Who are Hashd al-Shaabî?
Hashd al-Shaabî was founded in 2014 against the threat of ISIS on Shia leader Sistani’s call, with military support from Iran and legal status by Iraq. With the recent operations, their name is on the map again.
Popular Mobilization Units Hashd al-Shaabî has once again become the talk of the day recently with the Shengal operation. With their recent operations on the Iraq-Rojava border and the Mosul operation, Hashd al-Shaabî is on the agenda again and various circles have started to make various assumptions and ask various questions on their goals. Here we gathered a short history on the organization, their past and present, groups within it and their founding.
WHEN WAS HASHD AL-SHAABÎ FOUNDED?
When ISIS took over territories in Iraq like Mosul, Anbar, Tiqrit and various Sunni settlements by mid-2014 with support from Baath Party cadres and turned towards Shia territory, Shia religious authority in Iraq Ayetollah Ali Sistani called for “jihad” for the Shia on June 13, 2014.
The Iraqi Prime Minister of the time Nuri Al Maliqi supported the call and announced that these people would be put on the payroll. With a call from Sistani (known for his close ties with Iran), military support from Iran and Maliqi’s statement that they would receive salaries, Hashd al-Shaabî forces started to organize against the threat of ISIS.
This force was organized in a military fashion and Iran assumed the weapons, training and logistics financing for the group. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Kasım Süleymani was present in the training efforts. During operations in Iraq’s Anbar province, Süleymani even personally headed the Hashd al-Shaabî.
WHAT IS THEIR STATUS IN IRAQ?
The Hashd al-Shaabî militia force that announced their official founding on June 13, 2014 on Sistani’s call partook in operations against ISIS in Ramadi, Falluja, Tiqrit and Mosul alongside the Iraqi army. During the period of the operation to liberate Mosul launched on October 17, 2016, on November 26, 2016, these forces gained official status as “official defense forces for Iraq” with a law passed in the Iraqi parliament.
But before that, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al Abadî had already announced Hashd al-Shaabî to be an official organ directly under the Prime Ministry on April 7, 2015 by a Cabinet decree.
Officialization restricted the discussions over the Hashd al-Shaabî and gave them an advantage in many aspects. For instance, they would have all the rights Iraqi soldiers had, and all the legislation regarding Iraqi army forces would also pertain to them, and all their weapons and ammunition needs would be financed by the Iraqi Defense Ministry.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE IN IT AND HOW MANY GROUPS ARE THERE?
After the calls to found Hashd al-Shaabî as a collection of various Shia religious orders, groups and clans, some 100.000 people were reported to have signed up. Later, Iran’s military and Iraq’s financial support and Hashd al-Shaabî’s success in Ramadi and Tiqrit increased recruitment.
Especially with the official status and the salary between 300 and 600 dollars a month, recruitment increased and there are claims that the group is 150 to 200 thousand strong today.
Though organizations like the Bedir Brigades, Esaib Ehlulhak, Hezbollah Ketibe, Ali Akbar Brigades and Ensar El Merciyye Brigades come to the fore among the groups acting under the umbrella Hashd al-Shaabî with different banners, there are over 70 organizations within the Hashd al-Shaabî.
WHICH ORGANIZATIONS COME TO THE FORE IN HASHD AL-SHAABÎ?
It is generally reported that there are two branches with power in Hashd al-Shaabî. In the first branch there are organizations known to be close to Iran, Hezbollah and Maliqi; while on the second there are organizations close to Shia religious leader Muqtada As-Sadr and Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al Abadî who distance themselves from Iran.
The pro-Iran groups are led by the Bedir Brigades while many organizations close to Sadr are groups from the Mahdi Army tradition.
The Bedir Brigades: The most influential and oldest organization in Hashd al-Shaabî is the Bedir Brigades with close ties to Iran. The organization fought in the ranks of Iran against the Saddam Hussein regime during the Iran-Iraq war (between 1981 and 1988), and is led by Hadi Al Amiri, who has close ties with Kasım Süleymani. The Bedir Brigades are led by Amiri, who has had armed forces since the Iran-Iraq war. They had announced they were laying down arms to become a political party in 2008, but in 2014 they took up arms once again. Amiri served as a member of parliament in Maliqi’s State of Law Party in the 2010 elections. The Bedir Brigades are active througout Iraq and are focused particularly in Diyala, Selahaddin and Kirkuk states. They are reported to have 20 to 30 thousand members and include Turkmens, Kurds, Christians and other peoples as well as Shia Arabs.
Hezbollah Ketibe: The group is based on the foundation of the groups first organized as the “Mukhtar Army” during the American intervention in Iraq in 2003 and announced that they obey Iranian religious authority Seyid Alî Xemaneyî. The organization is active throughout Iraq and has sympathizers especially among the Turkmen. They have ties to several other organizations from the Hezbollah tradition. They are estimated at around 10.000 members.
Seyyîdul Shuheda Ketibe: The organization swore allegiance to Xamaneyî and is known being close with the Hezbollah. The leader is Hecî Ebû Ala. The organization also has a close relationship with Maliqi.
Horasan Brigades: This Iranian-origin organization has the administration cadres still in Iran. They are active around Xurmatû and claimed to have 3 thousand members.
Esaib Ehlul Hak: This group broke off from the Mehdi Army in Iraq loyal to Shia religious leader Muqtada As Sadr who distances himself from Iran. They are active in Necef, Karbala and Baghdad. The leader is Qeys El Xezalî and there are an estimated 10 thousand members.
Saraya El Selam: This organization is known for their close relationship with Abadi and is active in various regions, including Samarra and Necef. The organization was founded by Muqteda As-Sadr in 2014 and is reported to have 10 thousand members.
There are dozens of groups in Hashd al-Shaabî, usually in line with Iran or Iraq. Transitivity and divergence are common in these organizations (ketibes), and below are some of the current ones:
"Ali Akbar Brigades, Ensar El Merciyye Brigades, İmam Ali Ketibe, Fırkatul Ebbas Ketibes, Feylaq El Kerrar, Seraya El Cihad, Seraya Ensal El Aqide, Hareket El Nucebba, Ebû Fadil Ebas Ketibe, Şehit El Aval Ketibe, Seraya El Cihad, Tayyar El Risali Ketibe, Ehrar El Irak Ketibe, Difaa El Mukaddes Ketibe, Ruhallah Ketibe, El Gadab Ketibe, Ensar El Hicce Ketibe, İmam Hüseyin Ketibe, Irak Hizbullah Mücahitleri, İmam El Gaib Ketibe, Feylak El Vaad El Sadık, Kuvvet El Şehid Sadr, Liva Youm El Kaim, Liva Esedulah Galip, Hizbullah El Sayrun, Liva Zülfikar, Liva El Muntadar, Mukavveme İslamiye, Liva İmam El Hasan El Mücteba, Hizbullah El Ebrar, Saraya El Zehra, Hareket El Abdal, Liva Ammar İbni Yasır, Fettah El Mubin Ketibe, Şebab El Risali Ketibe, Liva El Sadıkeyn, Liva İmam El Kaim, Liva El Kaim, Liva El Karya, Seraya Aşura, Babiliyyun Brigade”
As the sectarian war accelerates in Iraq, the Hashd al-Shaabî organization is gaining more and more influence. After Mosul’s liberation from ISIS invasion, Hashd al-Shaabî seems like they will continue to be active in the region. The presence of the organization has already caused concern among Sunnis. After Mosul’s liberation, Hashd al-Shaabî will remain on the agenda as the most talked about organization.