Updates in bold.
One of the last pro-regime militias of Iraqi origin who has appeared in Syria is Liwa al-Assad Allah Ghaleb (LAAG)1. LAAG was officially born in December 2013 when its leader, Abu Fatima al-Mussawi, makes the announcement in a video filmed at Damascus International Airport. Abu Fatima al-Mussawi served in Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA), the oldest and probably the largest Iraqi Shiite militia that fought alongside the Syrian regime, since the second half of 2012, and which was then gradually fueled by pro-Iranian Iraqi militias as Asaib Ahl al-Haqq or Kata'ib Hezbollah. Came back in Iraq, where he gained a moral and financial support, Abu Fatima al-Mussawi began recruiting to form his own militia.
Qassim al-Tai'i is the spiritual leader of LAAG but also of the Iraqi branch of LAFA recently established in January 2014. He is a Shiite cleric in Najaf which is one of the founders of the Sadrist movement. He has participated in several failed uprising against Saddam Hussein and was imprisoned by the Iraqi regime. He also has ties with Iran which he adopted the concept of f velayat-e faqih (rule by the jurisprudent)2. Prey to the hostility of Moqtada al-Sadr, he returns to the front of the stage with the war in Syria, militanting early to encourage voluntary departures of Shiites in Damascus. Thus he sponsors the formation of LAFA. He also traveled several times to Syria to meet the leaders of this militia. He opens an office the December 23, 2012 in al-Sayyida Zaynab neighborhood, south of Damascus, where is the famous Shiite shrine whose defense is a pretext for sending Iraqi Shiite militiamen. This office is headed by Ibrahim Dawa. Dawa, the secretary of al-Ta'i, is the link between the religious leaders and fighters. It was he who distributes financial assistance to the families of killed fighters. Al-Tai'i used his influence to Shiite Iraqis from pro-Iranian militias take control of LAFA, which initially was a spontaneous creation in Syria, not necessarily organized from outside. Foreign involvement has also created internal armed clashes inside LAFA in summer 2013. Creating an Iraqi branch of LAFA in January is the last phase of the process3.
|Qassim al-Tai (far left, with turban).|
Aqil al-Mussawi, better known in Syria under the « nom de guerre » of Abu Fatima al-Mussawi, is the founder and chief of LAAG. He is an Iraqi activist who was present in Syria since the beginning of LAFA. After the death of Ahmad Kabara, Abu Fatima tries to create his own militia in Syria by separating from LAFA but fails. He then returned to Iraq. This is where he gets logistical and financial support to al-Tai'i, allowing him to return to Syria and to announce the formation of LAAG December 7, 2013. He becomes fast as prominent as others Iraqi's militias chieftains.
|Abou Fatima al-Mussawi (screenshot).|
Ma'amouri-Qassim is the right arm of Mussawi. He appears in many photos and insurgents accuse him of committing massacres in the southern districts of Damascus and in Jobar, east of the capital. He can also be seen on a photo observing the field in binocular next to a DShK 12.7 mm machine gun. Muhammad Ali Mohyeddine (aka Dhu al-Faqar), another leader LAAG, is a Syrian Shiite village Nubbol in the province of Aleppo. He was killed May 11, 2014 during the fighting in Mleha in eastern Ghouta. Formed by the Republican Guard of the Syrian regime, he fought around Damascus, in western and eastern Ghouta. On the pictures of the group, he is often seen with his cousin, Makaren. Hassan Mohyeddine is a Shi'a cleric from the village of Nubbol, who officers Syrian Shiite militia volunteers who come from two Shiite villages near Aleppo, Nubbol and al-Zahra'a, besieged by insurgents4. LAAG has expanded its recruitment effect with Shiite and Druze Syrians, some of which, for these, come from the town of Jaramana, near Mleha5.
|Qassim a-Maamouri,, right arm of Abou Fatima.|
The emblem chosen by LAAG is very interesting6. Instantly we can see recognizable affiliation with LAFA, noting the presence in the background of the golden dome of Zaynab. The two swords on both sides are probably Zulfiqar, the sword of Ali, with two points. The central figure is probably Abbas ibn Ali, the companion of Husayn in Karbala, a central battle for Shiite memory, which gives its name to LAFA. In addition to the group name on the banner at the bottom, of course we recognize the Syrian flag. One can note the similarity with the recent emblem of the Iraqi branch of LAFA. A video dated from May 1, 2014 and probably filmed in Mleha, shows a patch on the back of a militiaman, which is that of the Syrian regime, evidence of close links between the Iraqi volunteers to it. Fighters from LAAG also feature in several videos a shoulder patch, different from the symbol of the group, which allows easy identification. They are often seen in the photos or videos wearing on them a flag incorporating the emblem of the group, with white and green colors.
