The leader of a powerful Iraqi Shiite militia that is operating against the Islamic State has threatened to attack the US after members of allied militia were killed in a blast in Anbar province over the weekend. Shiite militias have claimed that the US killed the militiamen in an airstrike, but US officials denied that aircraft were operating in the area when the blast took place.
Akram Abbas al Kabi, the “secretary general” of the Harakat Nujaba, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, blamed the US for a an explosion near Abu Ghraib last weekend that purportedly killed 10 members of the League of the Righteous, or Asaib al Haq. Some Iraqis have claimed that the US executed an airstrike that killed the militiamen.
Kabi, who is listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for activities in Iraq, said all Shiite militias will get “vengeance” for the purported airstrike, which was carried out by “the treacherous American aircraft.”
“All resistance movements will seek revenge in a timely manner,” Kabi stated.
Kabi is the second militia commander who has threatened to attack US interests in Iraq so far this year. In early May, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr threatened to attack US personnel inside Iraq and beyond if the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would have recognized Kurdistan and the Sunnis in western Iraq as their own independent countries. [See LWJ report, Muqtada al Sadr threatens to ‘unfreeze the military wing,’ attack US interests.]
Animosity towards the US
The Harakat Nujaba leader has a long history of hostility to the United States. Before taking command in July 2013 (the group was founded by Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous to facilitate the movement of Iraqi fighters into Syria to prop up President Bashir al Assad’s government), he was a military commander in Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army. He then became the military commander of the League of the Righteous, followed by becoming the group’s interim leader after Qais Qazali was captured by US forces in 2007 until he was released at the end of 2009.
Kabi was added to the list of global terrorists in September 2008. Also designated with Kabi was Abdul Reza Shahlai, a deputy commander in Iran’s Qods Force who was involved in the planning and execution of the attack on the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center. Five US soldiers were kidnapped and then executed in the Karbala attack. [See LWJ report, US sanctions Iranian general for aiding Iraqi terror groups.]
Kabi directed attacks against US and Iraqi forces during the so-called Mahdi cease-fire imposed by Sadr in the spring of 2008. He provided weapons “for large-scale military operations against Coalition Forces” in early 2008, according to the US government. Kabi likely aided the Mahdi Army and other Shiite terror groups in attacking US and Iraqi troops as they built the security barrier around a large segment of Sadr City. More than 1,000 Mahdi Army fighters were killed during the fighting in Baghdad from April until the Mahdi Army quit the battle in June of that year.
Links with Hezbollah
Harakat Nujaba has close ties with Lebanese Hezbollah. The two groups coordinated activities as Iraqi militia fighters entered Syria to battle rebels and jihadists.
Harakat Nujaba touts its relationship with Hezbollah. On its website, the group published a picture of Kabi holding hands with Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. The two met recently to discuss the security situation in Iraq.
Cooperation between the two groups and their leaders goes back more than a decade, when Iran’s Qods Force directed Hezbollah to aide in the establishment and training of what US military commanders used to call the “Special Groups.” Qods Force leader Qassem Soliemani, who is frequently seen on Iraq’s battlefields coordinating with Shiite militias, and commanders such as Abdul Reza Shahlai were instrumental in establishing the Mahdi Army, Hezbollah Brigades, and offshoots such as the League of the Righteous.
Hezbollah also aided in the formation of the Special Groups. Musa Ali Daqduq, a top Hezbollah operative who served as the chief of Nasrallah’s bodyguards as well as the head of the terror group’s special operations branch, was ordered to help establish Shia groups in Iraq along the lines of Lebanese Hezbollah, according to the US government.
The US captured Daqduq in Basrah, Iraq in March 2007. Daqduq was released to Iraqi custody in December 2011 as the US withdrew from Iraq with the promise that he would be tried for his war crimes. But in 2012, he was freed by the Iraqi government and immediately traveled to Lebanon. After his release, US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Daqduq was involved with supporting Iraqi militias fighting in Syria.
In its designation of Daqduq as a global terrorist in November 2012, the US Treasury Department said that sometime in 2005, “Iran asked Hezbollah to form a group to train Iraqis to fight Coalition Forces in Iraq.” The designation stated: “In response, Hassan Nasrallah established a covert Hezbollah unit to train and advise Iraqi militants in Jaish al Mahdi (JAM) [or Mahdi Army] and JAM Special Groups, now known as Asaib Ahl al Haq [the League of the Righteous],” a Mahdi Army faction.
“As of 2006, Daqduq had been ordered by Hezbollah to work with IRGC-QF [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force] to provide training and equipment to JAM Special Groups to augment their ability to inflict damage against US troops,” Treasury noted.
Hezbollah continues to train and support the deadly Shiite militias as recently as last summer. In July 2014 Hezbollah celebrated the death of Ibrahim al Hajj, who was described as a Hezbollah “commander” and “a technical trainer.” Hajj was killed while “performing his jihadi duties,” while fighting the Islamic State in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar. [See LWJ report, Hezbollah ‘trainer’ killed during fighting in northern Iraq.]
US airstrikes aid Shiite militias despite their open hostility
The US military, under the aegis of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition created to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State, continues to launch airstrikes in support of hostile Shiite militias as they battle the jihadist group for control of northern, central,and western Iraq. The militias have taken the lead against the Islamic State as demoralized Iraqi security forces have performed poorly on the battlefield.
The militias operate under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Committee, which was formed after the Iraqi military collapsed as the Islamic State took control of vast areas of Iraq in June 2014. The Popular Mobilization Committee itself is directed by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as a specially designated global terrorist in July 2009 and was described as “an advisor to” Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
The largest and most effective militias in the Popular Mobilization Committee are supported by Iran and include Hezbollah Brigades, which has been designated by the US government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, Saraya Khorasani, the Badr Organization, the League of the Righteous, Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade), Sayyed al Shuhada Brigade, and Harakat Nujaba. Top leaders of the last four groups are listed by the US as specially designated global terrorists.
US strike aircraft have helped the Iranian-backed militias advance in Amerli, Jurf al Sakhar, and Tikrit, and are currently supporting the counteroffensive in Ramadi.
Despite threats from the Shiite militias and their open hostility towards the US, General (retired) John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, or the Islamic State, has sought to reassure the US public that the military is not supporting “extremist elements” of the Popular Mobilization Committee.
Caleb Weiss contributed to this report and provided the translation of Akram Abbas al Kabi’s threat.