Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq

FormedJuly 2006
DisbandedJanuary 2012
First AttackJanuary 20, 2007: Members of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq dressed as Iraqi police officers and made a surprise attack in Karbala. In the attack, five American soldiers were killed (5 killed).[1][2] Their first attacks claimed to be in support of Operation True Promise (Hezbollah’s July 12, 2006 raid into Israel during which three Israeli soldiers were killed and two captured) and in retaliation for Israel’s subsequent attacks into southern Lebanon.[3]
Last AttackFebruary 8, 2010: Members of AAH in Baghdad fired a Katyusha rocket targeting the International Green Zone(0 killed, 0 wounded).[4]
UpdatedAugust 2, 2012

Narrative Summary

Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) emerged in 2006 as part of an effort by the IRGC Qods Force to create a popular organization similar to Lebanese Hezbollah. The intent was that AAH would be easier to shape than Moqtada al-Sadr’s seemingly uncontrollable Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) movement, [5]. Qais al-Khazali, the current leader of AAH, split from the Mahdi Army in 2004 following the Shi'ia uprising in 2004 to found his own organization. Khazali began operating the group independently of the Mahdi Army immediately, but due to shifts in leadership and organizational confusion between 2004-2006, though the group did not gain notoriety or significant operationalization until 2006.

Following the Shiite uprisings In 2008, AAH began to operate entirely independently of Sadr and his Mahdi Army. The AHH had always operated with more independence relative to other Iraq Special Groups [6].   In November 2008 when al-Sadr created the Promised Day Brigades to succeed his Mahdi Army, he asked AHH to join. They declined.[7]

AAH was the largest of the Iraqi Special Groups, with more than 3,000 members at its peak. The organization has claimed more than 6,000 attacks against Coalition and Iraqi forces between 2006-2012. In January 2012, AAH declared that it would lay down its arms and join the political process.

Leadership

Also in November 2010, it was reported that Special Group commanders such as Sadrist breakaway Abu Mustapha al-Sheibani (born Hamid Thajeel al-Sheibani) and infamous Shi`a warlord Abu Deraa (born Ismail al-Lami) were returning from Iran to join AAH. [8]

  1. Qais al-Khazali (Unknown to Unknown): Qais al-Khazali is requently referred to as a "field commander" under Kazim al-Haeri, or "secretary general" of the AHH. Qais al-Khazali is one of al-Sadr's rivals. He opposed the cease-fire agreements with the U.S. and Iraqi militaries after the offensive operations during the spring and summer of 2008. On March 20, 2007, coalition forces captured al-Khazali, his brother Laith Khazali, and Lebanese Hizbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq in Basra. On January 5, 2010, al-Khazali was released from Iraqi custody in exchange for kidnapped Briton Peter Moore. In November 2010, it was reported that Qais al-Khazali "could become a significant political force in mainstream politics and is being courted by both al-Maliki and al-Sadr precisely because he has the capability to draw away a portion of Moqtada’s supporters."[9]
  2. Grand Ayatollah Kazem Husseini Haeri (Unknown to Present): Kazim al-Haeri is reported to be the spiritual leader of AHH. Al-Haeri is a "Khomeinist scholar of Iraqi origin who resides in Iran, and is followed by some but not all mainline Sadrists." [10]
  3. Akram al-Kabi (January 1, 2008 to Present): Al-Kabi, a former Sadr loyalist, is the current commander of AAH.[11]

Ideology & Goals

The AHH is a Shiite militia group, and one of the Special Groups in Iraq. Like other Special Groups, the AHH's mission is to attack U.S. forces and their allies, and conduct covert operations to further Iranian influence and control. [12]


The AHH strives to destabilize Iraq and pressure the government to into ousting U.S. and coalition forces. American and Iraqi security forces are most commonly the target of violent attacks. Sunni nationalist opponents are also targeted.[13]

Name Changes

Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous) is also known as the Khazali Network, after leader and founder of the Iraqi Special Groups, Qais Khazali

Size Estimates

As of January 2012, the group had declared intent to lay down their arms and join the political process, thus negating the ability to accurately gather information regarding membership.

Designated/Listed

 MNF-I named AHH as an active group on August 19, 2008 [17]. The organization is listed as one of the Iraqi Special Groups by the United States government, though was never designated as a foreign terrorist organization during their campaigns of violence against Iraqi and coalition forces

Resources

AAH receives weapons, training, and financial support from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, as well as from Lebanese Hezbollah.[18] It is estimated that the group received between $1-5 million per month in support from Iran. Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani, the head of the Sheibani smuggling network, also supplied the group with considerable resources. Further financial and weapons support came from a smuggling network run by Ahmad Sajad al-Gharawi, the leader of a terrorist network in Southern Iraq.[19]


Reports of Quds Force influence are extensive, and range from being largely domestic in nature to more elaborate training:

"Beginning in 2007, the IRGC-QF also provided advanced training for cell leaders, offering further instruction on weapons, logistics, kidnapping tactics, intelligence operations, and information operations. Some advanced courses took place in southern Lebanon. Iran also employed 'train-the-trainer' techniques, where Iraqi fighters are trained in Iranian camps to become instructors upon their return to Iraq."[20]

During the Iraqi Security Force operations in Basra and Sadr City in March and April of 2008, the AHH used Iranian-supplied weapons to attack coalition forces. Iranian rockets and mortars were found, and advanced EFP/small-arms attacks were evidence of IRGC-QF influence and training [21].   

External Influences

The largest influence on the activities and capabilities of AAH is from the Quds Force, who is responsible for the principle financial and weapons provision for the group.[22]. Links with Hezbollah are largely logistical and financial in nature, as noted by an Iraqi Forces official who stated, "The munitions and training to conduct these anti-Iraqi acts come from training received in Iran from the Qods Force as well as Lebanese Hezbollah trainers."[23]


Geographical Locations


Targets & Tactics

The tactics utilized by AAH are similar to other nationalist militant groups in the region. AAH targets Coalition Forces and Iraqi police, using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), indirect rocket or mortar fire, and/or sniper fire.[24]. In offensives throughout 2008, AAH continued to attack Coalition Forces extensively, using deadly armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles known as EFPs; they also transitioned into the use of kidnapping, intimidation, and sectarian violence to achieve their goals. The use of roadside bombs was extremely common during the time AAH was active. The organization claimed more than 6,000 attacks against Coalition and Iraqi forces.


Political Activities

In 2007, Asaib Ahl al-Haq split from the Sadrists, the political/paramilitary faction behind Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, after a disagreement over Sadr's cease-fire agreement with the U.S. and Iraqi security forces. The Sadrists are opposed to AHH's entry into politics. Muqtada al-Sadr issued a statement accusing Asaib of being “killers with no religion – all they care about is position.”[25]

In 2009, American officials attempted to bring a disarmed AHH into Iraq's government. The group's leader, Qais al-Khazali, was released from detention on the condition that he would immediately cease violent operations. Directly following his release, al-Khazali fled to Iran and continued organizing and directing attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces.[26]

In January 2012, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki supported the AHH's decision to enter Iraq's political system. "The government’s support for the militia, which only just swore off violence, has opened new sectarian fault lines in Iraq’s political crisis." [27]

AHH has agreed to cease violent activities in exchange for political inclusion. In January 2012, as a perceived conciliatory gesture, the AHH offered to released the body of a British bodyguard, Alan McMenemy, who was captured in 2007.[28]

American and Iraq officials are concerned that the inclusion of the AHH in Iraq's political system will undermine the government's legitimacy and further hinder reconstruction. Additionally, officials worry that Prime Minister al-Maliki's intentions are less than altruistic. He could potentially use AHH's credentials as Shiite resistance fighters to weaken Moktada al-Sadr's bloc and factionalize his political opponents.[29]

The presence of the AHH could also further alienate Sunni Arab factions and increase rivalries between competing Shia groups.[30]

Major Attacks

In June, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and other militias said to be backed by Iran conducted rocket attacks on American bases that resulted in the deaths of 13 soldiers, making the month the worst for combat-related deaths for United States forces in Iraq since 2008. Military officials also said the group was responsible for the last American combat death in Iraq, a November roadside bomb attack in Baghdad.

  1. January 20, 2007: AAH undertook the kidnapping and killing of five U.S. soldiers. (5 U.S. Soliders killed).[31]
  2. April 6, 2009: laimed 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).[32]
  3. June 15, 2009: Claimed responsibility for an improvised explosive device in an attack in Al Khalis, Diyala, Iraq, wounding Iraqi civilians. (2 wounded).[33]
  4. September 16, 2009: Following the conclusion of a meeting between United States Vice President Joe Biden andIraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki,AAH members in the Al Karkh district of Baghdad, Iraq, fired two rockets at the International (Green) Zone. The rockets landed in Abu Nawas Street with no damage or motive reported. (no casualties).[34]
  5. October 28, 2009: Fired four morter rounds at the United States Consulate in Al Hillah, Babil, Iraq. (no casualties).[35]
  6. November 12, 2009: Fired a Katyusha rocket at the United States Consulate in Al Hillah, Babil, Iraq. (no casualties).[36]

Relationships with Other Groups

The AHH is one of several "Special Groups." Special Groups is a U.S. military term/designation assigned to Iran-backed Shi'ia militias operating primarily in and around Sadr City and Baghdad. Special Groups are generally considered factions within the Madhi army that broke away during the 2007 and 2008 infighting.[37] Little is known about the Iraq Special Groups; however, Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and the Promised Day Brigade are considered the most notable.[38]

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, described the groups in 2007 as cellular in structure and independently operational. "Their cellular structure and interactions create a complex web of relationships, which have increasingly been fueled by external influences," said Bergner. [39] There are 4 suspected operational branches of AAH, each responsible for organizing and carrying out attacks in different regions of Iraq. These are: the Imam Ali Brigade, Imam al-Kazem Brigade, Imam al-Hadi Brigade, and the Imam al-Askari Brigade.[40]

The groups are connected via Iran and religious alliances. Many purported members of AHH appear to collaborate with KH and PDB organizers to participate in small numbers of attacks on U.S. forces, but little else is known. "Cross-pollination among these groups does occur and makes the exercise of performing a neat classification of them more difficult" [41].

Although the AHH was originally designed to continue attacks on coalition forces despite Sadr's cease-fire, the 2008 engagement in Sadr City with Special Group Promised Day Brigade (PDB) highlighted deep divisions among the Shiite militias. This is most likely because the "AAH was built around one of al-Sadr’s key rivals, a protégé of al-Sadr’s father called Qais al-Khazali who had consistently opposed al-Sadr’s cease-fire agreements with the U.S. and Iraqi militaries" [42]. "Qais al-Khazali could become a significant political force in mainstream politics and is being courted by both al-Maliki and al-Sadr precisely because he has the capability to draw away a portion of Moqtada’s supporters if he so chooses" [43].

AHH's relationship with Kata'ib Hezbollah is less clear. KH was founded in 2007. It is a compact and highly-trained organization of less than 400 individuals, under direct control of the IRGC Qods Force. It is lead by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was born in Basra and has long supported Iranian-backed Shiiite proxies in Iraq.[44]

The armed factions that make up the Special Groups have undergone significant transformations in the past several years. Many Special Group operators fled to sanctuaries in Iran following the government security offensives of spring 2008. Since the summer of 2009, these groups have largely recovered and reestablished some presence in Iraq [45]. Some of these Special Groups were recently reactivated to serve Iran's strategic agenda as U.S. forces withdrew, including waging war on the Baghdad government if it seeks to become too independent of Tehran and maintain relations with the U.S. [46]. In October 2011, Group leaders threatened increased violence if the U.S. government permitted occupation past the December 31 withdraw deadline.


References

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  42. ^ Michael Knights, "The Evolution of Iran's Special Groups," http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq (November 1, 2010)
  43. ^ Michael Knights, "The Evolution of Iran's Special Groups," http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq (November 1, 2010)
  44. ^ Michael Knights, "The Evolution of Iran's Special Groups," http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq (November 1, 2010)
  45. ^ Michael Knights, "The Evolution of Iran's Special Groups in Iraq," http://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/the-evolution-of-iran%E2%80%99s-special-groups-in-iraq (November 1, 2010)
  46. ^ United Press International, "Iraq militants on the rise amid U.S. pullout," http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special2011/10/13/Iraqi-militants-on-the-rise-amid-US-pullout/UPI-11921318531853/#ixzz1kuw9LCg4 (October 13, 2011)

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