Special Groups (Iraq)

Special Groups
Participant in Iraq War
Active 2007–2011, 2014-present
Ideology Shi'a Islamism
Iraqi nationalism

Muqtada al-Sadr
Qais al-Khazali
Akram al Kabi
Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani
Ahmad Sajad al-Gharawi
Abu Deraa
Arkan Hasnawi 

Haydar al-Majidi
Headquarters Sadr City, Baghdad
Area of operations Baghdad and southern Iraq
Strength 7,000+[1] (2011)
Part of Mahdi Army (until 2008)
Iraqi insurgency
Originated as Mahdi Army
Became Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq
Kata'ib Hezbollah
Promised Day Brigades
Allies Mahdi Army
Opponents Coalition (until 2009)
 United States (until 2011)
Iraqi Security Forces (until 2011)
Sunni Insurgents
Free Syrian Army
Battles and wars Iraq War, Iraqi Civil War, Iraqi insurgency, Syrian Civil War

Special Groups (SGs) is a designation given by the American military to the cell-based Shi'a paramilitary organizations operating within Iraq, backed by Iran. According to the Americans these groups are funded, trained, and armed by the Iranian Quds Force, part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

According to American General Kevin J. Bergner, the Special Groups receive between 750,000 and 3,000,000 dollars funding per month from the Quds Force.[2] These groups are separate from but allied with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr. The distinction between these groups and the Mahdi Army became more clear when al-Sadr called for a ceasefire at the end of August 2007 following Mahdi Army clashes with Iraqi Security Forces in Karbala but the Special Groups continued fighting. After the Mahdi Army's disbandment in 2008, the Promised Day Brigades emerged as its successor; however, the largest special group to emerge after the Iraq spring fighting of 2008 was Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (also known as the Qazali Network). According to the Guardian newspaper in March 2014, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq is controlled by Iran under Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani.[3] Another large special group is Kata'ib Hezbollah (or Hezbollah Brigades) which started to operate independently from the Mahdi Army and the other Special Groups. Suspected leaders include Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali, Ali al-Lami, Azhar al Dulaimi, Akram al-Kabi, Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Abu Deraa.


Ever since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has sought to back Shia Islamist paramilitary organizations across the Middle East. Many have been very close to the Iranian state, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, like the Movement of Vanguard Missionaries and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). During the Iran–Iraq War many of these groups fought for Iran, with SCIRI's Badr Brigade being led by Iranian officers. After the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, these Iranian-led militia men returned to Iraq where they retained their autonomy and Iran continued to support Shia Islamist paramilitaries.

In February 2010, Asaib Ahl al-Haq kidnapped U.S. contractor Issa T. Salomi, a naturalized American from Iraq. They released a video of him where he read their demands, calling for the release of all the group's members, including several of the group's leaders who are currently imprisoned.[4] Iran is supporting three Shiite extremist groups in Iraq that have been attempting to attack American bases, General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq,said on July 21, 2010. The Iranians have "gone to a more sophisticated program with a smaller set of extremists" and are now focusing on three groups, which he identified as Kataib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), and the Promised Day Brigade.[5]

As of 2011, according to American officials, the Promised Day Brigades is the largest, with over 5,000 fighters, and pose the biggest long-term security threat to Iraq. Kata'ib Hezbollah is said to have around 1,000 fighters and is the most exclusively reliant on Iranian support. Asa'ib al-Haq is said to have less than 1,000 fighters as of 2011 and receives a reported 5 million per month in Iranian funding. The Promised Day Brigades is said to receive the least amount of Iranian funding and is the most independent of the three.[1]

Since the beginning of the Iraqi war against ISIS, the Special Groups have joined the Popular Mobilization Forces to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.


Name Group Rank Status
Muqtada al-SadrPromised Day BrigadeSpiritual LeaderIn Iran,[6] since 2006. Returned to Iraq in January 2011.[7]
Qais al-KhazaliAsa'ib Ahl al-HaqLeaderCaptured on March 20, 2007 in Basra,[8] released on January 5, 2010[9]
Laith al-KhazaliAsa'ib Ahl al-HaqDeputy LeaderCaptured on March 20, 2007 in Basra,[8] released June 9, 2009[10]
Akram al-KabiAsa'ib Ahl al-HaqActing leaderAt large
Abu Mustafa al-SheibaniSheibani NetworkLeaderIn Tehran, Iran, since 2008,[11] returned to Iraq in September 2010.[12]
Abu Mahdi al-MuhandisKata'ib Hezbollah
Quds Force
Top Advisor to Kata'ib Hezbollah
and Iran's Quds Force
At large
Azhar al DulaimiAsa'ib Ahl al-HaqKarbala Raid mastermindKilled May 18, 2007 by U.S. forces in Baghdad
Ali Musa DaqduqAsa'ib Ahl al-Haq
Top advisor to Qais al-Khazali
Head of Hezbollah operations in Iraq
Captured on March 20, 2007 in Basra,[8] handed over to Iraqi authorities on December 15, 2011[13] Released November 2012.[14]
Abu Yaser al-SheibaniSheibani NetworkDeputy LeaderCaptured on April 20, 2007[8]
Ali Faisal al-LamiAsa'ib Ahl al-Haq
Senior Commander
Political leader
Captured on August 28, 2008,[15] released in August 2009[16]
Tahseen al Freiji[17]Promised Day BrigadeSocial Political Leader [18]At Large
Akran HasnawiHasnawi NetworkLeaderKilled on May 3, 2008 in Sadr City[17]
Mahdi Khaddam Alawi al-Zirjawi[17]Promised Day BrigadeSG Sadr City Commander [19]At Large
Baqir al-Sa'idi[17]Promised Day BrigadeTrainingIn Iran, possibly returned to Sadr City[20]
Jawad Kazim al TulaybaniPromised Day BrigadeRocket Specialist[17]At Large
Haydar Mehdi Khadum al-FawadiOwn Group[21]LeaderAt Large[22]
Sheikh Abd al-Hadi al-DarrajiAsa'ib Ahl al-Haq
(Sadr Movement)
Political/Religious leader
Arrested January 10, 2007,[23] released 26 June 2009[24]
Abu DeraaOwn Group
AAH since 2010
High-level commander
Fled to Iran in late 2008. Returned to Iraq in on 20 August 2010.[25]
Ahmad Abu Sajad al-GharawiOwn Group in MaysanLeaderAt Large[26]
Mohamed al-ZameliunknownLocal commander (Wasit)Detained on 23 January 2009[27]
Muhammad al-TabatabaiAsa'ib Ahl al-HaqClericAt large[28]


  1. 1 2 "US officials name 3 Iraqi militias armed by Iran to kill yanks". Iran Times. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. "The Official Website - United States Forces – Iraq". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  3. Controlled by Iran, the deadly militia recruiting Iraq's men to die in Syria, The Guardian, 12 March 2014
  4. https://web.archive.org/web/20120531064657/http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=118051&sectionid=351020201. Archived from the original on May 31, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2014. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. Archived July 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. "Armed Iraqis Wary of Security Plan". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  7. "Al-Sadr back in Iraq stronghold". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Press Briefing, July 2". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  9. "Iraq frees militant linked to British hostages". U-T San Diego. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  10. Martin Chulov. "US frees Shia militant linked to British hostages in Iraq". the Guardian. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  11. United States Department of the Treasury Treasury Designates Individuals, Entity Fueling Iraqi Insurgency
  12. "Iraq: Return of Sheibani's killer squads". UPI. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  13. "U.S. Turns Over Terrorism Suspect Ali Musa Daqduq to Iraq". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  14. Gordon, Michael (16 November 2012). "Against U.S. Wishes, Iraq Releases Man Accused of Killing American Soldiers". NY Times. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  15. "Iraq official: U.S. forces arrest Ali al-Lami". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  16. "U.S. general: 2 Iraqi election chiefs linked to Iran". The Washingtion Times. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "US military killed Mahdi Army commander Arkan Hasnawi in May 3 strike". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  18. Bolton, Kent (2008-05-21). "Hydrablog: U.S. Deploys a Purpose-Driven Distinction". Hydrablog.csusm.edu. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  19. "Foundation for Defense of Democracies". Defenddemocracy.org. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  20. "Kuwait Times - Leading English Daily in Kuwait". Kuwait Times. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  21. "US: Shiite 'Special Group' Responsible For Deadly Baghdad Car Bomb". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  22. "Rogue Iraq militia 'ordered bomb'". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  23. "U.S., Iraqi forces arrest top aide to al-Sadr". msnbc.com. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  24. Sadrists Deny Negotiating with US
  25. Al, Asharq (2015-02-25). "ASHARQ AL-AWSAT". Aawsat.com. Retrieved 2015-11-29.
  26. John J. Lumpkin. "Ahmad Abu Sajad al-Gharawi Iraqi insurgency Cell Leader". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  27. "Special Groups leader detained in Wassit : Aswat Al Iraq". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  28. "Religious Allegiances among Pro-Iranian Special Groups in Iraq - Combating Terrorism Center at West Point". Retrieved 7 November 2014.
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