Special Groups (Iraq)

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Special Groups
LeadersMuqtada al-Sadr

Qais al-Khazali
Akram al-Kaabi
Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani
Sayyid Ahmad Sajad al-Gharawi
Abu Deraa
Arkan Hasnawi 

Haydar al-Majidi
Dates of operation2007–2011
HeadquartersSadr City
Active regionsSadr City and southern Iraq
IdeologyShi'a Islamism
Size7,000+[1] (2011)
Part ofMahdi Army (until 2008)
Iraqi insurgency
AlliesMahdi Army
 Iran (claimed by US)
 Hezbollah (claimed by US)
Opponents Coalition (until 2009)
 United States (until 2011)
Iraqi Security Forces (until 2011)
Sunni Insurgents
Free Syrian Army
Battles and warsIraq War, Sectarian violence in Iraq (2006–2008), Iraqi insurgency, Syrian Civil War

Special Groups (SGs) is a designation given by the United States military to the cell-based Shi'a paramilitary organizations operating within Iraq, According to the United States these groups are funded, trained, and armed by the Iranian Quds Force, part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).[2]

According to American General Kevin J. Bergner, the Special Groups receive between 750,000 and 3,000,000 dollars funding per month from the Quds Force.[3] These groups are separate from but allied with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr. The distinction between these groups and the Mahdi Army became more clear when al-Sadr called for a ceasefire at the end of August 2007 following Mahdi Army clashes with Iraqi Security Forces in Karbala but the Special Groups continued fighting. After the Mahdi Army's disbandment in 2008, the Promised Day Brigades emerged as its successor; however, the largest special group to emerge after the Iraq spring fighting of 2008 was Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (also known as the Qazali Network). According to the Guardian newspaper in March 2014, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq was controlled by Iran under Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in 2020.[4] Another large special group is Kata'ib Hezbollah (or Hezbollah Brigades) which started to operate independently from the Mahdi Army and the other Special Groups. Suspected leaders include Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali, Ali al-Lami, Azhar al-Dulaimi, Akram al-Kaabi, Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Abu Deraa.


Ever since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has sought to back Shia Islamist paramilitary organizations across the Middle East. Many have been very close to the Iranian state, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, like the Movement of Vanguard Missionaries and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). During the Iran–Iraq War many of these groups fought for Iran, with SCIRI's Badr Brigade being led by Iranian officers. After the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, these Iranian-led militia men returned to Iraq where they retained their autonomy and Iran continued to support Shia Islamist paramilitaries.

In February 2010, Asaib Ahl al-Haq kidnapped U.S. contractor Issa T. Salomi, a naturalized American from Iraq. They released a video of him where he read their demands, calling for the release of all the group's members, including several of the group's leaders who were imprisoned. He was released in March 2010 in exchange for four AAH militants being held in Iraqi custody.[5] Iran is supporting three Shiite extremist groups in Iraq that have been attempting to attack American bases, General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said on July 21, 2010. The Iranians have "gone to a more sophisticated program with a smaller set of extremists" and are now focusing on three groups, which he identified as Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), and the Promised Day Brigade.[6]

As of 2011, according to American officials, the Promised Day Brigades is the largest, with over 5,000 fighters, and pose the biggest long-term security threat to Iraq. Kata'ib Hezbollah is said to have around 1,000 fighters and is the most exclusively reliant on Iranian support. Asa'ib al-Haq is said to have less than 1,000 fighters as of 2011 and receives a reported 5 million per month in Iranian funding. The Promised Day Brigades is said to receive the least amount of Iranian funding and is the most independent of the three.[1]

Since the beginning of the Iraqi war against ISIS, the Special Groups have joined the Popular Mobilization Forces to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.


