Iranian-backed militias lead Iraqi counteroffensive to retake Ramadi

Iranian-backed Shiite militias, including Hezbollah Brigades, a US-listed Foreign Terrorist Organization, are leading the Iraqi government’s counteroffensive to regain control of Ramadi, which was lost to the Islamic State last week. The militias are now eclipsing Iraq’s security forces in the fight against the Islamic State.

Thousands of fighters from Shiite militias operating under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Committee, backed by units from the Iraqi Army’s Golden Division and more than a thousand policemen, launched the counteroffensive from the city of Habbaniyah, one of the last government-controlled areas in eastern Anbar yesterday.

The militias and Iraqi forces blunted an Islamic State offensive, which was designed to take Habbaniyah and deprive the government of a launch pad to execute its counterattack on Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar which fell to the Islamic State on May 17. Islamic State forces broke through hastily erected defensive lines west of Habbaniyah and advanced into Husaybah and as far east as Al Madeeq on May 22.

Hezbollah Brigades confirmed on its website that it was involved in the fighting in Ramadi. The group blamed the fall of Ramadi on Iraqi politicians who held the militias back from the fight in Anbar.

“The security breach that took place in Ramadi was the result of some politicians trusting the Americans,” Hezbollah Brigades quoted one of its commanders deployed near Ramadi. The statement is a swipe at Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who has been advised by the US not to deploy Shiite militias to Anbar.

Iraq relies on Iranian-supported militias for Anbar offensive

The Iraqi government’s reliance on the militias to lead the offensive in Ramadi highlights the deteriorating state of Iraq’s security forces as well as Iran’s growing influence in the country. Other militias thought to be operating near Ramadi include the Imam Ali Brigade, the Sayyed al Shuhada Brigade, and Harakat Nujaba; all three militias, which are backed by Iran, put out a call for their forces to organize for the Ramadi offensives.

After the fall of Ramadi, Prime Minister Abadi requested that the Iraqi government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Committee, or Hashid Shaabi, deploy to Anbar province to battle the Islamic State.

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 a 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 visited the Shiite militias as they were fighting on the Tikrit front, and is said to have directed the Tikrit operation. Soleimani has also been spotted on other fronts where the Shiite militias led the fight. [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. Top leaders in the Sayyed al Shuhada Brigade and Harakat Nujaba are listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists or are known to have targeted US forces in Iraq during the US occupation from 2003 to 2011. [For more information the militias, see LWJ report, US begins airstrikes against Islamic State in Tikrit, supports Shiite militias.]

The US military, under the aegis of Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition of nations tasked with “defeating and dismantling” the Islamic State, is now providing air support for the Iranian-backed militias that are responsible for killing hundreds of American troops and remain hostile to the US. Between May 22 and May 23, the US launched four airstrikes that “struck two ISIL [Islamic State] tactical units, destroying multiple heavy machine guns, two ISIL vehicle bombs, two ISIL vehicles, an ISIL fighting position, and three armored vehicles and a tank in ISIL-controlled territory,” according to a press release issued by Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.

Over the past 24 hours, the US-led coalition launched four airstrikes that “struck an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL artillery piece, an ISIL armored personnel carrier and an ISIL armored vehicle, as well as 15 armored vehicles, two armored personnel carriers and two other support vehicles located in ISIL controlled territory.”

US and coalition airpower was also used to support the militias in offensives in Amerli, Jurf al Sakhar, and Tikrit. These militias committed war crimes in Amerli after ejecting the Islamic State, according to Human Rights Watch, and are accused of doing the same in Tikrit. [See LWJ report, Iranian-backed militias rampaged in central Iraq after freeing town: HRW.]

The use of Shiite militias in Anbar is likely to stoke sectarian tensions in the province, and may aid the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts. The militias are seen by many Sunnis as agents of Iran, who seek to oppress Iraq’s Sunnis.

