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 :Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.