Reports Identify Kata'ib Hizbullah Leadership, Say It Has 'Substantial' Missile And Artillery Units

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March 9, 2020

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Kata'ib Hizbullah (KH), also known as the Hizbullah Brigades, has escalated its threats against the U.S. and its coalition following U.S. airstrikes on five KH sites in Iraq and Syria in late December 2019. The Shi'ite armed group, whose leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis was killed in the same U.S airstrike that killed IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, has a growing influence on Iraq's politics and security, yet little is known about its leadership and structure.

After the U.S. listed KH Secretary General Ahmad Al-Hamadawi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on February 26, 2020, more information about the group's military capabilities began to surface in the Arabic-language media.[1] A recent report published in the London-based daily Al-Qods Al-Arabi gave information on the group, which is known to be part of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), an umbrella organization of several Iraqi Shi'ite militias formed to push back against the Sunni extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) following the collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014.[2]

 
KH has "substantial" missile and artillery units (Source: Kataibhezbollah.com).

Structure – 7,500 Members In Missile And Artillery, Intelligence, Engineering, Medical, Media, And Manufacturing Units

According to the report, "the group, which is more beholden to Iran than any other PMU faction," has more than 7,500 members deployed in three military battalions based in several locations across Iraq. It also has: a "substantial" missile and artillery unit operated by 300 members; an intelligence unit with 230 members; a military engineering unit with 600 members; a military manufacturing unit with 120 members; a medical unit with 25 members; and a media section with 15 members. All these members are on the payroll of the Iraqi government-funded PMU, said the report.

Deployment – Positioned In West Iraq And South Of Baghdad

The report said that the three battalions are positioned in western Iraq and in the Jurf Al-Sakar area, south of Baghdad, two areas where KH fighters fought the Islamic State (ISIS). According to the report, the group also has around 2,700 fighters who are not operating under the umbrella of the PMU but are part of the KH regional force deployed in Syria to fight alongside the Syrian military and Lebanese Hizbullah.

Funding – $400 Per Fighter From Iran, $900 From Iraqi Government

Although PMU fighters are known to receive their salary from the Iraqi government, the report emphasized that Iran funds and provides logistic support for KH, noting that both have significantly declined because of the U.S. sanctions on Iran. Another report said that Iran sends $400 for each fighter while the Iraqi government pays an additional $900 each.[3]

Ideology – Velayat-e Faqih

KH is a Shi'ite organization whose ideology subscribes to velayat-e faqih ("Guardianship of the Jurists"), according to which the Supreme Leader of Iran is the leader of the Shi'ite Muslims. As such, all members of KH swear an oath of loyalty to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whom they accept as their spiritual leader. This explains the recent attempt of the group's military spokesman Abu Ali Al-Askari to marginalize Iraq's top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, demanding that he backtrack from his earlier position that had led to pro-Iran Adel Abdul Mahdi's resignation from his position as a prime minister in order to reinstate Mahdi.[4]

 
KH fighters in a parade hold a photo of Iran's late spiritual leader Ali Khomeini (source: Kataibhezbollah.com).

Leadership – Lived In Iran, Returned To Iraq After 2003; Possibly Invented Improvised Rocket‐Assisted Mortar (IRAM) Used Against U.S. Forces In Iraq

The report claimed that many of the group's senior figures had lived in Iran in the past and returned to Iraq after the topple of the Saddam regime following the U.S. invasion in 2003. The group's field commanders use assumed names and tend to avoid the media.

However, the names of two leading figures have surfaced over the past several weeks. One of these figures is Abdul-Aziz Al-Muhammadawi, aka Abu Fadak, who is said to be the former Secretary General of KH and member of its Shura Council. He is also nominated to replace Al-Muhandis as PMU deputy commander. Before 2003, Al-Muhamadawi oversaw several military operations against Saddam's regime as part of his senior position in the Badr Corps, the former military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He was also involved in carrying out attacks against U.S.-led forces after 2003 when he joined KH, and fought and oversaw the PMU during the major military operations against the Islamic State (ISIS) in several Iraqi provinces.[5]

The second KH leader whose name has surfaced in recent months is military spokesman Abu Ali Al-Askari, who was very active on Twitter sharing several anti-U.S. statements until his account was suspended. He later moved to Telegram where he started his own channel. Al-Askari's threatening statements received attention from Iraqi analysts on social media trying to learn his real identity.  

 
Alleged photos of KH military spokesman Abu Al-Askari.

Iraqi extremism and terrorism researcher Husham Al-Hashimi recently tweeted photos of Al-Askari, claiming that Al-Askari's real name was Hussein Moe'nis. He also posted a KH statement from April 28, 2012, that marked the release of Moe'nis from the U.S. custody after spending three and a half years behind bars. The statement implied that Moe'nis was behind the invention of "Al-Ashtar," an improvised rocket‐assisted mortar (IRAM) used against U.S. forces in Iraq.[6]   


KH statement to mark the release of Hussien Moe'nis.

Moreover, Iraqi MP Faiq Al-Sheikh Ali, known for his anti-Iran stances, accused Al-Askari of receiving one-million-dollar ransom in return for releasing 28 Qatari hunters, including members of the Qatari royal family, taken hostage on December 16, 2015 in Muthanna province, Iraq.[7]   

Affiliates – Five Civilian Organizations, Media Outlets, And Commercial Investments

According to KH website, the group runs five civilian organizations, these are: The Mosques And Husayniyat Commission, Zainabiyat Women Foundation, and Al-Hadaf ("Target") Foundation for Islamic education, Al-Nokhab Al-Academia ("Academic Elites"), and Al-Sobel Al-Wadheha ("Clear Means") Foundation. No description of the latter's nature is available on the website.[8]

Additionally, the group runs Al-Ittijah, which is a satellite TV channel, two radio stations, and one newspaper. The group is said, to cover the expenses and salaries of local employees who work in its media outlets and service workers, to have invested in construction companies, bottled water factories, and a chain of restaurants in Baghdad and Karbala, and to trade in cars.


[1] State.gov/state-department-terrorist-designation-of-ahmad-al-hamidawi, February 26, 2020.

[2] Alquds.co.uk, March 6, 2020.

[3] Alaraby.co.uk, December 30, 2019.

[6] Twitter.com/hushamalhashimi, March 4, 2020

[7] Twitter.com/faigalsheakh, March 3, 2020.

[8] Kataibhezbollah.com, accessed March 9, 2020.

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