Iran’s new regime loyal militias in Iraq

The regime’s leaders depicted in a billboard.

Iranian Regime and its new loyal militias in Iraq

By Ahmad Al Jabbouri 

May 26, 2021 

In recent months, several new militant groups have emerged in Iraq, all with a common mission: to threaten US forces stationed in the country to oust them.

One of these groups, which recently announced its existence, is called “Saraya al-Thawra al-Shirin al-Thaniyah” (Second Revolutionary Army of 1920) and has been responsible for several attacks on US forces in Iraq during last year. The group’s name refers to the widespread protests of the Iraqi people against the occupation of the country by British forces in 1920.

The emergence of these militant groups, which indicates a shift in their tactics to oppose the US presence in Iraq, has raised doubts about the possibility of Iran turning to new strategies in the country.

After the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, one of the Iraqi Shiite militia leaders in 2020, many called for the expulsion of Americans and other foreign forces from the country. At the same time, there were repeated attacks on US military bases as well as the US Embassy in the Green Zone of Baghdad.

What do we know about the new groups?

In addition to the Saraya al-Thawra al-Shirin al-Thaniyah, several other similar groups have stated that they have no specific background or leaders and that neither is supported by the Hashd Al-Shaabi nor other Shiite militia groups. 

In March, one of the most notorious of these groups, the Usbat al-Thairen (Revolutionary League), claimed responsibility for an attack on a Taji base near Baghdad that killed two American and one British soldier.

In April, the group re-announced its existence by releasing videos of reconnaissance operations from the Ain al-Assad airbase in Anbar province, which is home to US forces, as well as the US embassy in Baghdad. In these videos, they repeatedly threatened American forces.

In April, another militant group is known as Qabdhat al-Huda (sometimes referred to as Qabdhat al-Mahdi) reportedly threatened in letters to US and British ambassadors that they would be killed if they did not leave within 24 hours.

Meanwhile, a group called Ashab al-Kahf (Cave Companions) announced in a video message in April that they had targeted an American convoy heading from Erbil Airport, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, to Salah al-Din province.

On February 18, the group posted a message on its website stating that “revenge” would be taken for the killing of Soleimani and Mohandes, and called on Iraqi troops to “stay away from areas where evil soldiers have been lurking.”

A Twitter page bearing the militant group’s name shows hostile messages about the “occupation” of the country by the Americans since August 2019, although it is not clear if this page belongs to this group.

The latest militant group to emerge in Iraq is called the “Thar al-Muhandis“. The group reportedly stated on May 21 claiming that it had successfully targeted the Victory base near Baghdad on May 6 and an American Chinook helicopter on April 17.

This statement said that documents related to the two operations would be released later. On May 6, an attack was reported near Baghdad International Airport with no damage. But there is no evidence to support the April 17 attack.

How are these groups related to Iran?

The Arab news agencies all see the formation of these new groups as part of Iran’s policy to expand its influence in Iraq, and many have emphasized that these groups are ideologically close to the Qom seminary in Iran instead of the Najaf seminary led by Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Following the fatwa of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader in Iraq, in 2014, a popular mobilization group called Hashd al-Shabi was formed to combat the growing threat of the Islamic State (ISIS), which was occupying parts of the country at the time. However, many of the militia members of Hashd al-Shabi were operating independently in Iraq before the group was formed.

The London-based The New Arab website, which supports the idea of a single Arab state or pan-Arabism, wrote: “These new groups have emerged differently from other militias in recent years; They do not have a leader, a spokesman or even a specific historical background.”

“Their political and ideological policies are similar to former Iranian-backed large Shiite militia groups. These new militia groups are linked to Ali Khamenei instead of their spiritual leaders in Najaf.”

Although this group and other Iranian-backed militias have taken an increasingly aggressive approach against the United States, they have not claimed responsibility for attacks on Iraqi positions in Iraq. They are commanded directly by the Quds Force of IRGC and much more tactical advantages than large militia groups.