US begins airstrikes against Islamic State in Tikrit, supports Shiite militias

The US-led military Coalition in Iraq is openly supporting Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Iraqi forces who are battling Islamic State fighters entrenched in Tikrit. Many of the Shiite militia commanders are listed by the US as Specially Designated Global Terrorists, and one militia is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Many of the commanders and militias are responsible for killing US, Coailition, and Iraqi troops and civilians during the occupation of Iraq.

Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) announced today that “operations to support Iraqi Security Forces in Tikrit have commenced after a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al Abadi,” in a press released issued by the US-led command.

“The Coalition is now providing direct support to Iraqi Security Forces conducting operations to expel ISIL [Islamic State] from the city. CJTF-OIR is providing air strikes, airborne intelligence capabilities, and Advise and Assist support to Iraqi Security Force headquarters elements in order to enhance their ability to defeat ISIL,” the statement continued.

The US and CJTF-OIR have claimed that the airstrikes and other support is benefiting “Iraqi Security Forces,” when in reality more than two-thirds of the personnel opposing the Islamic State are comprised of Shiite militias, all of which are backed by Iran.

The US has reversed its decision to remain on the sidelines as the militias and Iraqi forces have bogged down in Tikrit after launching the offensive at the beginning of March. The US military had previously said it would not support operations in Tikrit due to the extensive presence of Shiite militias and the significant support from Iran. Additionally, the Shiite militias have been involved in stoking sectarian tension in other areas that they have retaken from the Islamic State.

The Shiite militias are operating under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Committee, or Hashid Shaabi, which was created by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to combat the Islamic State after the Iraqi military collapsed during the summer of 2014. The head of the Popular Mobilization Committee is listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and he is closely tied to Iran. One of the militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, is listed a a Foreign Terrorists Organization. And several top militia commanders, in addition to being Iranian proxies, are also listed as global terrorists.

Qods Force “advisor” heads Popular Mobilization Committee

The Popular Mobilization Committee is led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as Specially Designated Global Terrorist in July 2009. The US government described Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” the commander of the Qods Force, the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Soleimani has been visiting the Shiite militias fighting on the Tikrit front, and is said to be directing the Tikrit operation. [See LWJ report, US sanctions Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades and Qods Force adviser, and Threat Matrix report, Iranian general at the forefront of the Tikrit offensive.]

In addition to leading the Popular Mobilization Committee, Muhandis is also said to direct the operations of Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade) as well as command the Hezbollah Brigades. Shebl al Zaidi, a former commander in the Mahdi Army who has been photographed with Soleimani in the past, is the secretary-general of the Imam Ali Brigade, which is operating from Camp Speicher, a sprawling military base northwest of the city.

Iranian-backed Shiite militas invested in Tikrit offensive

Shiite militias involved in the fighting in Tikrit include the Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade), Asiab al Haq (League of the Righteous), Saraya Khorasani (Khorasan Brigades), Harakat al Nujaba, and Kata’ib Sayyed al Shuhada (Battalion of Sayyed’s Martyrs). All of these militias receive support from Iran’s Qods Force.

The Hezbollah Brigades, which has been spotted in Al Alam, was designated by the US State Department as a terrorist organization in July 2009. In that designation, State described the militia 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.” State also reported that the militia receives funding, training, logistics, guidance, and material support from Qods Force.

Asaib al Haq, which has been fighting in Abu Ajil, is considered by the US government to be one of the most dangerous Iranian-supported Shiite militias. Several of its leaders, including Akram Abas al Kabi, the group’s military commander, are listed by the US government as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The group’s leader, Qais Qazali, was directly involved in the killing of US soldiers and was in US custody from 2007 up until his release as part of a hostage exchange at the end of 2009. Qazili has since threatened US interests in Iraq. [See LWJ reports, US sanctions Iranian general for aiding Iraqi terror groups, US releases ‘dangerous’ Iranian proxy behind the murder of US troops and Iranian-backed Shia terror leader freed by US threatens to attack.]

Kata’ib Sayyed al Shuhada has also been spotted in the fighting outside of Tikrit. This group is led by Mustafa al Sheibani, a notorious terrorist who previously commanded what the US military called the Sheibani Network. Like Asaib al Haq and the Hezbollah Brigades, the Sheibani Network was responsible for conducting attacks against US and Coalition forces in Iraq from 2005 to 2011. His fighters were known to carry out attacks with the deadly, armor-piercing explosively-formed projectiles, or EFPs, as well as with mortars, Katyusha and other rockets, and small-arms assaults. Sheibani was sent back into Iraq by Qods Force in 2010 as US forces prepared to exit the country. [See LWJ report, Iran sends another dangerous Shia terror commander back to Iraq.]

