abducted and killed four more American soldiers. After the raid, the U.S. military launched a crackdown on the group and the raid's mastermind Azhar al-Dulaimi was killed in Baghdad, while much of the group's leadership including the brothers Qais and Laith al-Khazali and Lebanese Hezbollah member Ali Musa Daqduq who was Khazali's advisor was in charge of their relations with Hezbollah. After these arrests in 2007, Akram al-Kabi, who had been the military commander of the Mahdi Army until May 2007, led the organisation. In May 2007, the group kidnapped British IT expert Peter Moore and his four bodyguards. They demanded the release of all their fighters being imprisoned by the Iraqi authorities and US military in return for his release. His four bodyguards were killed, but Moore himself was released when the group's leader Qais al-Khazali was released in January 2010. Prior to Qazali's release, security forces had already released over 100 of the group's members including Laith al-Khazali. In 2008 many of the groups fighters and leaders fled to Iran after the Iraqi Army was allowed to re-take control of Sadr City and the Mahdi Army was disbanded. Here most fighters were re-trained in new tactics. It resulted in a major lull in the group's activity from May to July 2008.
In February 2010 the group kidnapped DoD civilian Issa T. Salomi, a naturalized American from Iraq. This was the first high-profile kidnapping of a foreigner in Iraq since the kidnapping of Peter Moore (which was also done by Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq). Salomi was released in March 2010 return for the release of 4 of their fighters being held in Iraqi custody. In total 450 members of the group have been handed over from US to Iraqi custody since the kidnapping of Peter Moore, over 250 of which have been released by the Iraqi authorities.
On July 21, 2010 General Ray Odierno said Iran was supporting three Shiite extremist groups in Iraq that had been attempting to attack US bases. One of the groups was Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and the other two were the Promised Day Brigade and Ketaib Hezbollah.
In December 2010 it was reported that notorious Shi'a militia commanders such as Abu Deraa and Mustafa al-Sheibani were returning from Iran to work with Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq. Iranian Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri was identified as the group's spiritual leader.
In August and September 2012, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq started a poster campaign in which they distributed over 20,000 posters of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei throughout Iraq. A senior official in Baghdad's local government said municipal workers were afraid to take the posters down in fear of retribution by Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq militiamen.
Syrian Civil War
The group's Syrian branch is called the Haidar al-Karar Brigades. It is led by Akram al-Kabi, AAH's military leader, who is stationed in Aleppo. The group initially fought under the banner of the al-Abbas Brigade (a mixed Syrian, Iraqi, & Lebanese Shia organization), but split in 2014 due to a dispute with al-Abbas's native Syrian fighters. Like other Iraqi Shia paramilitaries in Syria, they fight in defense of the Sayyidah Zainab shrine.
2014 Iraq elections
The organization had candidates running in the 2014 Iraqi parliamentary election under the banner of Al-Sadiqoun Bloc. However an electoral meeting of estimated 100,000 supporters of Al-Sadiqoun was marred by violence as a series of bombs exploded at the campaign rally held at the Industrial Stadium in eastern Baghdad killing at least 37 people and wounding scores others, according to Iraqi police said. The Shia group organizers had planned to announce at the rally the names of its candidates for the parliamentary election. The Al-Sadiquun Bloc ended up winning just one seat out of 328 seats in the Iraqi Parliament.
The group's strength was estimated at some 3,000 fighters in March 2007. In July 2011, however, officials estimated there were less than 1,000 Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq militiamen left in Iraq. The group is alleged to receive some $5 million worth of cash and weapons every month from Iran. In January 2012, following the American withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, Qais al-Khazali declared the United States was defeated and that now the group was prepared to disarm and join the political process.
Since the beginning of the Iraqi war against ISIS, AAH has grown to around 10,000 members and been described as one of if not the most powerful members of the Popular Mobilization Forces. It has recruited hundreds of Sunni fighters to fight against ISIS.
The organisation is alleged to receive training and weapons from Iran's Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force as well as Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. By March 2007, Iran was providing the network between $750,000 and $3 million in arms and financial support each month. Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani, a former Badr Brigades member who ran an important smuggling network known as the Sheibani Network played a key role in supplying the group. The group was also supplied by a smuggling network headed by Ahmad Sajad al-Gharawi a former Mahdi Army commander, mostly active in Maysan Governorate.
As of 2006 Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq had at least four major operational branches:
- The Imam al-Ali Brigade – Responsible for Southern Iraq (Iraq's 9 Shi'a governorates: Babil, al-Basrah, Dhi Qar, al-Karbala, Maysan, al-Muthanna, an Najaf, al-Qadisiyyah and Wasit Governorates)
- The Imam al-Kazem Brigade – Responsible for West-Baghdad (mainly the Shi'a Kadhimiya and Al Rashid districts but also some minor activity in the mixed Karkh district and the mainly Sunni Mansour district)
- The Imam al-Hadi Brigade – Responsible for East-Baghdad (mainly the Shi'a Thawra, Nissan and Karrada districts but with some minor activity in the mixed Rusafa district and the mainly Sunni Adhamiyah district)
- The Iman al-Askari Brigade – Responsible for Central Iraq (mainly active the Shi'a areas in Southern Diyala, Samarra City (in Salah ad-Din Governorate) and some Shi'a enclaves in Ninawa and Kerkuk Governorates)
- The Haidar al-Karar Brigades - Responsible for Syria, mainly Southern Damascus and West Aleppo.
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