US aided Hezbollah Brigades in breaking Islamic State siege of Iraqi town


Logo for the Hezbollah Brigades from a propaganda video released on the Internet.

The US air campaign to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces break the Islamic State’s siege of Amerli benefited the Hezbollah Brigades, a Shia militia that is supported by Iran and is listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. The Hezbollah Brigades is the second Shia militia involved in killing US soldiers to have taken advantage of US airpower to gain territory.

Fighters from the Hezbollah Brigades teamed up with the Kurdish Peshmerga to halt the Islamic State’s advance on Amerli, a town in Salahaddin province that was besieged by the jihadiist group for more than two months before the US began launching airstrikes at the end of August.

Hezbollah Brigades fighters have since torched the homes of Sunnis suspected of fighting for the Islamic State and have refused to let the Peshmerga into the town, Reuters reported.

“There is no way back for them [the Sunnis]: we will raze their homes to the ground,” a Hezbollah Brigades commander in Amerli who is known as Abu Abdullah told the news service. Kurdish fighters are now calling the Hezbollah Brigades the “Shi’ite Islamic State” and fear that hostilities with the group may break out in the future.

Hezbollah Brigades is one of two Iranian-backed Shia militias to have been identified as fighting at Amerli. The Asiab al Haq, or the League of the Righteous, was also involved in liberating Amerli from the Islamic State. Three leaders of that Shia terrorist group are listed by the US as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. [See LWJ report, US airstrikes in Amerli supported deadly Shia terror group.]

The US military said it launched airstrikes against the Islamic State outside of the town “[a]t the request of the Government of Iraq” and “in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to address the humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amerli.”

Hezbollah Brigades is a Foreign Terrorist Organization

The US State Department added Hezbollah Brigades to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in July 2009. On the same day, the US added an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force commander who supported the “Special Groups,” such as the Hezbollah Brigades, to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. [See LWJ report, US sanctions Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades and Qods Force adviser.]

The Hezbollah Brigades, or Kata’ib Hezbollah, receives funding, training, logistics, guidance, and material support from the Qods Force.

The US State Department described Hezbollah Brigades as “a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology that has conducted attacks against Iraqi, US, and Coalition targets in Iraq.”

“Kata’ib Hezbollah has ideological ties to Lebanese Hezbollah and gained notoriety in 2007 with attacks on US and Coalition forces designed to undermine the establishment of a democratic, viable Iraqi state,” State continued in its designation.

The Shia terror group has been involved in “numerous violent terrorist attacks since 2007,” including IED, RPG, and sniper operations. The group has been directly linked to the murder of two UN employees in November 2008. Additionally, the group conducted attacks against US and Iraqi forces, using explosively-formed penetrators and improvised rocket-assisted mortars, which have been described as flying improvised explosive devices. The Hezbollah Brigades has posted videos of these attacks on the Internet.

Shortly after being listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Hezbollah Brigades reveled in the designation. In an official statement, the group said it was proud of being designated as a terrorist entity by the US government. “Classifying us on the American terror list means that we are still marching on the right path,” the group said in a statement.

In mid-July 2010, General Ray Odierno, then the commander of US forces in Iraq, said that Hezbollah operatives conducted training inside Iran and were returning to step up attacks on US forces.

“They [Hezbollah Brigades] are clearly connected to Iranian IRGC,” Odierno said in a press conference discussing the increasing threat of Hezbollah Brigades. [See LWJ report, Iranian-backed Shia terror group remains a threat in Iraq: General Odierno.]

In December 2010, Hezbollah Brigades threatened to continue attacks on US forces in Iraq unless the US fully withdrew its forces from the country by the end of 2011. The group also called for the release of all of its captive fighters.

The Iraqi government, which targeted the Special Groups, including the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous, in military operations from 2007 to 2009, began to soften its stance on the Iranian-backed groups as the US government and military began disengaging from Iraq. Afterwards, as the Syrian civil war heated up and the Islamic State of Iraq began regaining its strength, the government began to rely on the Shia militias to provide security in Shia areas. And as the Iraqi military melted away in the Islamic State’s June offensive in Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces, the Shia militias, including League of the Righteous, were critical in propping up Iraq’s security forces.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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  • Caleb says:

    I don’t think it’s too wise to be assisting Shia groups like this.
    In a conflict where you desperately need to eat away at a Sunni support base to turn ISIS’ once allied Sunni tribes against them, playing the role of the air support to groups like Kata’ib Hizballah or Asa’ib Ahl Haq definitely does not help your case.
    My two cents anyway.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    They’ve got no choice, the Iraqi army are so weak, that they have to have shia militias to boost their weapons and numbers.

