Iran

Iraq’s complex security infrastructure includes tens of thousands of fighters in units trained and armed by its powerful neighbour Iran, with some ties going back several decades.

These factions make up the bulk of the Hashed al-Shaabi military network, founded in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group (IS) and now largely incorporated into Iraq’s government forces.

But after protests outside the US embassy organised by the Hashed, US air strikes on them and a string of attacks on US forces in Iraq, the groups face fresh scrutiny.

Kataeb Hezbollah

This faction was targeted by the US on Sunday night and has been blamed for a series of rocket attacks on Iraqi bases where US forces are deployed. Kataeb Hezbollah first began fighting US troops in 2003 during the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, according to its spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini.

It joined up with other paramilitary units in 2014 to fight IS as part of the Hashed al-Shaabi, now officially part of the government’s security forces. But some Kataeb Hezbollah units still operate independently of Baghdad, including those fighting in neighbouring Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

The factions largely steer clear of politics and keep most of their operations secret — but their links to Iran have worried the United States.

The group does not publicise its precise force size but claims they are armed with “drones, guided missiles and other rockets of various sizes,” according to Husseini. The group’s chief is known by his nom de guerre Abu Ahmad al-Basri, but his real name and identity remain unknown.

It is the top armed Iraqi ally of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to specialist Michael Knights, who described Kataeb Hezbollah as Tehran’s “third major militant force” after the Guards’ Quds Force and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Nujaba, Shuhada, and more

Thousands more Iraqi fighters are members of Harakat al-Nujaba, the Imam Ali Brigades, Sayyed al-Shuhada Brigades and the Kharasani Brigades.

Together with Kataeb Hezbollah, these forces make up the hardline wing of the Hashed and are known to have especially close ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The factions largely steer clear of politics and keep most of their operations secret — but their links to Iran have worried the United States.

Read more: Iraq suffering in the crossfire of US-Iran conflict

Washington has blacklisted Nujaba, which is led by Akram al-Kaabi, as well as the head of the Imam Ali Brigades Shibil al-Zaydi.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq

Another leading faction in the Hashed, Asaib was founded after splintering from the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia led by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr which fiercely fought US troops after 2003.

Asaib then carried out its own deadly operations against US forces and its units have also received training and weapons from Iran. It has since ballooned into one of the Hashed’s most powerful units, with around 10,000 fighters.

But after protests outside the US embassy organised by the Hashed, US air strikes on them and a string of attacks on US forces in Iraq, the groups face fresh scrutiny

Asaib Ahl al-Haq was accused of firing some rockets at US assets and its chief Qais al-Khazaali was recently blacklisted by the US for “widespread forced disappearances, abductions, killings, and torture”.

Asaib is more politically active, with its political arm represented in parliament by the Sadiqun bloc and a share of government posts in Iraq’s ministries.

Badr Organisation

Founded in 1982 in Iran, the Badr Organisation is the oldest of the Hashed’s factions and was established in opposition to Iraq’s then-dictator Saddam Hussein. Badr even fought on Iran’s side in its war against Iraq between 1980 and 1988.

Read more: Iraqi protesters torch Iran consulate amid deadly protests

It is led by Hadi al-Ameri, who is known to have close personal ties to Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force and Iran’s pointman on Iraqi affairs.

It is the largest of the Hashed factions and is the most integrated into the state’s regular security forces, and always holds at least one post in Iraq’s cabinet.

Iran’s anti-US influence

In the wake of US airstrikes in Iraq that killed members of the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah, Iran is seizing the opportunity to use its clandestine networks in Iraq to push the US to leave the country. America has already left Iraq twice before, in the 1990s and in 2011. Iran wagers it can leverage the airstrikes to mobilize people against the US in Iraq.

Protesters enraged by US airstrikes on Iraq staged a violent demonstration outside the US Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, setting fires ablaze and hurling stones as security forces and guards fired tear gas and stun grenades to repel them.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump accused Iran of orchestrating the violence and said Tehran would be held responsible. More US troops were being sent to the embassy, US officials said.

The protests were led by Iranian-backed militias and lasted several hours, but the US State Department said later that personnel were secure and the facility had not been breached.

It also shifted the focus of the mass protests away from the government and pro-Iran militias and on to the United States.

Trump said Iran was “orchestrating” an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq and will be held responsible for it.

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” he said in a tweet.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the priority was ensuring the safety of American personnel.

The US presence in Iraq has been opposed by Iranian-backed militias and also by politicians across the spectrum of parties for years. From Ali al-Sistani to Muqtada al-Sadr and pro-Iranian politicians, such as al-Amiri, Iran hopes it can use a variety of methods to evict the US.

GVS News Desk with additions from news agencies

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