An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) proxy group, the al-Ashtar Brigades (AAB), has been labeled a “terrorist” organization by the United States. The AAB is based out of Bahrain and conducts training operations out of Iraq while receiving funding and logistics from Iran. This is a similar situation to the Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU) paramilitary forces, another Iranian funded and supplied militant group. Although the Hashd al-Shaabi are not presently labeled as a terrorist group, both are Shiite militias. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) are essentially a collective of various extremist militia groups that are rooted in Shiite Islamic beliefs. The name al-Ashtar is based on the Islamic figure Malik al-Ashtar who was a loyal friend to the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib (also known as “Ali”). Shiite Muslims, who are the majority in Iranian, consider Ali to be the rightful successor to Muhammed.
This week the U.S. State Department’s Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, Nathan Sales stated that,
Al-Ashtar is yet another in a long line of Iranian sponsored terrorists who kill on behalf of a corrupt regime. Today’s designation serves as notice that the United States sees what Iran is trying to do to Bahrain through its proxy, the terrorist group al-Ashtar. Additionally, AAB members have received weapons and explosives from Iran, training at IRGC-funded camps in Iraq, and senior AAB members have taken refuge in Iran to evade prosecution by Bahrain authorities.”
In 2017 Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt collectively recognized al-Ashtar as a terrorist group. Bahrain has maintained a steady diplomatic relationship with the United Kingdom and the United States as a strategic location for the staging of naval vessels. Bahraini media expressed its approval of the United States’ labeling of the terrorist group saying that, “Al-Ashtar Brigades has claimed responsibility for numerous vicious attacks against innocent civilians, and security personnel, causing significant damage to public and private property.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has mentioned Iran’s “destabilizing and malign activities” of supporting terrorism in the Middle East as a serious factor in the United States withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal as well as the economic sanctions. In November 2017, several United States members of Congress had demanded greater oversight of arms being supplied to Middle Eastern nations. The cries for oversight came about when a photo was revealed of an M1 Abrams tank flying a Hezbollah flag in Iraq. Immediately after that, the United States terminated all repair contracts for the tanks, citing a violation of end-user agreement as justification.
Featured image: Saraya al-Ashtar’s newest flag clearly depicts their ties to the IRGC. | Twitter