lundi 2 mars 2015

Saraya al Khorasani : Khorasan's Brigades in Iraq

The rapid collapse of a part of the regular divisions of the Iraqi army in June 2014, in the provinces of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salahaddin and Anbar in particular, caused a strong mobilization among Iraqi Shiites, for the defense of the homeland and shia sanctuaries1. Saraya al Khorasani ("Brigades of Khorasan") is part of this vast body of Shiite militias in Iraq which has appeared for 6 months, but in reality, this group could have a longer history.

Indeed, in October 2013, Philip Smyth describes Sariyya Tali'a al-al-Khurasani, an Iraqi Shiite militia appeared in September/October on Facebook and which wants to defend the Syrian Shia sanctuary of Zaynab (classical argument to hide intervention in Syria2) while relaying the Iranian discourse. In addition to regularly discuss of Khamenei, the group has the particularity to post many pictures of his fighters next to the flag of the organization. The group's emblem takes the same emblems than the Iranian Pasdaran. The group commander is Ali al-Yasiri, that we see in some photos along with Sayyid Muhammed Jawad al-Madrasi, a Shiite cleric. Equipped with light weapons, the unit operates in Damascus and its neighborhoods ; it is a distinctive sign that his men often wear desert camouflage inspired from US models3. It seems that this group committed in Syria, which we do not know if it was like others powered by preexisting militias in Iraq, has been largely redeployed to Iraq before the surge of the Islamic State in June 2014. The brigades of Khorassan, in fact, have like other Iraqi Shiite militias, received government funding to better integrate the regular security apparatus4.


Saraya al-Khorasani has its own website5 and a Facebook page6. The Khorasani Brigade opened a YouTube channel just one month after the fall of Mosul in July 20147. The first videos, short, are compilations of photos showing the militia around Humvees, other vehicles or flags, or videos of the same type8. The first video a little longer, July 16, shows the group fightingh against IS9. Three days later, another video showing the dismantling of an IED of IS. A video shows July 21 militiamen kissing the Koran, in the Shiite tradition, before getting on the front. Armed Humvee with DshK, 12.7mm, open fire10. A video of 24 July comes back on defusing IED left by the IS11. In another video, July 26, militiamen fight with an M1 Abrams tank of Iraqi army12.

Video of August 4, where there is again an M1 tank, tells us that the militia fight near Samarra, famous for its Shiite shrines attacked by al-Qaeda in Iraq in 200613. It shows the militiamen use a light mortar and the same Humvee with dark camouflage, DShK 12.7mm. A pick-up of IS appears to have been destroyed. The brigade has an official singer, Ali Mozhan14. On August 5, a video shows a convoy of the brigade mouting to the front of Amerli, surrounded by the IS. The convoy includes a Humvee with dark color and a ZU-23 towed gun15. August 9 appears the first video of the funeral procession for a "martyr" killed in combat16. On 14 August, a new video shows fighting in Tuz Khormato sector; we see a battery of mortars (with a 82 mm tube)17. Two days later, there is in another video the first technical armed with a Douchka in 12.7 mm18. The technical was soon joined by the dark Humvee equipped with the same machine gun. The militiamen celebrate the day of Qods, where military and religious leadership is present19. It also shows the militia leader in Syria, Ali Yasiri. The "martyrs" are featured in a video on 19 August. At the end of the month, the brigade is still trying to reach Amerli. In a video of 23 August, we see a fighter with a Sayad 2, Iranian copy of the anti-sniping rifle 12.7mm HS 50 from Steyr20. A video of August 28 shows a battery of light mortars in action, and a 12.7 mm machine gun firing from the top of a Humvee21. That same day, a towering column of militiamen, with the dark Humvee and towed gun of 23 mm, is preparing to enter Amerli22. The commander of the unit deployed in Tuz Khormatu, Juwad al-Husnawi, claims to have 800 fighters. Shia fighters quarrel with the Kurds in the village of Salam : a Shia is killed, and militiamen take 6 peshmerga in hostage23.

