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London Rally in Support of the Militant Group Hashd Al-Sha’bi

Nov 28, 2020

 

  • On Sunday, 27 September 2020, a car rally took place through central London, “in solidarity with and in appreciation of the Hashd Al-Sha’bi” (also known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, PMF). The Hashd Al-Sha’bi, which was formed in 2014 when the conflict with ISIS began, is an Iraqi umbrella organisation comprised of 40 (mostly Shi’a) militia groups. The three main factions within Hashd Al-Sha’bi owe their allegiances to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and Muqtada al-Sadr.[1]
  • Although the rally organisers—apparently UK based Shi’a Iraqis—have not all been identified, it should be noted that several pro-Iranian institutions released reports about the rally. The YouTube channel of the Ahlul-Bayt Islamic Mission (AIM), for example, held a live broadcast of the event lasting over three hours.[2]
  • The rally was promoted in advance by the popular Iraqi Aletejah television channel. [3] Aletejah is affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah / Hizballah,[4] one of the core groups operating under the umbrella of the Hashd Al-Sha’bi, [5] and which was designated by the US State Department in July 2009 as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, having been “responsible for numerous terrorist acts against Iraqi, U.S., and other targets in Iraq since 2007”.[6] [7]
    During the rally, posters of Kataib Hezbollah commander Abu Hadi Al-Muhandis were displayed on several of the cars participating in the procession.[8]
  • Kataib Hezbollah is believed to have been responsible for a March 2020 rocket attack in Iraq which killed a British soldier alongside two Americans.[9] At the time, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted about what he called a “cowardly attack on Coalition base”, adding that “We will defend against these deplorable acts & hold those responsible to account”.[10]
  • A 2013 RAND report named Kataib Hezbollah as being among several Iraqi groups which “continue to receive weapons, equipment, training, and funding from Iran”, and “work at the behest of Tehran”.[11] According to a former US official in Iraq, Kataib Hezbollah was “responsible for some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout the war”.[12]
  • Ahead of the rally, the Aletejah television channel said that participation in the car rally would be “an expression of loyalty to the Hashd’s martyrs, and support for its victorious march in defeating the forces of tyranny and darkness”, referring to Hashd’s members as mujahideen.
  • A pamphlet advertising the rally provided details about its route: starting outside Matalan in Cricklewood, the rally proceeded to the Iraqi embassy in South Kensington, and ended at the US embassy in Battersea.[13] A report covering the rally by the Islamist-aligned website Middle East Monitor (MEMO), explained that Cricklewood (where the rally started) has a large Iraqi community.[14] The rally had three slogans: End US occupation; No to ISIS; and Honour the martyrs (referring to Hashd Al-Sha’bi martyrs in their fight with ISIS).
  • Photographs from various tweets and other social media reports show Hashd Al-Sha’bi‘s flags being waived by many of the rally’s participants. Outside the US embassy, those from the rally chanted “Down, down USA”, and “We are all Suleimani”[15]—a reference to Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed in a US drone strike in January 2020. The Quds Force and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are designated as terrorist groups in several countries, with the Quds Force accused of providing support for terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi rebels.
  • Outside the Iraqi embassy, there were also declarations of praise for Abu Hadi Al-Muhandis, who was killed alongside Suleimani. Al-Muhandis’ successor, Ahmad al-Hamidawi, was classified as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US State Department in February 2020.[16] Along with Abu Hadi Al-Muhandis, there was also praise for Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the Hashd Al-Sha’bi, with the latter referred to as a resistance [muqawama] organisation.

 

—-

[1] Renad Mansour and Faleh A. Jabar, The Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraq’s Future, 28 April 2017. https://carnegie-mec.org/2017/04/28/popular-mobilization-forces-and-iraq-s-future-pub-68810

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZbsh8iexss

[3] https://twitter.com/abualihussein19/status/1309693092690161664

[4] Namo Abdulla, Iraq’s Pro-Iran Militia TV Active After US Seizes Website, 6 September 2020. https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/iraqs-pro-iran-militia-tv-active-after-us-seizes-website

[5] https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/kataib-hezbollah

[6] Designation of Kata’ib Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, 2 July 2009. https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/july/125582.htm

[7]  According to the same source the US seized two domain names in September, “Aletejahtv.com” and “Aletejahtv.org”, as part of the moves against the radical Iran proxy group in cyberspace.

[8] See for example: https://twitter.com/AliiOvain/status/1310427997040594944/photo/1

[9] Press Association, Those behind Iraq attack which killed UK soldier will be held to account – Raab, 12 March 2020. https://www.basildonstandard.co.uk/news/national/18300630.behind-iraq-attack-killed-uk-soldier-will-held-account—raab/

[10] https://twitter.com/DominicRaab/status/1238034399591047169

[11] Richard R. Brennan, Jr. and others, Ending the U.S. war in Iraq: the final transition, operational maneuver and disestablishment of the United States forces-Iraq, RAND, 2013. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR200/RR232/RAND_RR232.pdf 

[12] Ali Khedery, Iran’s Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq, 19 February 2015. https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/19/irans-shiite-militias-are-running-amok-in-iraq/

[13] https://www.facebook.com/GlobalShia/posts/3683778498322135

[14] Supporters of Iraq’s Shia militias hold protest in London against US interference, 28 September 2020. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200928-supporters-of-iraqs-shia-militias-hold-protest-in-london-against-us-interference/

[15] https://twitter.com/Afreenrz/status/1310269775487143936

[16] State Department Terrorist Designation of Ahmad al-Hamidawi, 26 February 2020. https://www.state.gov/state-department-terrorist-designation-of-ahmad-al-hamidawi/

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