|Iraqi branch of LAFA emblem.|
|On the back of this militiaman, the coat of arms of Syrian regime.|
|The shoulder patch of LAAG.|
|Another view of shoulder patch of LAAG. The militiamen are listening their leader before an assault in Mleha.|
|A Syrian rebel is showing the shoulder patch of LAAG picked up on a corpse.|
|One of the last photos of LAAG, July 2014. Qassem is on the left of the flag. Note the shoulder patch and the group' emblem in the background.|
|Mleha, April 2014 : a fighter stands with the green and white flag with emblem of LAAG.|
|Shoulder patch above dress of Syrian regime.|
Since its beginning, LAAG was first engaged in the district of Daraya, south of Damascus, then in the rest of the Ghouta. The militia also fought along the Damascus-Deraa highway and in the al-Qadam area which is close. Currently, the brigade participated in the attempt of the regime to regain Mleha in eastern Ghouta. It received her training from Syrian Republican Guard in the camp near Qatana, and also in those of the 4th Armored Division, in the al-Mazzeh mountain, not far from the presidential palace in Damascus. The training was provided by Iranian Pasdaran advisors. It is difficult to assess the number of LAAG but they should not be significant. We know it has suffered fairly heavy losses in its first commitments before accumulating some expérience7. The fighting in Mleha are also particularly hard (the battle lasted several months), as many videos and photos of insurgents show LAAG militiamen killed, which we can recognize with their patchs on sleeves. It can be estimated, based on videos of the group, there are several dozen men at least, maybe a hundred, but probably not much more. LAAG is certainly not the most extensive foreign pro-regime militia, especially since it is still recent. In July 2014, according to documents posted from the group on social networks and other websites, the militia is still fighting in Mleha in eastern Ghouta. Group photos show again, in July 2014, groups of ten or fifteen fighters up, never more.
|Pro-regime map of the Mleha frontline, June 9, 2014.|
|Speech before assault in Mleha. We see 20 or 30 men, the most impressive number for LAAG from the pictures of the group.|
The videos8 posted by LAAG confirm fairly well the representations of other older Iraqi Shiite militias involved in Syria, alongside regime, since the second half of 20129. We can distinguish several recurring themes. The first is the justification for the intervention of Iraqi Shiites in Syria, including the defense of Zaynab shrine in southern Damascus. The first video posted by the group on January 16, 2014, shows the golden dome of Zaynab, illuminated, on a rainy night. Another video, which is a montage of several sequences, is including the famous scene shows where a combatttant of LAFA mounted on the dome of Zaynab, which figures itself on the emblems of this militia. Finally, a recent online video, dated from May 23, 2014, is filming Shiite pilgrims coming to the shrine of Zaynab, symbolizing a sort of "mission accomplished" for LAAG and justifying the sacrifices. Abu Fatima, the commander of the group, also appears in a montage where he is seen in profile next to the golden dome, floating on an island surrounded by clouds in the sky. In another montage, he stands still in profile next to the classic photo of the dome of Zaynab, the emblem of LAAG appearing superimposed right from another group photo. Yet another montage inspired quite clearly from the iconography of LAFA. To emphasize the sacredness of their mission, the militiamen of LAAG are sometimes caught on camera while they perform one of their daily prayers. A fighter is also photographed in front of the sanctuary, his AK-47 being blurred but his face is not.
