February 28, 2018 | Monograph
FDD Profiles of Leading Iranian-Backed Militias
Iran has built a network of Shiite militias, now fighting across the Middle East, whose fighters number in the tens of thousands. These militias include battle-hardened fighters as well as poorly trained recruits. They hail from countries across the Muslim world and have varying motivations and interests, but they have one thing in common: they project the Islamic Republic’s power and promote its revolutionary ideology. Iran’s Shiite foreign legion has played an indispensable role in preserving the Assad regime in Syria, but all the groups have expressed a readiness to wage war against all enemies of the Islamic Republic.
One of the earliest militias, whose success spawned others, is Lebanese Hezbollah. Hezbollah is now a household name because of the terror attacks it has carried out against American and Israeli targets, from Lebanon to Argentina. The next generation of Shiite militias is less well known.
FDD has assembled short profiles of ten leading militias that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) deploys to advance Tehran’s interests, primarily in Syria and Iraq, although there are signs of activity in other locales with restive Shiite populations, such as Yemen and Bahrain.
Each of these militia profiles fits on a single page and includes basic information such as the date of the militia’s founding, its key leaders, its estimated size, its areas of operation, and its connections to the IRGC and other Shiite militias. Each profile also includes a brief background and analysis section, with several footnotes for key sources. The footnotes emphasize English-language sources to encourage further reading, but also include material in Arabic and Farsi when essential.
For the sake of concision, the profiles do not include comprehensive footnotes, although we encourage all interested readers to contact us if they want to know more about our sources. All of the material cited is available in the public domain. With considerable caution, we have made use of information disseminated by Iranian state media and by the militias themselves, often through their social media accounts.
When rendering Arabic and Persian names in English, we have striven for consistency in transliteration. For the sake of brevity, the profiles do no list the many alternate spellings employed for the names of the militias, their leaders, and other entities or locations.
There is still much to be learned about these militias. But the more difficult task that lies ahead is to determine how the United States and its partners can address their growing threat to regional stability. As extensions of the IRGC and its Quds Force, which the U.S. has designated as terrorist entities, many of these militias likely meet criteria for designation, as well.