What is Kataib Hezbollah, the group blamed for killing US troops?

Founded in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the group is blamed for killing US troops

Reuters
Published : 3 Feb 2024, 05:25 PM
Updated : 3 Feb 2024, 05:25 PM

United States on Friday launched retaliatory strikes following an attack by Iran-backed Iraqi militants earlier this week that left three US soldiers in Jordan dead and injured 40 more. The Pentagon has said the attack has the "footprints" of Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah.

What is Kataib Hezbollah?

- Founded in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah is one of the elite Iraqi armed factions closest to Iran.

- It is the most powerful armed faction in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of hardline Shi'ite armed groups that have claimed more than 150 attacks on US forces since the Gaza war began.

- After its founding, the group quickly developed a reputation for deadly attacks against military and diplomatic targets in the 2000s, using a mixture of sniper, rocket and mortar attacks and roadside bombs. It does not openly confirm or deny involvement.

- The US designated it as a terrorist organization in 2009.

- It was led by dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis until he was killed in a US drone strike in 2020 along with Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad's international airport.

- The group has a transnational Shi'ite ideology that views the borders between Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as Western constructs. It views US troops in Iraq as foreign occupiers and has called for their forceful expulsion.

- It fought alongside other Shi'ite militias against mostly Sunni rebels during Syria's civil war and has continued to operate in Syria since.

- A shadowy group with no announced leadership structure, Kataib Hezbollah has thousands of fighters and an arsenal of drones, rockets and short-range ballistic missiles, Iraqi officials and members of the group say.

- The US has struck Kataib Hezbollah positions, bases and training and logistics hubs several times over the years.

On Jan 24, it struck several targets in Kataib Hezbollah's stronghold in Jurf Al-Sakhar some 50 kilometres south of Baghdad in retaliation for drone and missile attacks.

- It forms several battalions in Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a grouping of armed factions originally set up to fight Islamic State in 2014 that was subsequently recognised as an official security force.

Fighters receive state salaries and Kataib Hezbollah members, including some designated terrorists by the US, hold senior positions in the PMF.

While it is technically under the command of Iraq's prime minister as part of the PMF, the group often operates outside the chain of command and has defied and challenged government statements calling for an end to attacks on US forces.

- Though it does not publicly confirm or deny links, the group is widely seen to have fielded a political party for the first time in 2021 elections in Iraq, winning several seats in parliament.