A Look at Iran’s Affiliate Groups in the Middle East
By Evan Kohlmann
As a central part of its military strategy, Iran maintains close relationships with a network of revolutionary affiliate groups across the Middle East that serve as its regional proxies.
Many of these factions which have publicly acknowledged receiving direct funding and support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had lengthy contacts with former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, and have publicly vowed to avenge his death in a recent U.S. airstrike in Iraq.
These paramilitary organizations have a long history of targeting U.S. forces based in the region—from the 1983 Beirut Marine Barracks bombing by a nascent Lebanese Hezbollah that killed 241 U.S. servicemen, to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing by Hezbollah cells in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American airmen, and continuing through to today with IED and rocket attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.
These proxy groups predominantly operate in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, and continue to leverage private communities and social media platforms to share propaganda online.
Many of these proxy groups have specifically been blacklisted by the U.S. and U.K. governments and designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), including:
- Asaib Ahl al-Haq: US
- Kataeb Hezbollah: US
- Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba: US
- Hezbollah: US & UK
- Saraya al-Mukhtar: UK
- Saraya al-Ashrar: UK
Following the death of Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Lebanese Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah declared, “Fair punishment is (aimed at) the American military presence in the region: American military bases, American naval ships, every American officer and soldier in our countries and region… The American army is the one that killed them and it is the one that will pay the price.”
Kataeb Hezbollah in Iraq has likewise vowed to “attack all U.S. bases in Iraq” and warned local military and security forces to keep at least 1000 meters away from U.S. bases in Iraq “for their own safety… Their fighters [should not] be made into human shields for the U.S. invaders.”
According to the leader of Iraqi Shiite militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq, “Revenge operations for the martyred commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis have not yet begun, and they will not be less than the Iranian response to the assassination of the martyred commander Qasem Soleimani.”
Leaders of Iranian-allied Iraqi Shiite Militia Groups Meet in Iran to Formulate Strategies to Confront the U.S. Following the Killing of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
Flashpoint analysts assess, with moderate confidence, that this wide network of affiliate groups will continue to pose an ongoing threat to U.S. troops in the region, in spite of public statements following Iran’s ballistic missile attacks on a U.S. base in Iraq that it would stand down.
Chief Innovation Officer
Evan Kohlmann focuses on product innovation at Flashpoint where he leverages fifteen years’ experience tracking Al-Qaida, ISIS, and other terrorist groups. He has consulted for the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Justice, the Australian Federal Police, and Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, among others. Mr. Kohlmann holds a JD from the Univ. of Pennsylvania Law School and a BSFS in International Politics from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown Univ.