Rab’ Allah: A New Shia Militia Group in Iraq Threatens Americans
By HOGR TARKHANI Designating several Shia militia groups by the State Department as a terrorist group and killing Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis made Iran-backed Shia militias rethink their strategies and appearances in Iraq. As the record shows, between January 2020 to October 2020, nine different Shia militia groups with various names have been established in Iraq. They all mutually agreed to counter the U.S. forces and interests in Iraq in retaliation for killing Soleimani and Muhandis in early 2020.
Among these nine militia groups that have appeared in Iraq this year, Rab’ Allah has made a name for itself threatening to retaliate against Americans. Their attacks were in response to the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis and attacking several other opposing groups, including burning down the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)’s main office in central Baghdad. Also, the group has already taken responsibility for several other attacks toward other opposing groups.
Rab’ Allah is a newly organized Shia militia group with tens of members mostly from already established Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq. The majority of its members consist mainly of other Shia militia groups, including Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib al-Imam Ali, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, and Saraya al-Khorasani. This group officially does not have, or at least not known to have any offices in Iraq, but has a strong online influence within the social media where they made numerous declarations.
Rab’ Allah is a popular mobilization group that enjoys complete financial support from Iran and logistical support from Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah. According to the sources, the group also receives training for their operations, selection of slogan, psychological and media warfare.
Rab’ Allah is a popular mobilization group that enjoys complete financial support from Iran and logistical support from Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah
At first, they limited their activities to gathering information about demonstrators and later arresting and assassinating them. This militia group found an effective way to confront the popular demonstrations in Baghdad by taking advantage of the government security facilities. Then they carried out many attacks against the demonstrators, in addition to storming the headquarters of the Iraqi and other Arab channels that were covering the demonstrations.
Rab’ Allah is responsible for attacking and burning several TV channels, political party offices, and opposing groups. Beyond the attacks against other opposing groups, Rab’ Allah also took responsibility for several attacks toward the U.S. forces in Iraq. Even though the group does not currently have a specific leader and a physical office, they have widespread media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Telegram, where they announce their activities and declarations. According to Salman Daham, an Iraqi expert on militia groups, Rab’ Allah establishes a pre-condition for every action they implement to get the support of masses so that people support their activities. Mohammed Jubran, an Iraqi political analyst, also supports Daham’s opinion and believes that Rab’ Allah has a strong ability to bring people’s attention to their activities.
Increasing Attacks by Rab' Allah
One of the attacks they executed was storming the Tigris Channel’s headquarters in Baghdad in the last two months. According to the witnesses, the group fired the building and prevented the civil defense team from reaching out to the building until it was destroyed. Pictures and videotapes showed a group in civilian clothes chanting slogans and raising religious flags as they stormed the headquarters of the channel, accompanied by a group wearing military uniforms and writing “Rab’ Allah” on the walls.
To get away from the U.S. and the Iraqi government’s reactions against the group, they commit all these crimes without revealing their leaders and offices. Before attacking any places, they widely publicize it on various social media pages to get a public consensus to support their causes, as they did in firing the UTV channel and attacking the MBC office in Iraq. On October 17, they attacked the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)’s main office in Baghdad and set it on fire due to KDP politician Hoshyar Zebari’s speech against the militia groups. Before attacking the KDP’s office in Baghdad, they announced on their social media, “carry your lighters.” Rab’ Allah also launched a campaign and an attack on several other channels that covered last year’s October demonstration in Baghdad. Those included NRT Arabic, as well as the press and journalists who covered October demonstrations. Another attack that this group carried out against the U.S. interests in Iraq was the bombing of the American Institute for Teaching English in Najaf on September 18, 2020.
This group is also clearly against the new administration led by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and, on several occasions, called the Iraqi forces as the Kadhimi’s militias. Nowadays, Rab’ Allah and other militia groups are a big challenge for Kadhimi’s administration, especially after the U.S. threat to close its embassy in Baghdad due to ongoing threats and attacks from these Shia militia groups.
The communication between the group’s members occurs through social media channels such as Telegram and WhatsApp. They communicate with each other through the exchange of information and news. They also established a news platform called “Sabreen News” that publishes their operations against American interest in Iraq. Sabreen News drew people’s attention during the last few months when publishing news targeting the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Since then, its network has expanded due to support from Iran and its backed groups in Iraq. There is also strong coordination between Sabreen News and an Iranian al-Alam Channel to mobilize the Iraqi street in the direction that serves the Iranian interest in Iraq. Besides mobilizing the masses against the U.S. presence and interests in Iraq, this group also aims to hinder the efforts of the recent administration led by Mustafa Al-Kazemi.
Mustafa Al-Kazemi seeks to restrict guns in the hands of the state instead of the militia groups and eliminate the financial sources of these groups. He also wants to extend his efforts in engaging in a strategic dialogue with the U.S.
Attacks targeting the U.S. presence have been on the rise since Kadhimi’s last visit to Washington in August 2020. Following the visit, rocket attacks regularly target the green zone, where the U.S. embassy and Iraqi government offices are located. The new administration’s approach to limit these militia groups’ activities is still futile, and the militias are growing in number and memberships. They have shown up in public this year in the Imam Hussein ceremony in the streets of Karbala, the holy city for the Shias, but the government has not taken any actions against them.
The writer is an Iraqi Kurdish political and military analyst. He has graduate degrees in terrorism and international security from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.