Hamdi Malik is an Associate Fellow with the Washington Institute, specializing in Shia militias. Hamdi is the coauthor of the Institute's 2020 study "Honored, Not Contained: The Future of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces."
Major muqwama militias are working to expand their youth recruitment operations in Iraq. Kataib Hezbollah's Sharia Youth Gathering is leading the way.
Major muqawama militias such as Kataib Hezbollah (KH) are working to expand their youth recruitment operations in Iraq. This is part of a multi-pronged plan (including kinetic and non-kinetic operations) to dominate Iraqi society and turn it to a satellite state for Iran.
KH’s youth strategy
KH is increasingly working on developing organizations introduced as ‘independent NGOs’ to obfuscate their affiliation with the militia. One such ‘NGO’ is Sharia Youth Gathering (SYG), launched in November 2020, which aims at indoctrinating the younger generation. KH has drawn upon the resources of its pre-existing Imam Hussein Scout Association (IHSA) to create SYG. SYG’s executive manager is Abbas al-Lami, who used to be Commissioner-General of Imam Hussein Scouts.
KH is overseeing a rapid expansion of Sharia Youth Gathering. Following in the footsteps of Lebanese Hezbollah, KH has created a social and economic development organization under SYG called Jihad a-Bina. The head of Jihad al-Bina is Sheikh Abbas al-Kenan who used to be the coordinator of IHSA’s Nahrawan branch (in southeast Baghdad, an area dominated by KH). Now in addition to Jihad al-Bina and IHSA, the Sharia Youth Gathering manages organizations such as Ibn al-Jawad Cultural Organization and the Health and Sports Youth Organization.
Imam Hussein Scout Association
It is also worth closely examining IHSA because it is the organization that essentially gave birth to SYG. As mentioned before, SYG leaders claim to be independent, but examining the history of SYG demonstrates that they are a KH organization which historically enjoyed ties with Lebanese Hezbollah. IHSA was established 11 years ago under the leadership of the influential KH figure, Abu Talib al-Saeedi, who lead the organization for years before taking up more important responsibilities in KH.
Under his leadership IHSA’s role has expanded. In 2011, IHSA signed a memorandum of agreement with the Lebanese Hezbollah’s Imam Mahdi Scout Association (IMSA). By 2015, a group of experienced IMSA trainers came to the Iraqi city of Karbala to train 90 IHSA members on leadership skills for twelve days.
SYG as a feeder group for vigilante actions
The Sharia Youth Gathering also supports KH’s covert and violent activities aiming at dominating the Iraqi State, working on both the civil society and vigilante tracks. For instance, SYG demonstrates peacefully against liquor stores, massage parlors and other businesses they deem not fit for Iraqi society, and inviting TV channels to cover their gatherings. At the same time, SYG assists in mobilization of street fighters and online activists to support the activities of vigilante groups such as Raba Allah (God’s Fellows), a joint KH-Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) vigilante group which first appeared to the public in July 2020 and which has attacked foreign embassies and consulates, and the KH-affiliated vigilante street group Ahlul Maroof (People of Virtue), which has attacked businesses deemed un-Islamic with arson and physical assaults on staff.