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

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  • m3fd2002 says:

    We will see how this goes, but Al Khaldiyah/Taqadumm Airbase are in a very precarious position, almost surrounded by IS forces. IS will be picking off the supply convoys at will. I’m not convinced that the Popular Brigades are that capable, especially without US aircover. I’ve seen reports that IS is going for Haditha, they love the water weapon. That would more make sense, taking a defensive/siege stance in the Ramadi/Fallujah corridor.

  • Alex says:

    Iraq needs to straighten out its military judiciary system ASAP. It is now clear that Ramadi was an avoidable loss. Fear of combat is human nature but it is counterbalanced in any normal, functioning army by an even greater fear of letting down your comrades and also potential judiciary punishment. Until Iraq gets serious about punishing deserters, expect this to go on.

  • Pete Salmond says:

    I think anyone with half a brain should now stop listening to the US and its views with regards whom is good or bad in the Middle East. The sheer fact its so complicated there, with various Muslims fighting others, means we should either apologise for our failed input and leave, or we should swallow our pride and defeat IS at all costs.

    We can’t cherry-pick who we fight with when it comes to defeating IS. And I will also suggest that a little more journalistic ‘light’ being shed on issues regarding funding of IS and coalition weapons drops to them would be appreciated it too. This conflict is highlighting some real bias in the Western media – mainly our obsessive suspicion of Iran almost at all costs: Right now Iran looks like the only sane player in the region!

  • mike merlo says:

    like Tikrit this little soiree is headed no where fast. Expect the Iranians & their Iraqi surrogates to suffer massive casualties like they did in Tikrit. The domestic Media in Iraq/Iran stopped reporting KIA’s when the number topped 6K with little or no mention of the wounded, maimed or those that have since perished from the aforementioned. Since the Iranians & their Iraqi surrogates gained access to central Tikrit, accompanied by some PR appearance by Abadi, Tikrit has been blanketed with a total Media Blackout. All the information that has since followed has been nothing but text(propaganda) with zero video or photographic evidence supporting claims of the supposed liberation of Tikrit. The latest Accomplishments & Battlefield successes by ISIS/ISIL have been a direct result of bogging down Iranian Forces & their Iraqi surrogates in Tikrit. Its quite obvious the Iranian Military is clumsy & unable to respond to the ISIS/ISIL combination of Static Defense, ‘Hit & Runs,’ & Mobil Warfare. Expect the same results as the Iranians & their Iraqi surrogates seek to liberate Ramadi. ISIS/ISIL will once again outflank them. A big part of the ‘Key’ for ISIS/ISIL to lay Siege to Baghdad & Baghdad International Airport is to have their opponent(s) commit manpower & resources outside of Baghdad. I look forward to ISIS/ISIL gaining control of Al-Khanzeer Island, Nahrain University, & just enough of Baghdad Airport to prevent it from being effectively used by whomever opposes them.
    The above 2 articles posted from DEBKA are indicative of a reevaluation of whats actually taken place in Tikrit. While neither article openly states the true status of Tikrit they demonstrate a remarkable shift in what has actually transpired. If & when the opportunity presents itself ‘Mass Graves’ will be ‘discovered’ about Tikrit & adjoining terrain/locales laying bare to atrocities to having been committed by both sides.

    My comment(s) are not meant to belittle any of those who’ve succumbed to the notion of a fully liberated Tikrit but they are meant to belabor the point. The Iranians have probably committed 20K to 30K Military/Political Personnel, most likely more much more, to the Iraqi Syrian Theater with little show for it besides keeping their puppets propped. The Iranians have already begun to position Conventional Forces along their Southern Border with Iraq in anticipation of ‘Saving Baghdad’ along with preparing a few thousand more to enter the Iraqi Syrian Theater at various locales. Soleimani & along with those he holds counsel with in the Iranian Political & Military hierarchy realize that for them to fully combat ISIS/ISIL, al-Nursa, etc., they’ll need at least 2 1/2 times, most likely more, of whatever the numerical Military Strength was the US & Coalition had to commit to subjugating & ‘pacifying’ Iraq. Thinking they could possibly replicate what Putin is ‘executing’ in the Ukraine obviously isn’t working out for the Iranians.

    Am very much looking forward to what the next few days, weeks & months will showcase. Oh yeah, am also most curious to know what the status is of the Liberation Of Mosul.

  • mike merlo says:

    @P Salmond

    …..and yet Iran is on its ‘heels’ experiencing set back after set back in the Iraqi Syrian Theater

  • James Albright says:

    I wonder if ISIS looted the Ramadi banks?

  • Oberron says:

    I’d be more concerned about Homs Province.

    IS captured two missile bases in the Palmyra Corridor and enough ammo and equipment in and around Palmyra to equip Four Motorized Divisions. They also grabbed a direct road to Rutbah which goes straight to Ramadi. They have the Snake and his two divisions trapped in Deir Ezzor where they have 20,000 fighters tied down. They got a few hundred on the Kobane Front keeping a YPG/FSA Force three times larger at bay and two thousand in North Hasakah against 30,000 combined Regime, YPG, and Sutoro force. Yet despite massive US Airpower and Regime Artillery Firepower, there is a virtual stalemate with IS making steady net gains north.

    Question is, are those Scuds operational? If so, did they capture VX warheads with them…

    An IS Scud launch at Baghdad with a VX warhead would… I don’t even want to think it.

    “Goes off in a corner”

    The hardest part is, where is IS going to hit next with its Palmyra logistics base?

  • Dominic Chan says:

    I agree that its a terrible thing to use the Iranian forces and Shiite militias to quell IS from Ramadi-Haditha. But at this moment the Iraqi forces are still green, its like 17 and 18 years old soldiers breaching the beaches of Normandy during D-Day. No way these guys are going to get the job done. Most of these Iraqis are not even soldiers – mostly farmers and retailers and I doubt they can withstand all that shock and awe coming against them. If you cannot beat ’em you might as well withdraw. At this moment only experience and those that are willing to fight for their survival will perhaps be more successful.

  • kwg020 says:

    The potential rebirth of the Persian empire if they can pull this off and close the gap all the way back to Syria.

  • codejnkie says:

    Its too early to tell if the militia counteroffensive will work. The only way to gauge Iraqi military capabilities is to allow them the opportunity to stand and fight on their own. Its also critical to see IS capabilities. There will no doubt be alot more push and pull. Back and forth across IRAQ. All i am truly confident in is that if any substantial amount of U.S. troop commitments are actually implemented. The U.S. will be extremely vulnerable to the “Mission Creep”. If the front lines can at least be somewhat “stabilized” i use that term loosely, perhaps the Iraqi military can get some confidence back. My biggest concern is the central “government” refusing to give Awakening Council fighters the weapons that they need to do the holding once IS is routed. Unfortunately this war is not just about destroying IS. It is about managing a nation that no longer has much of an identity except for religion.
    Regardless of the plan to destroy IS. No matter the results, there needs to be a framework in place to prevent sectarian warfare from splitting the country again. A fully functioning Iraqi Military and Police force are critical to that end. Without which, U.S. troops will only enable uncommitted Iraqis to do what they did before IS which landed them in this position in the first place.
    Any calls to increase U.S. Troop commitments will only serve to confuse the situation.

  • We can’t cherry-pick who we fight with when it comes to defeating IS. And I will also suggest that a little more journalistic ‘light’ being shed on issues regarding funding of IS and coalition weapons drops to them would be appreciated it too.

  • Tom McCabe says:

    Iran may be sane in the tactical sense but in the strategic sense they’re still a radical Muslim state, which means they are delusional by definition.

  • moses says:

    The reality is that since the beginning of the 911 the war on terror contributed to large sales of weapons and arms to the US DoD and the next step from this cycle would be for US to operate in mid-east, the military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan emerged to become a more unstable region with regional powers anxious to be the next target. This anxiousness created a new paragraph in the emergence of military and proxy operations established by some powers in mid-east, furthermore the new approach of a more tensioned region created a higher demand of US and Russian arms to be deployed in each regions military power. In this second cycle the arms sales was in a all time high in the region especially in the GCC countries. SaudiArabia overlapped India of buying arms from US. The Iran-talks issue is another factor of seeing more arms and high advanced defence systems being sold to the GCC. There is some high ranked US politicians that favors to keep that fire alive (Iran WMDs), US could go further with more sanctions to stop the Iran WMD research, but they didn’t, even if the last negotiations in the end of June would not breach in a comprehensive foundation they will move it forward to another year or years and that would be a significant impact on the ongoing conflict and sales of arms to the region. The IS emerged rapidly during the Lybia war where NATO airbombs combined with a flood of Jihadi fighters entered the conflict and after overtaken the power in Lybia they started the transportation of arms and weapons trough Qatar and Turkey to Syria where it ended up in having armed Jihadists groups in Syria and further in Iraq. The rising tensions in the region is also a strategy of balancing the region, 90% of the muslims are Sunni, 10% are Shia. That is also a reason of why we got Iran making threat to Israel regularly, there need of getting populist support from the Sunni community have been significant important to them. Now we are seeing a paradigm shift where there wasn’t any deeper ideological differences between the Sunni and Shia where there was always a mutual enemy and ‘intruder’ of the holy land, what we are seeing now is secterianism and divided region in Sunnis and the ‘others’ this makes the Iran power to change it’s regional approach. The proxy war will keep going until one side takes wider economic back-fire and the danger for their regional strength would be much deeper if the conflict would breach into their soil and the domestic tensions does already exists within the regional powers, Turkey, Iran and SaudiArabia. Some of these powers are more exposed to the problems that could emerge from being a key player in the conflict, Turkey is in the highest stake of maybe sooner or later taking a bad hit of the conflict. By having given a safe haven and for a while arming and supporting economically to IS Turkey is not only exposed to the threat inside it’s own soil it is also a open economy that is very fragile to any sorts of terror attack etc. There is a great complexity in the region, and I believe that US is managing the whole conflict quite good.

  • j house says:

    My how the worm turns…the US Air Force providing air support for a US designated terrorist group, Hezbollah…

  • RanaSahib says:

    To the victor go the spoils.
    To term this “looting” is misleading and belittling the real and potential military accomplishment of your adversary.
    Dealing with a worthy foe, means, first and foremost, shedding the ignorant, obfuscating jingo in the lingo.

  • James says:

    Alex, they’re lying to you. Don’t believe it. The reason why Ramadi fell is because Daesh took advantage of a sandstorm:

    You see, I guess they didn’t teach Ashton Carter at Harvard that you can’t stop an up-armored bulldozer with an AK-47. At the very least, you need tank-busters to do that.

    Had the legit Iraqi forces been provided with heavy weapons (antitank weapons) in a timely manner like they had frantically requested, and/or had there been spotters on the ground, the fall of Ramadi would have been prevented.

    The real people that ‘lack the will’ to see this through are political pundits like Ashton Carter (and others) based in DC and/or Baghdad. Ashton Carter needs to take a long look at himself in the mirror before he blames others for his own lack of resolve and untimeliness in preventing this from occurring.

    Just do a cursory search and you should see that Ramadi has been hotly contested for well over 8 months now. Ramadi has proven to be no Mosul.

    All they’ve done is made Iran look like the potential liberator in this thing.

  • An Unhappy Camper says:

    This will be the acid test for the Shia Militias, and we will see if they are for real or just as brittle as the Iraqi Army. I suspect it’ll be a stalemate with ISIS being unable to advance and the Militias unable to retake Ramadi. My reasoning is ISIS might have 50k under arms and that’s on the top end, but they are fighting a two front war. Fifty thousand guys is not a lot when you are looking at what ISIS wants to pull off. Add the unavoidable losses of experienced fighters and their replacement with trained but inexperienced people and you have an eroding of your combat capabilities. This hasn’t happened yet because Assad and the Iraqi’s have been so inept.

    The Militias on the other had maybe poorly trained but like their ISIS counterparts they’re well motivated. The Shia fighters may take heaver losses but they can afford them. Simply put ISIS can’t afford heavy losses the Shia lack the training and more than likely the leadership to soundly beat ISIS. I see the Iraq drama dragging on for years even with massive intervention from Iran.

  • mike merlo says:


    …….& “Sand Storms” have been ‘blowin’ around the region for multiple millennia, its not like the locals haven’t seen them before & not used by by any individual, group, Army, etc., seeking to further an agenda. ISIS/ISIL have been using them as cover since the get go… have others to & including the US during the occupation….

  • mike merlo says:

    @ moses

    “the reality is” that the region has served as an weapons bazaar, smugglers paradise, etc., since antiquity. Conflict, War, etc., however one wishes to frame ‘it’ are one of the few reliable constants one is able to regionally bank on

  • mike merlo says:

    @ Oberron

    with all due respect to ‘Observation(s)’ concerning “Homs Province” its Baghdad & Damascus that are the ‘Prizes’ of most consequence, particularly Baghdad. Without question though ‘buttoning’ down “Homs Province” satisfy’s ISIS/ISIL’s need for space & geographical proximity.

    Thanks for validating what I had to ‘say’ about ISIS/ISIL pinning down Iraqi Forces. As of late though it doesn’t look like any space occupied by the Kurds is a priority but who knows that could change but I highly doubt it.

    I hope some of those SCUDs are operational & ISIS/ISIL has personnel able to put them into play. As far VX goes that could present a problem even without a SCUD. Just donkey rig the stuff to a VBIED & drive it where ever an ‘let ‘er rip.’

    US Air Power seems to have been ably dealt with & Iraqi Artillery to be only useful for parades or posing next to for pictures

  • james says:

    might want to take a look at what the weather looked like on the day under question.. moa has some picture of a nice clear day it was when isis was parading down the street right after it’s capture of ramadi… now i suppose the picture is a fake, lol.

  • James says:

    Recall the words of Ho Chi Minh: “I’d rather have to smell Russian dung for 10 years than have to eat Chinese dung for the rest of my life!”

    Clearly, Iran is the lesser of the two evils.

  • irebukeu says:

    Just keep American/western ground forces out of this rat trap.
    As Georges Clemencau once said “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”

    Since we can’t seem to define what a victory might look like or even who the enemy is and isn’t, or even how they would be defeated or fought let’s skip some of the catastrophes and just sit this one out. The war can rage on without us. It really can.

    Seriously though, what would an Iranian victory over the islamic state look like? An Iranian superpower?
    IMO It would break the back of Iran, cost tens of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars, require massive mobile formations-something Iran doesn’t have. Iran today isn’t capable even of filling its own gas tanks let alone maintaining mobile formations, supply columns and depots across Iraq, across Sunni-Iraq
    With these kind of (Iraqi) troops they lead today, let them have all of Iraq to play with. To repair, replace and refurbish and give them the entire army to recruit, train and pay. Let what happened to us happen to Iran a few times. In fact we can sell Iran weapons too, spare parts for their F-14’s. Let’s sell em some basic F-15’s and some basic apaches. Then sell some more to Saudi Arabia as a balance (ka-ching).

    Let’s teach Iranians (and in the process remind Americans) about IED’s and the damage they can do to the human brain. Lets tell them that, in what we have learned about Explosions and effects of them on the brain since 2004, means that even trainers who repeatedly teach soldiers how to breach doors with explosives are under threat of brain injuries. Let’s explain that between 2004 and 2011 the DoD estimates that 332,000 soldiers suffered brain injuries. That is well over a quarter million Americans with some 5-20 percent facing no hope of recovery according to the DoD.

    I think a lot of Americans unaffected by the war ignore, or worse yet, forget the deaths and destruction brought onto the American people by war and intervention. They would much rather pay attention to ‘Military glory–that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood–that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy”( Lincoln words),

    Paying down the debt to stiffen the economy (America’s real war fighting tool) is forgotten during this war and the debt snowballs onwards still.
    Eighteen trillion in debt and many clamour for more war. Eighteen trillion in debt and many are upset that American forces are not fighting in Tikrit and Ramadi this very day. Perhaps they are worried that Iranian mothers worry about their children fighting off in foreign lands when it could be American mothers and wives and children that take on that burden for the Iranian people. I can’t quite understand the thirst for war and more war.

