A previous post featured an interview with the commander of Liwa Usud al-Marja'iya, one of the formations within the 'Hashd of Defence' affiliated with the Defence Ministry rather than the Hashd Sha'abi Commission. To explore the Hashd of Defence further, I conducted an interview on 9 June 2019 with the commander of Liwa al-Quds (The Jerusalem Brigade). This Liwa al-Quds is also affiliated with the Hashd of Defence and should not be confused with the Liwa al-Quds in Syria that is affiliated with the Syrian military intelligence and has developed close ties with Russia.
Born in 1959, the commander is a retired Iraqi army officer, having been retired in 1991.
As always, any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: When was Liwa al-Quds formed?
A: Liwa al-Quds was formed on 16 February 2015 by a request for reinforcements in an official letter directed to us from the commander of the Anbar operations and the previous leader of the First Rapid Intervention Division. From the first day the brigade [Liwa al-Quds] was formed, it operated under the command of the military leadership in that we applied all the military orders regarding the obligations in attacking, defending and military preparations and military regulation.
Q: And after the formation of the brigade in which areas did you fight?
A: The brigade participated in all the battles that the First Division waged side by side in attacking and defending. Among them: the battle of Nadhim al-Tharthar, Nadhim al-Taqsim, al-Harariyat, al-Matarib, al-Haytaween, al-Hayakel, al-Mazra'a, al-Jami'a and lastly the battle of the liberation of Fallujah.
Q: How many martyrs has the brigade offered?
A: We have offered 32 martyrs and 179 wounded. I- the commander of the brigade- was wounded twice.
Q: Where does the brigade operate currently?
A: It operates in north Dira' Dijlah.
Q: Why did the army ask you to form this brigade? Were you for example in the army previously?
A: Of course at the end of 2014 the heroic armed forces were in need of fighters, because Da'esh [Islamic State] reached the peripheries of Baghdad. Even as we have been the Hashd of the Defence Ministry, the observer cannot distinguish between us and the Iraqi army from the angle of clothing, preparation, arms and military skills, because most of our personnel are from the retired officers.
Q: May I ask when was the Hashd of the Defence Ministry formed first? I heard it was formed before the Hashd Sha'abi.
A: Dear brother, the naming of Hashd of the Defence Ministry was applied in 2015. Before this date it was just called Hashd.
Q: So it was present on the ground and affiliated with the Defence Ministry before 2015 but its official name was not the Hashd of the Defence Ministry.
A: Dear brother, I am speaking about my brigade as a guarantee for history. I did not hear of the Hashd of Defence before this date. This naming was applied because we were an auxiliary army for the armed forces. All orders issued from the military leadership are applied to us.
Q: How did the army help you in matters of training and arming? Did the army help you in financing?
A: The training was by us. As for arming, we received arms, ammunition and vehicles as our state of affairs is that of the Iraqi army. And provisions and clothing: partly from the army, partly from our own capabilities.
Q: The Iranian friends did not help you in arming, training and financing?
A: No, the Iranians supported the Sanctified Hashd [Hashd Sha'abi]: the Islamic Resistance. As for us, our support was from the Iraqi army.
Q: And from the Emergency Response as well?
A: It is a military division that was called the Rapid Intervention Division and not the Emergence Response, and we were spread within it and our orders were from it. Now it is called the First Infantry Division, and its sector is in al-Rutba.
Q: Right, so within the First Division in the Iraqi Army.
A: Yes. Its previous name: the First Rapid Intervention Division.
Q: Have your personnel received any salaries since the beginning of the formation?
A: They have not received one dinar throughout the four years since the date of the formation mentioned above. The important thing is we have spent them [these past four years] each day in loathing and we have not obtained anything.
Q: By God that is difficult for you. So how do you support yourselves financially?
A: Every fighter relies on himself and from our own capabilities. Frankly we have gone through lamentable circumstances. The fighter goes on leave permit, works ten days to secure his family's nourishment and his expenditure pocket when he joins up again. Frankly I- the commander of the brigade- sold my house and now I live in a rented house and I have sold my car and all are like me.
Q: Why doesn't the Defence Ministry pay salaries to you?
A: Previously no sum was specified for us in the budget. As for this year the parliament specified a budget for us the Hashd of the Defence Ministry but it has not been implemented until now.