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Who is Abu Fadak, Abdul-Aziz al-Muhammadawi, the man who will replace Muhandis?

Updated: Feb 22, 2020

On February 21 reports indicated that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed in a US airstrike on January 3, would finally be replaced in his position as deputy of the Hashd al-Shaabi. Abu Fadak ( أبو فدك) whose real name is Abdul-Aziz al-Muhammadawi (عبد العزيز المحمداوي), formerly close to the Badr Organization, with extensive experience in the 1980s and involved in other operations, will be his replacement.

Some noted that not much was known about him. However others noted that he was one of the "experienced field commanders and former Secretary-General of Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, known as 'Khal (uncle)' among some Iraqis." Several noted that he was "a former Secretary General of Kataib Hezbollah." A source notes, "he joined Badr in 1983. he's been active in military operations since 1985 and was Secretary-General of Kata'ib Hezbollah until now." He was involved with intelligence and advising Hadi al-Amiri in the past. Where did he get the nickname "khal"? The word was spray painted on walls during the protest at the US embassy in late December 2019. He may have been photographed behind Abu Mahdi in recent months, and appears in a photo with Soleimani.

"Khal" with Qasem Soleimani (undated photo)

Other local media reports indicated his good relations with Asaib Ahl al Haq and his role in the 1980s opposing the Saddam Hussein regime. Many public reports about him were copies of eachother. His appointment came about after Abu Ali al-Basri (أبو علي البصري), a PMU official, was tasked with finding a replacement. Al-Mayadeen notes that he played a key role opposing the US from 2003-2011 and worked in the Interior Ministry. He also helped command the PMU against ISIS in Fallujah, Tal Afar and al-Qaim.

A biography posted online noted that he was a close friend of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. He had been involved with Badr since 1983 and participated in the Iran-Iraq war with Badr on the side of Iran. "He has been accused of killing and torturing Iraqi prisoners and was later assigned intelligence missions in the Badr Corps." He was involved with targeting Iraqi officials, some of which were recruited by Iran. Later he assisted Hadi al-Amiri and was involved in the kidnapping and ransom of Qataris." He also participated in operations in Syria.

Hisham al-Hashimi (هشام الهاشمي‎ ) notes that Abu Fadak worked closely with Muhandis since 2006. The formed KH with the support of Soleimani and Imad Mughniyeh of Hezbollah. He worked with the Special Groups to confront the US and that his name was one of several mentioned as a possible successor for deputy of the PMU, alongside "Abu Ali al-Basri, Abu Muntazir al-Husayni, Abu Iman al-Bahili, Abu Alaa Al-Walayi, Laith al-Khazali and Ahmed al-Asadi." He has the support of influencers from Iran and Lebanon as well.

Another report asserts he is suspected of being responsible for gunmen attacking the Iraqi protesters, especially after the Sinak area massacre in central Baghdad, in which dozens of protesters were killed. Full details about him may only emerge in days or months to come.

Importance of the appointment

The position of deputy of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) is one of the most important security positions in Iraq due to the emerging role of the PMU after the defeat of ISIS. The PMU has influence both in securing frontiers, confronting protesters, potential clashes with the US, clandestine prisons, covert operations in Syria and Lebanon with allied groups, and also transferring and storing weapons. PMU groups have been involved in rocket attacks on US troops at bases (see timeline) in Iraq and even in alleged attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2019. The PMU includes some 60 units from various umbrella groups such as Badr and Kataib Hezbollah. It received a $2.16 billion budget in 2019 after being incorporated into the security forces in 2018. It reports via Falih al-Fayyadh to the Prime Minister's office and has close ties to the Interior Ministry.

Abu Fadak's role has been announced in Iran, making him a key player in the nexus between the IRGC, Iraq's interior ministry, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Press TV in Iran confirms some of the details we have reported. It notes that Abu Ali al-Basri (Bassari) said “following the appointment, the chief-commander of the Iraqi armed forces will sign Abu Fadak’s decree in the next couple of days." It notes that he had served as the secretary-general of Kata’ib Hezbollah. Since joining the founding core of Kata’ib Hezbollah in 1997, he has been a prominent figure." The Press TV report also confirms that he is nicknamed "uncle" and that AAH has praised him. The US has, in recent months, put a spotlight on the IRGC role in Iraq. Abu Fadak was not on the list, but now he is expected to be.

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