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.
Michael Knights is the Jill and Jay Bernstein Fellow of The Washington Institute, specializing in the military and security affairs of Iraq, Iran, and the Persian Gulf states. He is a co-founder of the Militia Spotlight platform, which offers in-depth analysis of developments related to the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.
Sabereen News is the main social media conglomerate supporting all "resistance" actions and factions in Iraq.
Name: Sabereen News (This profile was last updated on October 15, 2022)
Type of movement: Media facade for fasail (armed groups), initially with special links to Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), but later morphing into a broader cross-muqawama (resistance) outlet with possible direct ties to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). Social media propaganda channel with nonkinetic, information operations focus. Nonviolent support to kinetic military, kinetic paramilitary, and social operations aimed at weakening domestic and foreign opponents of armed muqawama groups.
History and objectives:
Sabereen News appeared on January 11, 2020, as a small channel on the social media application Telegram. By late 2020, it had become the most influential muqawama social media channel. Whereas most muqawama Telegram channels have 10,000-20,000 subscribers, Sabereen has just under 310,000 as of October 2020.
Sabereen's role, management, and staff have evolved throughout its history. It went through a period of severe flux in late 2020 and early 2021, closely mirroring internecine strife between muqawama militias.
The channel's objectives include:
Promoting the muqawama cause.
Spreading disinformation for a variety of purposes, including to discredit the Mustafa al-Kadhimi's government.
Inciting muqawama supporters and other Iraqis against any parties or individuals deemed anti-muqawama. In particular, Sabereen seeks to counter the Iraqi protest movement known as Tishrin.
Propagating anti-U.S sentiment.
Promoting and disseminating real and fake news about kinetic operations carried out by facade groups.
Promoting muqawama street vigilante groups.
Organizing activities related to vigilante and muqawama groups engaged in cyber operations, such as hacking websites and accounts of muqawama opponents.
Chain of command:
The preponderance of evidence indicates that Sabereen initially enjoyed special ties with AAH. This is based on:
Sabereen posts containing slogans such as “We are AAH” or “Unleash us, Qais, we are your soldiers,” referring to AAH leader Qais al-Khazali (Sabereen has not identified so closely with any other fasail).
The special coverage that AAH and Khazali have received from Sabereen compared to other muqawama militias.
Sabereen's limited access to imagery and updates during certain operations linked to Kataib Hezbollah (KH), compared with its apparent special access to information regarding AAH-linked groups and attacks.
At various points, other muqawama groups have seemingly attempted to take over Sabereen: an apparently unsuccessful attempt was launched in the last quarter of 2020 by Unit 10,000, which sought to absorb or acquire the network; and Sabereen's senior management was potentially changed between May and November 2021.
Beginning in summer 2021, Sabereen appears to have regained a "first among equals" status within the constellation of muqawama media channels, being given preference in launching new information operations within a tighter cooperative framework.
Currently, Sabereen serves as a cross-muqawama social media outlet, with strong indicators that it has direct links to the IRGC-QF.
Sabereen aggregates real and fake news from across the muqawama media space, but also publishes statements and information apparently sent from insider sources representing various militias and facade groups.
The preponderance of evidence suggests that Sabereen has a long-running special relationship with the facade group Ashab al-Kahf (AK) and has been given seemingly unique opportunities to post some claims and statements on the group's behalf.
Sabereen may have used administrators and staff drawn from KH and other fasail at various points in its history. Sabereen supported a wide range of candidates from all muqawama lists in the October 2021 elections, but treated KH's Harakat Hoquq list more favorably, even though the group contested many constituencies against AAH candidates. The channel occasionally uses language indicating a nexus with KH and, more recently, Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
Sabereen may draw upon the assets (vehicles, sites, personnel) of the Popular Mobilization Forces Central Security Directorate (Amn al-Hashd) and media directorate.
Sabereen News operates its own media channels on Telegram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Sabereen launched a Farsi account on Telegram in May 2021. It also launched Turkish and Azeri channels on Telegram, but both are now inactive.
Sabereen runs a "research" channel on Telegram called "Sabereen's Security Analysis and Research." The preponderance of evidence suggests that it evolved out of the Ababeel Telegram channel (not to be confused with the facade group Saraya Ababeel).