Saraya Khorasani, which has been involved in the fighting in Al Alam, is also backed by Iran. The group was advised by Hamid Taqavi, an IRGC general who was killed by an Islamic State sniper late last year. Ali al Yasiri, the leader of Saraya Khorasani, said that Taqavi “was an expert at guerrilla war” and that “People looked at him as magical,” Reuters reported. The militia has also put up billboards praising Taqavi throughout Baghdad and published videos online to commemorate the Iranian general.

Harakat Nujaba, which also is fighting in Tikrit, is led by Akram Abas al Kabi, the military commander of Asaib al Haq who is listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. Harakat Nujaba was created in 2013 to funnel fighters from Asaib al Haq and the Hezbollah Brigades into Syria to support President Bashir al Asad.

In addition to the Shiite militias, Iranian artillery forces as well as drones are directly supporting the Tikrit offensive, US officials have told The Wall Street Journal.

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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13 Comments

  • billy says:

    Good info Bill, thanks for the post

  • Knighthawk says:

    I wonder what changed the calculus at the pentagon, I tend to doubt it’s that the Iraqi government finally got around to asking for direct assistance, it they didn’t want to get involved prior for the obvious and previously stated reasons, why would a request now make any difference?

  • mike merlo says:

    the ‘worm’ has turned. A year or so from now if not much sooner but not much later the US will be ruing this news. The US should be bombing the smithereens out of both sides or at the very least standing aside & letting both sides slaughter each other. There is now nothing preventing the Iranians from advancing into Syria from Iraqi territory with US Air & Intelligence Support which obviously they now have. ‘This’ is far from over & will not end well.

  • martin smith says:

    It’s clear the Shia militias contain dangerous religious fruit-loops; however I think it’s more important at this stage that ISIS is handed a clear and unambiguous defeat, no matter how it is achieved. A victory with coalition air support also makes the militia commanders who emphatically stated they would win without it look like overzealous and overconfident fools.

    • Eddie Brosnan says:

      I agree with you, Martin. It is noteworthy that an operation is limited and stalls with Iranian support, but recommences with American support. I’m no fan of the old Special Groups we fought so hard in years past, but IS has completely jumbled up alliances. Look at Syria for crying out loud.

      • mike merlo says:

        ‘Nothing’ has “recommenced.” Now all that has happened is that the US is now aerially targeting & bombing Tikrit(ISIS/ISIL). Iraqi & Iranian Forces are temporarily awaiting orders to reengage ISIS/ISIL. Coupled with the ‘fact’ Iraqi Militia’s supposedly loyal to Iran have allegedly chosen to vacate the Battle for Tikrit for reason(s) at odds with each other who knows what this next phase of the assault will ‘look’ like.

  • Greg Proctor says:

    This is total insanity! We (The United States) are actually helping our sworn enemies. It is Iran and their “Death to America” Shia militias fighting ISIL in Tikrit and they all have American blood on their hands. We should keep out of the Tikrit fight and continue to allow our enemies to degrade and kill one another. If we hit targets in Tikrit we should also be hitting the Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

  • Alex says:

    It seems to me that there are no good choices. I’m no military expert but it does look like defeating ISIS will entail a great expansion of Iranian influence or even direct control. Perhaps Turkey and Saudi Arabia could mitigate that if they fielded armies to destroy ISIS from either side and contain the expansion of Iran’s area of influence, but that doesn’t seem a realistic possibility yet. I suppose the administration decided that in the hierarchy of priorities rolling back ISIS gets the top slot. Of course we will reap negative consequences from this decision but that doesn’t mean the decision is wrong, just that any decision is now bound to entail serious costs.

  • martin smith says:

    As with any situation in the Middle East; the West can’t trust anybody except for sure the Israeli’s; and possibly the local Christian minority. An exception seems to be the Kurds; they seem to have gone out of their way to align themselves with the U.S. How can we trust the Iraqis when they are linked to Iran? How can we trust the Saudis when they are close with Pakistan; who basically run the Haquani network? Perhaps Jordan is another exception; they have a good king; but its like choosing from a medieval lineup of who’s who.

  • avraham says:

    The facts now are that the US is supporting the Iranian in Irak and fighting the Iranian in Yemen. can you find any logic in this?
    Beside this they are doing what they can to give the Iranians the autorization of developing nuclear bombs. Is the world going crazy???

    • mike merlo says:

      “Is the world going crazy???” Good question. Maybe a psychic could be found capable of contacting Germanwings Co-Pilot Lubitz & ply him for some ‘insight’ into your question.

      by the way US supporting Iran in Iraq & ‘fighting’ the Iranians in Yemen makes sense to me

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis