Iraqi Shia militias promote training camps in Syria

Photo from Kata’ib Imam Ali training camp in Syria featuring Muhammad al Bawi (right)

Two Iraqi Shia militias have recently promoted training camps inside Syria. The two militias, Kata’ib Imam Ali (Imam Ali Battalions) and Kata’ib al Sabriun (Those Who Endure Battalions), have ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The first, Kata’ib Imam Ali, released a photo from one of its training camps somewhere in Syria. The photo also featured its deputy secretary general, Muhammad al Bawi, who is one of its key leaders for operations inside Syria and is often featured in propaganda emanating from there. Although it is not clear where the training camp is, however, the Battalions have historically had a large presence in Aleppo province and recently in the country’s south.

The second is from Kata’ib al Sabriun, an Iraqi militia that claims to operate in both Iraq and Syria. The video, which was released late last month, features its fighters running obstacle courses inside a compound. Much of the group’s propaganda is focused on Syrian operations. It is likely that this training camp is somewhere in the Aleppo countryside, as Sabriun is largely focused in the northern province. The group has claimed operations in battles with other IRGC proxies, such as Harakat al Nujaba.

Kata’ib Imam Ali and Kata’ib Sabriun join other Iraqi Shiite militias to have promoted training camps inside Syria. This includes Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada, which is led by Abu Mustafa al Sheibani, the former leader of the infamous Iranian-backed Sheibani network in Iraq. Asa’ib Ahl al Haq, led by Qais al Khazali, the former head of Iraq’s Special Groups, has also advertised training in Syria.

Sabriun is part of the “Islamic Resistance” brand predominately featured with many Iranian-backed groups. In addition, its social media on Facebook and Twitter regularly features photos and quotes from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force. It also promotes velayat-e faqih, or “Guardianship of the Jurist,” the Islamic Republic’s founding ideology.

Kata’ib Imam Ali is led by Shibl al Zaydi, a former commander in the Mahdi Army. It is also connected to Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, an IRGC adviser and deputy leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). Muhandis, who is a US-designated terrorist, is also tied to Kata’ib Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist organization, and has long participated in Iranian-sponsored terror.

Screenshots from Kata’ib al Sabriun’s training video:

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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