Hezbollah Brigades transporting an M1 Abrams in its possession around Jan. 2015.
A recent quarterly report released by the Office of Inspector General acknowledged that several US-made Abrams tanks fell into the hands of Iranian-backed militias after being supplied to the Iraqi military.
The report stated that “some U.S.-provided military equipment sent to support the mission, including as many as nine M1 Abrams tanks, had fallen into the hands of Iranian-backed militias that fought against ISIS [Islamic State] in Iraq.” The report also noted that the US State Department has pressed the Iraqi government for the return of the tanks, but that has not happened.
FDD’s Long War Journal has long tracked the appearances of US-made tanks in the hands of Iranian-backed militias. In Jan. 2015, the Hezbollah Brigades – a US-designated foreign terrorist organization – showed an Abrams flying the group’s flag. Additionally, the group published two videos from Iraq’s Anbar province in which several US-made armored vehicles were used by its forces. The Hezbollah Brigades were again seen transporting an Abrams tank in March 2016. [See Video shows Hezbollah Brigades convoy transporting American M1 tank, and Threat Matrix reports, Hezbollah Brigades flaunts US equipment in Anbar operation and Iraqi Shia militias show US-made equipment on road to Samarra.]
The Badr Organization, another Iranian-backed Shiite militia, has also publicized photos showing its forces in possession of an Abrams tanks. Photographs released by the militia with the tank, and at least one US AT-4 anti-tank rocket, near Saqlawiyah in Anbar also in 2015. [See Badr Organization fighters pose with US M1 Abrams tank.]
In Feb. 2016, Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada (KSS), which is closely linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – Qods Force and led by US-designated terrorist Mustafa al Sheibani, was seen using an M1 Abrams likely in Iraq’s Salahadin Province. [See Iranian-backed militia seen with US tank in Iraq.]
Iranian-backed militias have played a key role on the Iraq battlefield
The Iraqi government has relied on the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the grouping of militias mostly backed by Iran, to liberate cities such as Mosul, Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit and Baiji, Hawija, Al Qaim from the Islamic State. The PMF has also battled Kurdish militias in Kirkuk. Hezbollah Brigades, Badr Organization, and Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada are three of the more prominent militias under the PMF umbrella.
The top PMF leaders are Iranian proxies. The PMF’s operational leader is 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 head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force, Iran’s expeditionary special forces. Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization who has been close to Iran for decades, is also a key leader in the PMF.
The PMF has become an important branch of Iraq’s security apparatus. The Iraqi government officially incorporated the PMF as an “independent military formation” that reported directly to the prime minister in July 2016. The PMF was established as a parallel security organization akin to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The move was hailed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as an “important and blessed phenomenon,” while Iranian generals have said that the PMF is an extension of Iran’s plan to export the revolution.
PMF militias have banded together and formed a political coalition called al-Fatah al Mubin (Manifest Victory) to contest the Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections in May.