Name Group Rank Status
Muqtada al-Sadr Promised Day Brigade Spiritual Leader In Iran,[7] since 2006. Returned to Iraq in January 2011.[8]
Qais al-Khazali Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq Leader Captured on March 20, 2007 in Basra,[9] released on January 5, 2010[10]
Laith al-Khazali Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq Deputy Leader Captured on March 20, 2007 in Basra,[9] released June 9, 2009[11]
Akram al-Kabi Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq Acting leader At large
Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani Sheibani Network Leader In Tehran, Iran, since 2008.[12] Returned to Iraq in September 2010.[13]
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis Kata'ib Hezbollah
Quds Force
Top Advisor to Kata'ib Hezbollah
and Iran's Quds Force
Killed in a U.S. drone strike on January 3, 2020
Azhar al Dulaimi Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq Karbala Raid mastermind Killed May 18, 2007 by U.S. forces in Baghdad
Ali Musa Daqduq Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq
Top advisor to Qais al-Khazali
Head of Hezbollah operations in Iraq
Captured on March 20, 2007 in Basra,[9] handed over to Iraqi authorities on December 15, 2011[14] Released November 2012.[15]
Abu Yaser al-Sheibani Sheibani Network Deputy Leader Captured on April 20, 2007[9]
Ali Faisal al-Lami Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq
Senior Commander
Political leader
Captured on August 28, 2008,[16] released in August 2009[17]
Tahseen al Freiji[18] Promised Day Brigade Social Political Leader[19] At Large
Akran Hasnawi Hasnawi Network Leader Killed on May 3, 2008 in Sadr City[18]
Mahdi Khaddam Alawi al-Zirjawi[18] Promised Day Brigade SG Sadr City Commander[20] At Large
Baqir al-Sa'idi[18] Promised Day Brigade Training In Iran, possibly returned to Sadr City[21]
Jawad Kazim al Tulaybani Promised Day Brigade Rocket Specialist[18] At Large
Haydar Mehdi Khadum al-Fawadi Own Group[22] Leader At Large[23]
Sheikh Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq
(Sadr Movement)
Political/Religious leader
Arrested January 10, 2007,[24] released 26 June 2009[25]
Abu Deraa Own Group
AAH since 2010
High-level commander
Fled to Iran in late 2008. Returned to Iraq in on 20 August 2010.[26]
Ahmad Abu Sajad al-Gharawi Own Group in Maysan Leader At Large[27]
Mohamed al-Zameli unknown Local commander (Wasit) Detained on 23 January 2009[28]
Muhammad al-Tabatabai Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq Cleric At large[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "US officials name 3 Iraqi militias armed by Iran to kill yanks". Iran Times. 7 July 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. ^ "Iran killed more US troops in Iraq than previously known, Pentagon says". Militarytimes.com. 6 April 2019. Retrieved 2021-11-19.
  3. ^ "The Official Website – United States Forces – Iraq". Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ Controlled by Iran, the deadly militia recruiting Iraq's men to die in Syria, The Guardian, 12 March 2014
  5. ^ "San Diego man recounts Iraq kidnapping". 12 August 2010.
  6. ^ [1] Archived July 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Armed Iraqis Wary of Security Plan". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  8. ^ "Al-Sadr back in Iraq stronghold". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  9. ^ a b c d "Press Briefing, July 2". Archived from the original on September 11, 2010. Retrieved 7 November 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  10. ^ "Iraq frees militant linked to British hostages". U-T San Diego. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  11. ^ Martin Chulov (9 June 2009). "US frees Shia militant linked to British hostages in Iraq". the Guardian. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  12. ^ United States Department of the Treasury Treasury Designates Individuals, Entity Fueling Iraqi Insurgency Archived 2010-05-28 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Iraq: Return of Sheibani's killer squads". UPI. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  14. ^ Lake, Eli (17 December 2011). "U.S. Turns Over Terrorism Suspect Ali Musa Daqduq to Iraq". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  15. ^ Gordon, Michael (16 November 2012). "Against U.S. Wishes, Iraq Releases Man Accused of Killing American Soldiers". NY Times. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  16. ^ "Iraq official: U.S. forces arrest Ali al-Lami". USA Today. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  17. ^ "U.S. general: 2 Iraqi election chiefs linked to Iran". The Washington Times. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  18. ^ a b c d e f "US military killed Mahdi Army commander Arkan Hasnawi in May 3 strike". 21 May 2008. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  19. ^ Bolton, Kent (2008-05-21). "Hydrablog: U.S. Deploys a Purpose-Driven Distinction". Hydrablog.csusm.edu. Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  20. ^ "Foundation for Defense of Democracies". Defenddemocracy.org. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  21. ^ "Kuwait Times – Leading English Daily in Kuwait". Kuwait Times. Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  22. ^ "US: Shiite 'Special Group' Responsible For Deadly Baghdad Car Bomb". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  23. ^ "Rogue Iraq militia 'ordered bomb'". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  24. ^ "U.S., Iraqi forces arrest top aide to al-Sadr". NBC News. 19 January 2007. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  25. ^ "Sadrists Deny Negotiating with US". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
  26. ^ Al, Asharq (2015-02-25). "ASHARQ AL-AWSAT". Aawsat.com. Archived from the original on 2010-08-20. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  27. ^ John J. Lumpkin. "Ahmad Abu Sajad al-Gharawi Iraqi insurgency Cell Leader". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  28. ^ "Special Groups leader detained in Wassit : Aswat Al Iraq". Archived from the original on 16 March 2012. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  29. ^ "Religious Allegiances among Pro-Iranian Special Groups in Iraq – Combating Terrorism Center at West Point". 26 September 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2014.

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