|Sayyida Zaynab, in the night, under the rain : first video of LAAG.|
|Abu Fatima before the dome which floats among clouds.|
|Abu Fatima before the golden dome. In the right, photo of the militiaman with flag on his back, above.|
|A militiaman before Sayyida Zaynab. The weapon is blurred but not his face...|
|Two fighters in prayer. Note the shoulder patch.|
|Pick-up of LAAG.|
|Technical with improvised armor of LAAG.|
The second dominant theme is that of the military activity of the militia, in broad meaning. The second video, still on line January 16, shows the militia leader addressing his men. The third, also posted on January 16, is the first to show the group in operation. The faces are blurred (which strangely is not always the case, it is usually key members clearly or who wish to remain discreet for security reasons), and Iraqi militiamen defending positions in a building in an urban context, including fireholes places in the middle of stacks of sandbags to windows or other openings in the building. The following videos show militia patrols ; one in particular, film leaders heading back toward what appears to be the headquarters of the group. LAAG leaders are often present in the videos, and highlighted : the founder, Abu Fatima, but also his right arm Qassim and Muhammad Ali Mohyeddine. The first videos showing fights or crossfires, like other Iraqi militias, insist on certain weapons : PK machine guns have been used from buildings and barricades on the ground, sniper rifles (SVD Dragunov), RPG-7 rocket launchers. Snipers, here armed with Dragunov, are particularly popular, as in others Iraqi pro-regime militias. Recent photos, posted in July 2014, also show several men armed with AK-47 equipped with scopes. Among the many photos showing men posing with their AK-47, there is a very interesting one where the Kalashnikov was brushed with a desert camouflage ; in the background, we also see a pickup decorated with emblems of the regime and the face of Bashar al-Assad on the hood, the right door and windshield, while sporting the green and white flag of LAAG. Another reveals a heavy weapon placed behind a barrier of sandbags, heavy machine gun or improvised. A video a bit longer, posted on February 25, shows the group patrol and fight night. Wounded militiamen are treated in a hospital from the regime. LAAG do not forget to celebrate its "martyrs" in the Shiite tradition. A video posted on April 8 mentions several militiamen killed in combat. Posters evoke fighters killed as Mohamed Shahid or Omar Ayad Al-Nuaimi, killed in Mleha, and Arshad Alamadavi. July 20, LAAG releases two new posters of martyrs, fallen in Mleha, Mohamed Essam El-Atrash and Osama Al-Hawari. Another video shows the militia groups operate in urban terrain, and then pose with their flag in front of a ZSU 23/4 Shilka in front itself of a column of tanks T-72, which shows the close links, occasionally, between Iraqi militia and forces of the Syrian regime (images date from April, and were shot on the front of Mleha). Although sometimes LAAH has the support of armored vehicles regime militiamen also have their own pick-up. On some photos, you can see a technical with improvised armor. On May 6, the first video shows the use from LAAG, on the front Mleha, of Volcano rockets provided by the Syrian regime. This is the first time that the Iranian rockets Falaj, shaped in Syria, which served to chemical attack of August 21, 2013, are assigned to a foreign pro-regime militia. A video posted on May 8 shows longer the fire of Volcano rockets10.
|Militiamen with the green and white flag in front of ZSU 23/4 Shilka, Mleha, April 2014.|
|The Shilka is in lead of a T-72's column.|
|Same Shilka with flag.|
|The flag on a T-72.|
Below photos showing snipers shooting with SVD Dragunov.
|Poster with martyrs of LAAG.|
|Screenshot showing the truck with the two Volcano rockets-launcher, Falaj-2 modified, 333 mm, in Mleha.|
|Fire of Volcano rocket, Mleha.|
|One of the last photo of LAAG : an AK-47 with a scope. Note the shoulder patch again.|
|The famous camouflaged AK-47 and the famous decorated pick-up of LAAG.|
|A heavy weapon behind sandbags. Center right, Qassem, the right arm of Abu Fatima.|
Like other Iraqi militias, LAAG insists, finally, in its videos, on the bodies of fallen enemies, which are a last theme in itself. Several sequences linger on carcasses of Syrian insurgents who where killed during its operations, sometimes literally bathing in their blood. In one of them, you can even see some militiamen put the foot on their victims, in the classic approach of "trophy hunting" as we have already seen for other Iraqi militias11. One of the sequences, particularly hard, also shows the interrogation of a man (an insurgent ?) captured, thrown to the ground and threatened with a knife by an Iraqi militiaman.
|A militiaman put his foot on a rebel corpse.|
|Another corpse of insurgent.|
|Again a corpse with a lot of blood.|
|A man (rebel ?) wrestled to the ground and threatened with a knife.|
6Thanks to Yalla Souriya for the help to recognize parts of this emblem.
8Work made from the official Youtube channel of LAAG : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCirgRdfpPBf3hr4kSwliSOw