Kata'ib Hezbollah (Arabic: كتائب حزب الله, lit. 'Brigades of the Party of God')—or the Hezbollah Brigades—is an Iraqi Shia paramilitary group which is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces that are supported by Iran. During the Iraq War (2003–2011), the group fought against coalition occupation forces. It has been active in the War in Iraq (2013–2017) and the Syrian civil war (2011–present). The group was commanded by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis until he was killed by a US airstrike in Baghdad on 3 January 2020. Thereafter, he was replaced by Abdul Aziz al-Muhammadawi (Abu Fadak), as the new leader of the Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU).
Kata'ib Hezbollah is officially listed as a terrorist organisation by the governments the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and the United States.
Kata'ib Hezbollah was founded in 2003, shortly before the Iraq War that began in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by the USA and others that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government.
The group was founded by Jamal Jafaar al-Ibrahim, known as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi-Iranian dual national designated as terrorist in 2009. Its first members were from the Badr Organization. The group's structure is secretive, but al-Muhandis, an adviser to Iran's Quds Force and former Badr Organization member, was known to be a senior figure in the group, and its commander. The group receives training and funding from the Quds Force. The US State department also claimed Lebanon-based Hezbollah provided weapons and training for the group.
Iraq insurgency (2003–11)
In mid-2008, US 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".
On 2 July 2009, the group was added to the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The group was held responsible for numerous IED bombings, mortar, rocket and RPG attacks as well as sniper operations, targeting US and Iraqi forces and the Green Zone, including a November 2008 rocket attack that killed two U.N. workers.
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.
On 13 July 2010, General Ray Odierno named Kata'ib Hezbollah 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.
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.
In 2013, Kata'ib Hezbollah 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.
Wathiq al-Batat, a former Kata'ib Hezbollah 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.
In 2014, the group began taking a role in the fight against ISIL in Iraq. Also in 2014, they and six other predominantly Shia Iraqi paramilitary groups formed the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Since October 2016, Kata'ib Hezbollah along with the Iraqi army and other PMF has taken part in the Battle of Mosul against ISIL. 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.
On 29 December 2019, the United States bombed the headquarters of Kata'ib Hezbollah near Al-Qa'im. The airstrikes targeted three Kata'ib Hezbollah locations in Iraq and two in Syria, and included weapons depots and command posts, according to Reuters and a US military statement. The attack was in retaliation after a barrage of over 30 rockets were fired towards the K-1 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. Twenty-five people were reportedly killed in the US airstrikes and 51 members also wounded.
In response to the American bombing of the Kata'ib Hezbollah headquarters on 29 December, protesters attacked the US embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad on 31 December 2019. Many of the protesters were members of the Kata'ib Hezbollah militia, including Kata'ib Hezbollah commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. 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. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed by a US airstike at the Baghdad International Airport on 3 January 2020.
On 27 February 2020, the U.S. State and Treasury departments designated Ahmad al-Hamidawi, the secretary general of Kataib Hezbollah, as a "specially designated global terrorist."
In March 2020, the U.S. made some crack down on Kata'ib Hezbollah in Iraq, directly revolving around the 2020 Camp Taji attacks.
On 11 October 2020, Kata'ib Hezbollah announced that they have agreed to ceasefire operations against United States interests in Iraq.
On 26 February 2021, U.S. air strikes hit targets used by the militia and other Iranian-backed groups in Syria. These strikes were carried out in retaliation for an attack on a U.S. air base in Erbil, Iraq on 15 February 2021.
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