Kata'ib Hezbollah (The Hezbollah Battalions) is an Iraqi group backed by Iran. It has been involved in the war in Syria, fighting in support of the Syrian government. Kata'ib Hezbollah also has a special wing of Syrian fighters, as I have documented previously.
To learn more about Kata'ib Hezbollah and its role in Syria, I interviewed an Iraqi member of the group on 23 August 2019. He has been involved in the group's efforts in Syria.
The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I was born in 1997 to a religious family from the followers of the martyr Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr [Muqtada al-Sadr's father]. My father has been a field commander in the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq movement since the beginning of its establishment and before that he was within the formations of the special contingents affiliated with Jaysh al-Mahdi (may God hasten his deliverance). My father participated in the Damascus countryside battles in 2013 and 2014. He returned to Iraq after Da'esh [Islamic State] occupied the western towns in mid-2014. He was wounded after an IED exploded in the area of al-Dhabitiya [north of Baghdad].
After my father was wounded I joined the Kata'ib al-Imam Ali (peace be upon him) movement. I remained with Kata'ib al-Imam Ali (peace be upon him) for two years. After that special circumstances arose and I separated from Kata'ib al-Imam Ali (peace be upon him). I joined the Kata'ib Hezbollah movement in 2016. I participated in the battles of al-Khalidiya [in Anbar], Tel Afar [in Ninawa], south Aleppo countryside, al-Qa'im [west Anbar on border with Syria], Palmyra and Albukamal [east Deir az-Zor on border with Iraq].
Q: Currently you are in Syria? And are you participating in any operations currently?
A: I returned to Iraq a month ago. I participated lastly [i.e. in terms of battles] within the formations of the Syrian Arab Army in East Ghouta and al-Hajar al-Aswad [i.e. in 2018]. And in two weeks I will head to Hama with the brothers in the Revolutionary Guard [IRGC] within the Ruhollah formations.
Q: Ah. You will go to the Hama fronts. The Ruhollah formations are Iraqi formations?
A: If God the Exalted and Almighty grants me success I will go and if there is a more important obligation in Iraq, I will participate in Iraq. The Ruh[ollah] formations are an Iranian formation within the Revolutionary Guard but its leadership is joint Iranian-Iraqi.
Q: Yes, and within the formations is Kata'ib Hezbollah?
A: Kata'ib Hezbollah is currently present in Syria. We the Iraqis formed a regiment into which we incorporated the Shi'a who are in Syria from the people of Kafariya and al-Fu'a [the two Idlib Shi'i villages that were evacuated of their original inhabitants in summer 2018], Busra al-Sham [a Deraa town that had a Shi'i community] and Nubl and Zahara' [two Aleppo Shi'i villages]. And if the battle requires for the Iraqi brigades and regiments to enter, they will intervene. But the Syrian regiment is affiliated with the Iraqi Kata'ib Hezbollah and they may participate in Iraq if we ask them to do so.
Q: I see. As for the Ruhollah formations they are composed of members of a number of Iraqi factions?
A: No the Ruhollah formations are not tied with the rest of the factions. It is possible for Iraqi, Lebanese and other fighters to join them. The formation is Iranian.
Q: Right. When you were fighting in Syria was the Hashd Sha'abi Commission giving you a salary?
A: I would receive the salary when I got back to Iraq and it is the same salary as the Hashd: 600,000 [Iraqi dinars] would come with a gift of 200,000, not like the rest of the factions.
Q: I see. But this salary for your efforts in Syria is not from the Hashd Sha'abi Commission?
A: Azizi [term of endearment], I am affiliated with Brigade 46 of the Hashd Sha'abi [Kata'ib Hezbollah brigade on the Hashd Sha'abi Commission] so my salary comes from the Commission. As for when I worked outside the Kata'ib some time ago my salary would come either from the Lebanese Hezb [Hezbollah] or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Q: But when you were in Syria within the Kata'ib [Kata'ib Hezbollah] the salary is on the basis that you are affiliated with Brigade 46. Okay.
A: Exactly. Whoever is within the Kata'ib and brigades of the Kata'ib, his salary is from the Hashd Commission. Even if he fights outside Iraq and even if he is martyred outside Iraq, they register him as having been martyred inside Iraq so they can guarantee his rights.
Q: How do you assess the situation in Syria today?
A: The situation in Syria today is stable and decisively in favour of the Syian state and the Resistance, but the material situation for Syria is gloomy and the people on one day eat and on another they don't eat. And people hoard food goods and gas and manipulate prices but the Syrian state has announced that it has launched a campaign against this phenomenon.
Q: Why did you leave Kata'ib al-Imam Ali and join Kata'ib Hezbollah?
A: Because I am of the followers of Wilayat al-Faqih [guardianship of the jurist] and only Kata'ib Hezbollah professes complete loyalty in following Wilayat al-Faqih.
Q: As for Kata'ib al-Imam Ali it does not adopt Wilayat al-Faqih as understood in the Islamic Republic [of Iran]?
A: In media you see all of the factions with Wilayat al-Faqih but when you get inside them you will know that most of the factions are either of the followers of the martyr Sayyid al-Sadr (may God sanctify his noble secret) or of the followers of Sayyid Ali al-Sistani (may he live long). The Islamic Republic of Iran considers all to be its allies, and this is a fact: all are allies of the Republic. But it is not a condition that they should be within the extension of Wilayat al-Faqih.
Q: Last question. There is talk that political matters prevent the Iranian side and Hezbollah from participating in the Idlib operations. Is this true?
A: No. On the contrary: the Iranian side has entered into the line of the Idlib battles and Hezbollah a week ago buried martyrs. But they prefer to end the Idlib matter politically. But the Idlib situation is a little complicated and requires detailed explanation.
Q: Right, because one of the members of the Special Force (a Syrian formation) told me that his formation is not participating in the operations because of political matters. The Special Force is affiliated with the Islamic Resistance- Hezbollah.
A: The one coming and liberating the areas today is the special force of Hezbollah [i.e. its original Lebanese forces, not the Syrian contingent mentioned in the question] in the uniform of the Syrian army. True: the areas that have been liberated these days, there are agreements regarding them between Turkey and Iran, but Iran circumvents these agreements with these movements as happened with the Hashd in al-Fallujah.