    But there is war now so let there be war where war exists.

    Let the Iranian people send their sons to fight in Iraq. Let them build forward bases and see them blown up in HD by crafty IS tunnel bombs or be smothered in chlorine gas putting entire bases on the DL. Let the new tricks IS can come up with be played out on the Iranian army while we learn from it. Let Iran take on this huge burden, they will be worse off for having done so.

    The Idea that Iran is some Huge boogy-state to be feared or could become some superpower if left to fight IS without us in the lead role seems without much evidence. Are they expansionary? Are they yet again seeking to reclaim Herat? It’s been a couple hundred years since Iran invaded anyone. I guess its time?, right? I mean at this point it is a faith issue that as soon as they get such and such weapon they will use it against this or that state. What evidence do we have to base this on? 30 years of jaw flapping, limited proxy forces in the Levant? and threats to annihilate anyone that attacks them?

    The newly discovered huge north American oil and gas formations should have spelled the end of the Carter doctrine but it looks like Jimmy Carter is so loved, his doctrine perceived so right and true a course for the American people, that it is considered some kind of “natural law” for the US government and people ever since he laid it out. Not one president or presidential candidate except perhaps Ron Paul, spoke against it.
    Let us stop looking for boogey men. History has shown that we are pretty good at finding boogey men if we are intent on finding one, even where none existed before the search.

    Whoever legitimately claims a victory in Iraq will do it by “grinding the face of the people”
    Just keep American/western ground forces out of this rat trap.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    That is all fine and good in theory, but in practice, this logic brought us 9/11. Sooner or later, the jihadist infrastructure that is proliferating, as are the thousands of foreign fighters that are serving with IS, Nusrah, and a host of jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, will come back to haunt us. If you are fine with that, don’t complain the day after.

  • mike merlo says:

    @ james

    whats your point?

  • irebukeu says:

    Bill with all due respect, my argument had to do with not fighting Iran’s war for them and keeping American boots off the ground in Iraq and Syria. When you say “this logic brought us 9/11.” my response would be Where could the USA have had troops on 9-11 or before that would have prevented 9-11? My logic is about keeping American ground troops out of needless risk We should be using proxy forces to save American lives where practicable. Proxy forces already in the fight

    Part of the problem of arguing a policy of Non intervention as I do is that while arguing for a forward non interventionist policy as a correct course of action, one has to shape that action and respond to the reality of a world where both intervention has reaped quite a harvest and the momentum of it creates more. This calls for more intervention, more war with al qaeda in 2001 as a correct course of action but not war in Iraq or Libya or Syria or calling for the ouster of Egypt and Yemen’s leadership. Make no mistake about it, we are now in a state of conflict with al qaeda and its linked groups including Bakr’s IS. It is now a question of how best to defeat them without creating more enemies.
    Intervention brought us 9-11 and 9-11 was the result of intervention. The story, as we well know, doesn’t start Tuesday Sept 11,2001.

  • James says:


    James, do you believe every bit of garbage propaganda put out by those dirty daesh dogs? With all their pirate flags fluttering in the breeze, I’d say this is trick photography at its finest. Where’s the date and time this supposed picture was taken (and the GPS coordinates)? You’d be surprised the tricks you can pull off with Photoshop.

    James, sandstorms don’t show up on weather forecasts. They are totally unpredictable. In fact, it was an unexpected sandstorm that led to the failed rescue mission at Desert One during the Iranian hostage crisis.

  • James says:


    You stand corrected. Those pictures are from Rutba Iraq, not Ramadi. Go here for proof and scroll down to read the comments:

    The original poster acknowledges it (good for him).

  • mike merlo says:

    @ irebukeu

    “Intervention brought us 9-11…,” how so? Behavior & actions on the part of Local/Regional ‘Actors’ had nothing to do with the USA’s course(s) of action(s)?


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram