Michael Knights is the Jill and Jay Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute and cofounder of the Militia Spotlight platform, which offers in-depth analysis of developments related to Iran-backed militias.
Crispin Smith is an associate at a Washington-based national security law group, focusing on Iraqi security, human rights, and law of armed conflict issues. He is a cofounder of the Militia Spotlight platform.
Kataib Hezbollah is the premier militia in Iraq, operating under Iran's direct command and fielding a wide range of cells responsible for kinetic, media, and social operations, some bankrolled by the Iraqi state.
Name: Kataib Hezbollah (KH) (Battalions of the Party of God).
Type of movement: Tier 1 fasail (armed group). Kinetic military operations (domestic and foreign). Social and political wings. Parent organization. De facto branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).
History and objectives:
Coalesced from "special groups" operated by the IRGC-QF in 2005-2007.
Listed by the United States as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group in 2009 for attacking U.S. forces and destabilizing Iraq.
Strongest individual faction in Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), with control over key departments (chief of staff, security, intelligence, missiles, anti-armor).
Chain of command:
Iran. Clear and convincing evidence shows that KH is subordinate to and partly financed by the IRGC-QF. Credible evidence shows that KH carries out specific actions under the IRGC-QF's instructions, direction, or control. The preponderance of evidence shows that Iran provides KH with financial assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing, as well as help in selecting, supporting, and supervising its leadership.
Internal leadership. KH is nominally governed by a Shura Council with a secretary-general, five deputies, and at least thirty-three total members, plus external “overseers” from the IRGC-QF and/or Lebanese Hezbollah.
Multiple personal and financial powerbases exist within KH, partly aligning with different Shura Council members. Since a leadership election on July 29, 2021, KH secretary-general Abu Hussein (aka Ahmad Mohsen Faraj al-Hamidawi) was asked to step down in favor of Bassem Mohammed Hasab al-Majidi, who was backed by Abdul-Aziz al-Mohammadawi (aka Abu Fadak). Abu Hussein refused to surrender his post, however, and the group is stuck in an interregnum of disputed leadership.
Partly financed by the Iraqi state. KH operates the state-funded 45th, 46th, and 47th Brigades of the PMF. Chain of command nominally runs through the KH-dominated Popular Mobilization Commission in the Prime Minister's Office, then up to the prime minister. In practice, KH's PMF brigades frequently disobey the government chain of command while legally remaining organs of the Iraqi state.
Rivalry with Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organization, and other resistance factions over profile and recruitment, giving way to coordination when such factions are all threatened.