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    A valid argument can be made for expediency.
    Another valid argument might say, “Well, we were actually intending to help the Kurds.”
    A quite-different valid argument can be made over Valerie Jarrett’s secret meetings with officials of the Iranian theocracy.
    In my perhaps-arrogant opinion, the latter is a necessary context for whatever this Administration now does in Iraq. (And the “whatever” is deliberately open-ended.)

  • Mueller says:

    I concur with Calen on all points except I would go further and say we should not be involved in this at all. It is a huge strategic blunder. I don’t have any pleasure in watching war and chaos, but if Sunnis and Shiites are fighting each other, why should it concern us?
    It is disappointing to see us abandon Ukraine to an assertive Russia, and focus on supporting a Shiite and sectarian government in Iraq. I would like to see some reports on Ukraine, Bill. Russia is being given the option to do whatever it wants in Europe, and this is a threat to our national and economic security.

  • Fred says:

    We can’t pick and choose who to work with. If we refuse to work with Hezbollah, IS will focus their forces there and we’ll have to either step in or lose ground. That’s one of the downsides of a hands off approach.

  • Eric says:

    While I respect the views expressed in other comments, I hope this strike is not mis-characterized to the point where we lose sight of what we were doing.
    Amerli was under ISIS control and being purged – ehtnic cleansing of the Shia minority.
    The Kurds got involved in a push to liberate Amerli from
    ISIS control. On the basis of Kurdish involvement and ethnic cleansing, the US approved airstrikes. The US objective was clearly stated by Obama as preventing an act of genocide in Amerli. And who would be in control after the fight was clearly not in the US calculations.
    It could have been the Kurds in charge, and relative safety restored to all of Amerli’s inhabitants, as is the Kurdish way.
    Instead, Iran’s Hezbollah Brigades took charge, and chose to conduct a counter-purge against Sunni residents.
    This will only serve to provoke further Sunni-Shia warfare, and further atrocities by both Hezbollah and ISIS on opposite counterparts among civilians. But then Iran never stood for stability in Iraq, but rather for weakness and instability in Iraq, so it should not surprise anyone that Iranian-backed extremists are raising the stakes.
    Iran will never contribute to the solution in Iraq, but instead will only try to deepen the problems there.
    The economic sanctions against Iran should go back into effect, and should be deepened and extended to prevent Iran from supporting Terrorist groups in Iraq, and erode Iran’s support for Syria’s Assad regime.
    Having said that, it is not the worst thing I have seen lately, finding ISIS and Hezbollah Brigades squaring off in a fight to the death. Two sworn enemies who each killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq 6 years ago are now killing each other for the price of a little air support. Win-Win.

  • Mike. says:

    Maybe it is better to work toward the establishment of a more moderate Sunni state in eastern Syria/western Iraq – while destroying the leadership of IS.
    That would do a lot to gain support of Sunni allies, who are probably looking at the potential for Shiite hegemony in all this with a big dose of trepidation mixed with their disdain.

  • Finn says:

    Tough decisions, and more tough ones ahead. I don’t yet have a firm opinion of the correct policy (I waffle between both perspectives), but I am reminded of a quote by Winston Churchill, I assume when somebody talked about being allied with the communist Soviets.
    If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.

  • Jackbo Godfrey says:

    Churchill quote is right on.
    Only difference here is to keep the balance of power in Hell . . . so to speak.
    ISIL definitely needs to go: so then what?
    Moderate Sunni power balance . . . seems the dream goal. And reestablish balance of power in Mid-East between Shia and Sunni. This seems ideal to keep Hell from spilling over . . . so to speak.
    Worst case scenario seems to be too much Sunni domination in the “Powder Keg Zone” of Iraq/Levant. So balance Hell amongst the most manageable Shia and Sunni devils and wipe out the worst one, ISIL obviously, as top priority.

  • Some_Guy says:

    I do not think we should be involved in Iraq or Syria, period. We gave the Iraqis the white space they needed to get a handle on their security. And they dropped the ball, went against countless agreements, Iraq ended up as sworn allies of Iran and Syria. We do not own this anymore. We got Hezballah fighting AQ, and another enemy in Assad hanging on by his fingernails. And simple demographics show that there is no way the Sunnis can gobble up anymore of Iraq. Sounds good to me. Humanitarian crises; got it, but not our fight.
    Iran and Syria both actively supported AQ at an official level. Looks like the dog they thought they had on a leash bit them.

  • new MarcH says:

    At the end of the day AQ, IS, etc are mostly cavemen with pick-up trucks mounting DSHKAs and carrying box cutters.
    The Iranian regime, on the other hand, has a rejection-ist radical ideology attractive to those who see themselves as disposed, a world-wide terror/subversion network which utilizes Iranian diplomatic/financial infrastructure for support (passports, money laundering, influence) and will soon field a force of nuclear tipped long range missiles.
    Which is the greater threat?


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram