Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq

FormedJuly 2006
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackJuly 2006: Elements of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq fought alongside Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon-Israeli War. (casualties unknown) [1]
Last AttackApril 17, 2015: AAH killed Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri in the mountains between Kirkuk and Tikrit. Douri was Saddam Hussein’s second in command and subsequently the leader of the Jaysh al-Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshbandia (JRTN). (1+ killed, unknown wounded). [2]
UpdatedAugust 13, 2015

Narrative Summary

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), also sometimes called the Khazali Network, is an Iranian-funded Shiite militant organization that was officially founded in January 2006 by Qais al-Khazali as a splinter group from the Mahdi Army. It is often referred to as one of the Special Groups, a term used by the U.S. military to denote the Iranian-controlled Shiite militias operating in Iraq. [3] [4] [5] Prior to founding AAH, Khazali was the commander of a military brigade within Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.  However, Khazali and his followers had already begun to act independently of Sadr and the Mahdi Army by 2004.  Most notably, Khazali’s brigade continued to fight U.S. troops in the summer of 2004 despite Sadr’s orders that the Mahdi Army to lay down its arms. [6]  Khazali quickly reconciled with Sadr; however, in 2006, he was recruited by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to lead a new militia that they had recently begun training in Iraq. He and the majority of his brigade split from the Mahdi Army in early 2006, joining Iran’s newly trained militia and founding AAH. Since its inception, AAH has relied heavily on Iranian funding, training, and logistical support, and in return has acted as an Iranian proxy in Iraq, carrying out its agenda and promoting its interests. [7] [8] 

Shortly after or perhaps even simultaneously to its creation, AAH elements fought along side its fellow Iranian-proxy organization Hezbollah in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. [9] AAH’s fighters performed well, having been extensively trained and funded by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC). [10] [11]  The group was, and continues to be, under the personal supervision of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Quds Force within the IRGC, and has retained close ties with Hezbollah since its inception. [12]

Despite fighting against Israel in 2006, AAH’s main targets at the time were the U.S. coalition troops in Iraq.  Between 2006 and 2011, the group claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on U.S. forces. [13] Following one particularly deadly attack in March 2007 in which five Americans were killed in Karbala, U.S. forces captured Khazali and Hezbollah commander Ali Musa Daqduq. Akram al-Kabi, a close confidante of Khazali’s and one of the AAH’s top military commanders, temporarily assumed command of the organization until Khazali’s release.  Shortly following, in 2008, Muqtada al-Sadr’s demanded that al-Kabi re-unite AAH with the Mahdi Army but he refused. [14]  Following the Iraqi Army’s seizure of Basra in 2008, many of AAH’s leaders fled to Iran instead of negotiating peace with the government as Sadr did. While in Iran, exiled AAH members received additional training and logistical support from the Iranian government and IRGC. [15] AAH members who remained in Iraq continued to target coalition forces as well as the former Mahdi Army fighters who made peace with the Iraqi government. [16] In December 2009, the AAH orchestrated Khazali’s release in exchange for Peter Moore, a British computer consultant that the AAH had taken hostage along with his four bodyguards in May 2007.  Moore’s four bodyguards were killed by AAH while in captivity. [17] [18] In February 2010 the group took another Western hostage, U.S. Department of Defense contractor Issa T. Salomi.  Salomi was released in March 2010 in exchange for the release of four AAH fighters who were being held by the Iraqi government. [19]

Following the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011, AAH reoriented itself towards politics, rebranding itself from an anti-Western Islamist militia to an Iraqi nationalist political party.  It shifted its goals from attacking U.S. troop installations to maintaining a Shiite-controlled Iraqi state, expanding Iranian influence in Iraq, eclipsing the Sadrists as the most influential Shiite group in Iraq, and providing social services to Iraq’s Shiite population. AAH also expanded its operations and established a political office in Beirut, Lebanon, where it maintained close ties to Hezbollah. Yet despite its new focus, the group did not renounce its former militancy and refused to surrender its weapon cashes to the Iraqi government. [20]   

