It is well known that there are Iraqi groups that bear the brand name of Hezbollah (e.g. Kata'ib Hezbollah). More obscure is the recruitment of Iraqis into Hezbollah itself. Below is an interview I did with Abu Kayan, who presently heads the Fawj al-Tadakhkhul al-Sari' (Rapid Intervention Regiment), a group of Iraqi fighters. This Rapid Intervention Regiment is not to be confused with an Iraqi-led group of the same name that was founded in Damascus and has ceased to operate, with its members having gone a variety of ways. Prior to joining Hezbollah in 2013, Abu Kayan was affiliated with the Iraqi group Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada', which first became known to the outside world for its intervention in Syria. Abu Kayan has participated in operations in both Iraq and Syria.*
The interview was conducted on 7 January 2019. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Firstly when you were born? And did you resist the American occupation in Iraq?
A: I was born in 1987. We resisted the American occupation in Baghdad and al-Najaf from 2004 until they left Iraq.
Q: You were with Jaysh al-Mahdi?
A: Yes, the formation of Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi (may God hasten his noble deliverance).
Q: And when did you go to Syria for the first time to defend the shrine of Sayyida Zainab?
A: We headed to Syria in 2012: Damascus, the Sayyida Zainab area specifically. And we liberated the areas neighbouring it, Hajera square, the surrounding areas and the airport road.
Q: Yes. So you were in Liwa Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas led by Abu Ajeeb?
A: No. We entered as a group from Iraq: Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada': liberation missions- assaults.
Q: I see. So Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada' entered Syria in 2012?
A: Yes. It is the first group from Iraq that entered Syria. And after that formations from the Iraqi resistance movements entered, and we worked in all the regions of Syria. And from that we set out to Aleppo: the battles of liberating Aleppo and its countrysides. And we worked in Latakia in 2013 [?]: the liberation of al-Jubb al-Ahmar and Jubb al-Ghar. And after [in?] 2014 we headed to Aleppo: the first battles were the liberation of the south Aleppo countryside, until the last regions of Aleppo [i.e. the recapture of the city by the end of 2016].
Q: Yes. So from 2014 until 2016 most of the operations were in Aleppo, right?
Q: And you were with Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada' in all this time?
A: No, with Hezbollah. And after that [the Aleppo campaign] we began with Palmyra and the desert border areas and the Deir az-Zor operations until the Syria-Iraq borders [i.e. operations in 2017 and into 2018].
Q: Yes. And currently there are no operations?
A: Currently the military operations are present but they are few on the Iraq-Syria borders. And [we are] in wait for the signal to liberate what remains of Syria: the province of Idlib. And we are totally prepared and completely ready, hand in hand with the heroes of the Syrian army and the allies. We as leaders of regiments have information but we cannot disclose it because it is secret and military.
Q: But can you clarify when was Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada' formed exactly?
A: Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada' is one of hundreds of the resistance formations in Iraq. And it has an old history before the events of Syria.
Q: So it was formed during the American occupation?
A: Yes it was formed since the entry of the American occupation forces into Iraq but it worked secretly without mentioning of the name of the formation.
Q: Yes, I have understood the matter. And the media about it only began with the entry into Syria in order to defend Sayyida Zainab?
A: Yes, exactly.
Q: Why you left the Battalions [Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada'] and joined Hezbollah?
A: Private reasons.
Q: Did you join the Special Force: the Martyr Abu Turab Force [a Hezbollah-affiliated Syrian force]?
A: No. When we first entered [Syria], [we were] 50 fighters led by al-Hajj Faleh al-Khaz'ali, and after that greater numbers entered.
Q: You mean Iraqi fighters entering into the ranks of Hezbollah.
A: Into the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army.
Q: Yes. What was the fiercest battle?
A: The fiercest battles were in the periphery of Sayyida Zainab (peace be upon her) Hajera square, as they were close to the noble shrine; and also in East Ghouta at that time.
Q: Yes. Currently how would you describe the general situation in Syria? Have the government and its allies been victorious?
A: Yes, praise and thanks be to God, the areas are in the hands of the heroes of the Syrian Arab Army and the situation is more than excellent and praise and thanks be to God, Syria has been liberated by the blood if its martyrs and army and heroic resisting people.
Q: Do you think that the Americans will withdraw soon? Or is this just talk?
A: Of course they have nothing besides the decision to withdraw because in Syria there is no place for the American, Israeli or any enemy. Syria is for Syria's people only.
Q: Yes. So the American withdrawal is a victory for Syria and the resistance?
A: Of course, a victory for Syria, its leader and its heroic army, because as I told you Syria is for the people of Syria and not the occupier or terrorists outside the law.
Q: The Americans would speak a lot about 'blocking the land route' for the resistance axis, but in truth this issue is not very important for the resistance axis?
A: Of course, and it is well known that the resistance axis does not depend on the land route because praise be to God the resistance now possesses modern equipment and aircraft so this does not impede any movement for the resistance from the outset.
Q: Yes, so the air route is much more important than a land route.
A: Of course, the air route is secure and quick.
Q: Yes. So you expect that the Kurds in northeast Syria will reach an agreement with the Syrian government?
A: In truth I don't have any information regarding the Kurds and the Syrian government.
Q: With the liberation of all of Syria from terrorism what will be the next assignment if God wills?
A: If God wills there are forces ready and prepared to go to Palestine and liberate it by help from God. Palestine, the coming victory.
Q: Yes. And lastly what do you think about the normalization of relations between the Arab states and Syria? The Emirates and Saudi for example are still enemies?
A: Regarding the states you have mentioned, they are the ones who supported terrorism against Syria and Iraq and of course their breaking before the Iraqi army, the Syrian army and the resistance has become clear.
Q: You mean the normalization of relations is evidence of the failure of their projects?
A: Yes of course, and the victories in Iraq and Syria made all their plans and the American and Israeli plans fail.
Update (29 January 2019): For clarity: in Iraq, the factional presence with which Abu Kayan is affiliated goes by the name of Hezbollah al-Iraq, which was created after Sistani's fatwa in June 2014 and originated in Iraqis like Abu Kayan who affiliated with Lebanon's Hezbollah in Syria. As Abu Kayan puts it, this Hezbollah al-Iraq is "affiliated in the outset with Sayyid Ali Khamane'i, and there are connections between us and Lebanon." Those who set up Hezbollah al-Iraq then created a new formation to deploy to Syria. Thus, the full name of Abu Kayan's regiment: Fawj al-Tadakhkhul al-Sari' Hezbollah Tashkeel Souria (The Rapid Intervention Regiment: Hezbollah, Syria Formation). This Syria deployment is Iraqi in terms of fighters and immediate command but most of the operations are joint operations with Lebanon's Hezbollah.