After the liberation of Amerli, shown rather vaguely, militiamen film the slogans written on the IS panels24. Fighting continues in the town25. Dated September 10, videos still show the battle for Amerli with firing mortar of 120 mm and use of a recoilless gun26. In another video of operations against IS, we can still see mortars of 82 mm27. On September 12, we see a first dead body of IS fighter in a video, that the militia stuff strokes with foot28. Another video of the day honors a "martyr" of the brigade29.

On October 10, a video of fighting30 shows a jeep equipped with a 106 mm recoilless gun, a 120 mm mortar and a tank of the Iraqi army in support of the militia. Oddly, the faces of the brigade of fighters are blurred, which is rare, as the enemy corpses. October 19, there is a funeral for a "martyr" of the brigade31.

On 29 November, a video shows the attack of the village of Jalula, in the province of Diyala32. The village was hit by a mortar and 120 mm and for the first time for this host, by one with a jeep equipped with a Type 63 rocket launcher. The militiamen approaching and then followed an exchange of gunfire during which the Shiites have at least one injured. The brigade then enters the town, which flies the flag of IS, soon down. A large number of militiamen are armed with RPG-7. The camera finally focuses on several bodies of IS fighters. Tensions remain high in Jalula between Shiite militiamen and Kurds who also participated in the liberation of the sector33.

On December 6, a video is back on the liberation of Jalula34. Rockets go on the town. Dozens of militiamen are engaged. We can see several vehicles of IS destroyed in the streets of the city. On December 10, in a propaganda video, the emphasis is placed on the portrait of Khomeini onboard pickup ; again we see militia kissing the Koran before getting on front35. In a video of December 18, we can see a Mi-17 helicopter of the Iraqi army. There is also a close up of the shoulder patch of the brigade36. The flag is also highlighted. A video of 28 December highlights one of the leaders of the unit37.

January 11, 2015, a video was posted on an operation in the village of Aziz38. We recognize Ali al-Yasiri, the head of the brigade. For this operation, in addition to light mortars and traditional Humvee, the brigade seems to have been reinforced by armored vehicles of the Iraqi army. Besides the traditional demining scene, we see that many militiamen are equipped with American light weapons (M-16, etc). On 28 January, a new video39 shows an interview with Ali Yasiri, which this time seems to have recovered (the crutches are gone). Another vidéo from January 3040 continues to show the fight for Aziz, apparently in late December 2014. Shiite militiamen destroyed a technical with a ZU-23 gun, twin-tube of 23 mm. The operation involves several dozen men at a minimum, and for the first time, we notice the presence of adolescents. The militias are backed by a bulldozer and a technical also armed with a 23 mm twin-tube. Again, Saraya al Khorasani seems to have an armored vehicle in the Iraqi army. Shiite flags accompany the fighters on the frontline.

Saraya al-Khorasani is an integral part of this nebula of Iraqi Shiite militias, more or less headed by Iran, which have been created to support the Syrian regime or following, more recently, the advance of IS in Iraq . This group appears to be related to the Pasdaran, as indicated by symbols and statements, more than Kataib al-Imam Ali I have studied last fall. In terms of equipment, however, the similarities are important : Soviet light weapons (AK-47, PK, RPG-7 ...), perhaps a lesser presence of American weapons (one video only where we see men equipped with M-16). Heavier armament is very similar : mortars (light or heavy, from 50 to 120 mm), light armored vehicles (Humvee armed with machine guns, Iranian Safir vehicle armed with a LRM Type 63, technicals), and still the anti-sniping rifle Sayad 2. Again, the militiamen are embedded with Iraqi army, as videos of August showed the presence of a M1 tank, while in November, armored vehicles support the assault on Jalula. Moreover, some Humvees of the brigade seem to have been provided by the Iraqi army. Geographically, Saraya al-Khorasani has limited scope (see map) : the group is before Samarra in August and combat Tuz Kuzmatu and Amerli until September before being redeployed to take Jalula in November-December. It remains in the provinces of Salahaddin (east) and Diyala, northeast / east of Baghdad.

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