Shortly after the U.S. withdrew and AAH declared its intention to reorient itself, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki invited the group to enter the political process. [21] In 2012, the group attempted to garner support for its pro-Iranian political agenda by launching a massive poster campaign, in which it distributed over 20,000 posters of Ayatollah Khamenei throughout Iraq. [22] It also conducted a series of assassinations of Sadrist leaders, hoping to weaken the group and take its place as the preeminent Shiite political faction in the country.  [23]  [24] In the 2014 Iraqi parliamentary elections, AAH’s political party, al-Sadiqoon, allied with Maliki’s Dawlat al-Qanoon coalition and won a single seat in the parliament. [25]  

In the period from 2011-2014, the AAH also became known for its commitment to use violence on behalf of the Maliki government and for stoking sectarian violence. Following its entrance into the political process, the group quickly earned itself a reputation for being the military muscle behind Maliki’s Shiite political faction. [26]  For instance, in 2013, the Maliki government allegedly used AAH fighters to police the Anbar province in lieu of the Iraqi police. [27] Then towards the end of 2013 and into 2014, reports surfaced of AAH fighters rounding up and either jailing or executing anti-Maliki Sunni Arab tribesmen in southern and central Iraq. For instance, Human Rights Watch reported that AAH fighters killed 109 Sunni men in the outskirts of Baghdad between March and early July of 2014. [28]  

In addition, beginning in 2011, the AAH has been active in the conflicts in Syria and the fight against the Islamic State (IS). [29] AAH initially entered the Syrian civil war in 2011, fighting alongside Hezbollah to prop up the pro-Iranian Assad regime.  Other than Hezbollah, AAH is considered the most important foreign militant organization fighting for Assad. In 2013, AAH in conjunction with Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), established Hakarat Hizb Allah al-Nujaba, a front organization used to channel AAH and KH fighters into Syria. [30] [31] More recently, as the most powerful pro-Maliki militia in Iraq, AAH has been deployed to some of the most contested areas in Iraq in the battle against IS. For instance, the group has recently been leading the Shiite militias in the heavily contested city of Amerli. [32] Throughout its military exploits, Iran has continued to provide AAH with significant amounts of financial and logistical aid.  New AAH recruits are often taken to Iran for two weeks of intense training with the IRGC before being sent to the front lines. The Iranian government also pays the families of those soldiers who die in battle up to $5,000 in addition to the cost of the burial. [33]

Despite having vehemently opposed the U.S. during its occupation of Iraq, AAH now fights on the same side of the war against IS as the Americans.  Although tensions are still high between AAH and the U.S., AAH has not been as adverse to the U.S. intervention against IS as some other Shiite militias, which have threatened to target U.S. troops. [34] An AAH spokesman recently released a statement announcing that it was willing to accept U.S. air strikes and military presence in Iraq under the supervision of the Iraqi government.  He clarified, however, that AAH leadership does not trust the Americans and believes their ultimate goal is to fragment Iraq so as to increase the relative strength of Israel. [35]

Leadership

  1. Hassan Salem (Unknown to Unknown): Salem was believed to be the head of AAH’s militia branch in 2012 when the group carried out a series of political assassinations.[36]
  2. Mohammed al-Tabatabai (Unknown to Present): Tabatabai is among AAH’s core leaders. He became a trusted friend of Qais al-Khazali while studying under Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr in the 1990s. [37]
  3. Ali Mussa Daqduq (2006 to Unknown): While not officially a member of AAH, Daqduq is a senior Hezbollah operative who is in charge of coordinating AAH and Hezbollah operations and often has served as a liaison between AAH and the Iranian government. He is also a senior advisor to Qais al-Khazali and was captured by the U.S. with the Khazali brothers in 2007. He was released on November 16, 2012 by the Iraqi government.[38]
  4. Qasem Soleimani (2006 to Unknown): Soleimani is the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, the division within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in charge of extra-national militant activities and clandestine services. Although not a member of AAH, Soleimani is responsible for establishing and funding the group and is believed to have personally supervised and directed AAH’s activities. [39]
  5. Qais al-Khazali (2006 to Present): Khazali is the founder and current leader of AAH. He was a pupil of the prominent Shiite cleric Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr and served as a military commander in Sadr’s son Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army until he broke with the group in 2006. The U.S. captured Khazali in May 2007, held him prisoner until they released him in a prisoner exchange in March 2010, during which time Akram al-Kabi led AAH. [40]
  6. Akram al-Kabi (2006 to Present): Kabi has been one of the key leaders of AAH since its creation in 2006, before which he was one of the foremost military commanders in the Mahdi Army. Kabi assumed leadership of AAH after Khazali’s capture in March 2007, relinquishing the position in May 2010 when Khazali was released. He is currently serving as the leader of Hakarat Hizb Allah al-Nujaba, which is a front organization established by AAH and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) in 2013 to which they send fighters to support Assad in Syria. [41]
  7. Laith al-Khazali (2006 to Present): Laith al-Khazali is Qais al Khazali’s brother, and has been a member of AAH’s core leadership since its inception in 2006. [42]

Ideology & Goals

AAH is a Shiite organization that promotes the ideals of the Iranian Revolution, most notably the wilayat al-faqih (guardianship of the jurists), which is the complete implementation of political Islam under a faqih, or Islamic jurist, who has guardianship over God’s people. Ayatollah Khomeini was the first to put this theory into practice when he established the Iranian theocracy and established the Grand Ayatollah in the image of the theoretical faqih. [43] [44] As such, AAH is often called a Khomeinist organization and continues to look to Iran’s current Grand Ayatollah, Ayatollah Khamenei, for political and spiritual guidance. In line with its allegiance to Iran and the principles of the Iranian Revolution, AAH seeks to institute a Shi’a Islamic government in Iraq and establish Shariah Law throughout the country. In addition to looking to Iran for spiritual guidance, AAH also retains a close spiritual allegiance to Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most famous and revered clerics. [45] [46]  [47]

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, AAH’s main goal was the expulsion of U.S. troops from Iraq and thus directed the majority of its attacks against U.S. forces in the region. [48]  However, since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, AAH has rebranded itself from an anti-Western resistance militia to an Iraqi nationalist political organization.  Yet, despite attempting to portray itself as nationalist, AAH continues to promote Iranian interests in Iraq and pursue closer links between the two states.[49] [50] The group continues to work to establish a Shi’ite controlled state and the implementation of Shariah Law throughout Iraq. Currently the group also seeks to shore up the Assad regime in Syria and to turn back the advance of the Islamic State (IS) in both Syria and Iraq. [51] [52] [53]

Size Estimates

Resources

AAH is an Iranian proxy-organization in Iraq and as such receives extensive funding from the Iranian government.  Iraqi intelligence officials estimate that AAH receives between $1.5-$2 million a month from the Iranian government. [58] Much of this money is channeled through the Quds Force under the direction of Qasem Soleimani.  The Quds Force and IRGC also help to train and equip AAH soldiers. New recruits to AAH are often sent to either Iran or to Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon for a two-week training course before being deployed in the field. [59]Iran also pays the families of killed AAH fighters up to $5,000 and will often also cover the cost of the fallen fighter’s burial. [60] 

Additionally, there are unconfirmed reports that AAH has received funding from former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and that some AAH fighters have been recruited into a special paramilitary force led by Maliki himself. Maliki, too, receives significant aid and support from Iran. [61] [62][63]

External Influences

AAH has maintained close ties with Iran since its inception in 2006 and is often referred to as its proxy organization in Iraq.  Iran not only provides the group with significant financial aid and training resources, but also influences the group’s goals and activities. Although Qais al-Khazali is the leader of AAH and controls the group’s day-to-day activities, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, supervises the group and is thought to have the ultimate say in the group’s targets, attacks, and overall strategy. [64] [65]

Geographical Locations

AAH operates primarily within Iraq and is headquartered in Baghdad where it has two political offices.  It also maintains offices in al-Khalis, Basra, Tal Afar, Hillah, and Najaf and has contacts with tribal leaders in the Dhi Qar, Muthanna, and Maysan provinces. [66] After his release from custody in 2010, Khazali and other AAH leaders relocated to Iran, from where they continued to dictate AAH operations. After the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, the majority of the AAH leadership returned to Baghdad. [67]In 2013, reports surfaced that the Maliki government was using AAH fighters in lieu of the Iraqi police force in the Anbar province and subsequently as riot police in Baghdad. [68]

Since the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, AAH has also begun to operate outside of Iraq.  Although elements of AAH had fought alongside Hezbollah in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, up until 2011 the group’s area of operations was predominantly limited to Iraq.  In 2011, however, the group established a political presence in Lebanon and sent representatives to meet with Hezbollah, Hamas, and Lebanese government officials. [69] The same year, AAH began to send fighters to Syria on Iran’s orders to fight alongside Hezbollah and Assad government forces. [70] In 2013, AAH joined with Kata’ib Hezbollah to form a front group, Hakarat Hizb Allah al-Nujaba, to which they route their soldiers to fight for Assad in Syria. [71]

Targets & Tactics

During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq primarily targeted American troops and their Iraqi allies, claiming responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on American soldiers between 2006 and 2011.  The group was known for its use of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) and improvised rocketed-assisted mortars (IRAMs) against U.S. troops and for its high-profile kidnappings and executions of westerner nationals and Iraqi citizens working for western corporations. However, AAH and the United States now have a common enemy in the Islamic State (IS) and have fought together against IS since 2014. [72] [73] 

Following the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, AAH ostensibly reoriented itself towards political participation.  Yet despite its pledged commitment to non-violence, the group refused to surrender its weapons to the Iraqi government and in 2012 used them to assassinate several Sadrist candidates for the 2013 elections. [74] Shortly thereafter, in 2013, AAH was accused not only of standing in for the police force in Anbar on Maliki’s orders but also of conducting purges of anti-Maliki Sunni tribesman in Iraq’s southern provinces in order to assure Maliki a Shiite majority in those governorates. [75]These claims were corroborated by a report conducted by Human Rights Watch in July 2014 that accused AAH of killing 109 Sunni men between March and July 2014 in the towns surrounding Baghdad. [76]

AAH has also fought in Syria alongside Hezbollah and the Assad government since 2011 and with the Iraqi government against the Islamic State (IS) since 2014. [77] [78]

Political Activities

Major Attacks

  1. May 6, 2006: AAH shot down a British Lynx helicopter in Basra. (5 Killed, unknown wounded).[79]
  2. July 2006: Elements of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq fought alongside Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon-Israeli War. (casualties unknown).[80]
  3. October 10, 2006: AAH used mortars to attack American Forward Operating Base Falcon. (unknown casualties).[81]
  4. January 20, 2007: AAH undertook the kidnapping and killing of five U.S. soldiers. (5 U.S. Soliders killed).[82]
  5. January 20, 2007: AAH militants attacked and captured the Karbala Provincial Headquarters, killing five American soldiers in the process. The Khazali brothers and Ali Musa Daqduq, who had helped to plan and lead the attack, were captured by U.S. forces shortly after. (5 dead, unknown wounded).[83]
  6. May 29, 2007: AAH forces attacked the Iraqi Finance Ministry, capturing a British contractor named Peter Moore and his four bodyguards. AAH released Moore in December 2009 in exchange for the Iraqi Government’s release of Qais al-Khazali. However, by the time that Moore was released, AAH had killed his four bodyguards. (4 killed, unknown wounded).[84]
  7. April 6, 2009: Claimed responsibility for a roadside improvised explosive devicein the 'Azamiyah district of Baghdad, Iraq.The explosion wounded Iraqi civilians and caused an unknown amount of property damage. (4 wounded).[85]
  8. September 16, 2009: Following the conclusion of a meeting between United States Vice President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, AAH members in the Al Karkh district of Baghdad fired two rockets at the International (Green) Zone. (no casualties).[86]
  9. October 28, 2009: AAH allegedly fired four morter rounds at the United States Consulate in Al Hillah, Babil, Iraq. (no casualties).[87]
  10. February 2010: AAH captured U.S. Department of Defense contractor Issa T. Salomi. Salomi was released in March 2010 in return for the release of four of their fighters who were held by the Iraqi government. (no casualties).[88]
  11. October 2011: AAH was responsible for a roadside bomb that killed the last American to die before the U.S. withdrawal in November 2011. (1 killed).[89]
  12. August 10, 2012: AAH forces captured a Sunni Mosque in the Al-Amin al-Thaniyah district of Baghdad, subsequently converting it to a Shiite mosque. (casualties unknown).[90]
  13. September 2012: AAH was the main force fighting against IS in the city of Amerli. (casualties unknown).[91]
  14. March 2014: According to a Human Rights Watch report, AAH killed 109 Sunni men in the villages surrounding Baghdad between March and April 2014. (casualties unknown).[92]
  15. April 17, 2015: AAH killed Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri in mountains between Kirkuk and Tikrit. Douri was Saddam Hussein’s second in command and subsequently the leader of the Jaysh al-Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshbandia (JRTN). (1+ killed, unknown wounded).[93]

Relationships with Other Groups

AAH is one of the Iranian-backed Special Groups, the U.S. Army’s name for the Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias fighting in Iraq, and as such has always had good relations with other Iranian-sponsored Shiite militias, both Iraqi and foreign.  In particular, AAH has often cooperated with Kata’ib Hezbollah, the second largest of the Special Groups after AAH. In 2013, the two groups co-founded Hakarat Hizb Allah al-Nujaba, a front group located in Syria to which the two groups send their fighters to fight alongside the Assad regime and Hezbollah. [94] [95] AAH has also always maintained close relations with Hezbollah. Hezbollah operatives were responsible for training many of AAH’s initial recruits and Hezbollah leader Ali Mussa Daqduq has often served as a liaison between the Iranian government and AAH.  Furthermore, members of AAH fought along side Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon-Israel War and in support of the Assad regime in Syria starting in 2011. [96] [97]

AAH has had a tense relationship with Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and his Sadrist supporters since splitting from the Mahdi Army in 2006. While Khazali was being imprisoned by the U.S. in 2008, Sadr called for AAH to rejoin the Mahdi Army.  Akram al-Kabi, who was leading AAH in Khazali’s absence, refused Sadr’s offer.  Violent clashes subsequently broke out between former Mahdi Army members—Sadr had signed a truce with the U.S. and disbanded the group in 2008—and AAH militants in and around Basra. [98] Relations did not improve between the two groups when AAH entered the Iraqi political process in 2011.  The two groups competed for the support of the Iraqi Shiite community, each trying to paint itself as the heir to Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr’s legacy.  Each had claim to the title as both Khazali and Muqtada al-Sadr has been Sadiq al-Sadr’s pupils.  This competition led AAH to launch an assassination campaign against Sadrist political leaders in 2012 in an attempt to weaken the Sadrist’s standing prior to the 2013 regional elections.  Although both groups are currently fighting the Islamic State (IS), tensions have not eased between the groups.  For instance, in 2014 Sadr wrote off AAH as little more than a Maliki-sponsored militia and accused it of carrying out purges of anti-Maliki Sunni tribesmen in southern Iraq. AAH responded by attacking Sadrists. [99]

Since the rise of IS in 2014, AAH has joined the Iraqi government’s fight against the Islamic State. As the most powerful pro-Maliki militia in Iraq, AAH has been deployed to some of the most contested areas in Iraq in the battle against IS. For instance, the group has recently been leading the Shiite militias in the battle for Amerli. [100]

There are speculated tensions between AAH and the Jaysh al-Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandia (JRTN), as indicated by AAH’s claimed assassination of Izzat Ibrihim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s former second in command and the leader of the JRTN, on April 17, 2015.  Although initial claims of Douri’s assassination could not be corroborated, the Iraqi government has recently confirmed Douri’s death. [101]

Community Relationships

While before 2011 AAH does not appear to have had a significant relationship with the Iraqi Shiite community, the group has built widespread support among Shiite Iraqis since entering the political process in 2011. [102] The group has not only established political offices across Iraq but has also sent political delegations to tribal leaders.  AAH has also begun providing social services to the southern Iraqi Shiite tribes, most notably establishing a network of religious schools across the region. [103] [104] [105]

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