Asaib al Haq video from Tikrit
Despite claims by the US government to the contrary, several Iranian-backed Shiite militias are still operating in Tikrit. The US has said that airstrikes in the central Iraqi city would only come if these militias withdrew from leading the battle. “Preconditions for us to provide support were that the Iraqi government had to be in charge of this operation. We had to know exactly who was on the ground,” General Lloyd Austin, the commander of US Central Command, told Congress on March 26, according to Military Times. Austin continued by saying, “The Shiite militias that were there have pulled back from that area.”
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the next day in a press conference that most of these militias left the fighting. “These are primarily the Shia militia units that we had no interest in being on the battlefield in the first place,” Warren continued, “These are the Shia militia that are clearly linked or often infiltrated by Iran, so their departure from the battlefield is welcome.”
However, several of these groups continue to release photos or videos from the area. In addition, several have released statements denying that they have withdrawn from the fight. Asaib al Haq, or League of the Righteous, was initially said to have withdrawn from Tikrit. Asaib al Haq issued an official statement saying that they will remain in the area, but not take part in the fighting due to US airstrikes. However, in a video released yesterday (above), it said its forces are preparing for the Tikrit battle.
Saraya al Khorasani, which is led by Ali al Yasiri and closely tied to Iran, released a statement on March 27 denying to have withdrawn from Tikrit. Kata’ib Saeed al Shuhada also issued a statement on March 26 in which it said it was opposed to US airstrikes in Tikrit, but made no mention of its forces withdrawing from the fight. Harakat Nujaba, another militia, has posted several statements on its Facebook page opposing US airstrikes, but its forces continue to conduct operations in Tikrit.
Kata’ib Saeed al Shuhada is led by Mustafa al Sheibani, who led the Sheibani Network in Iraq and is responsible for killing numerous American soldiers. Harakat Nujaba is led by Akram Abas al Kabi, the military commander of Asaib al Haq who was listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2009. Al Kabi has also been linked to numerous attacks on US or Coalition forces during the Iraq War. (For more information on these groups, see LWJ report, US continues airstrikes in Tikrit despite involvement of Iranian-backed Shiite militias.)
Several other groups also continue to operate in Tikrit, which include Kata’ib Imam Ali, Jund al Imam, and the Badr Brigades. Kata’ib Imam Ali released a statement on March 28 saying that its forces continued to shell Islamic State positions in Tikrit. Jund al Imam and the Badr Brigades have also released several pictures from Tikrit in recent days. Jund al Imam is led by Ahmed al Asadi and has been described as “ideologically aligned” with Ayatollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of Iran. The Badr Brigades is led by Hadi al Ameri, who is close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Qods Force, which is the external operations wing of the IRGC.
These groups are operating under the moniker of the Popular Mobilization Units. The leadership of the PMU is heavily tied to Iran and its Revolutionary Guard Corps. The overall leader of the PMU is 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. Muhandis is also a close associate of Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani has been photographed several times in Tikrit with various Shiite militias. Muhandis is also said to direct the operations of Kata’ib Imam Ali and the Hezbollah Brigades. (For more information on Muhandis and Soleimani, 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.]