Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas Brigade (Syria)

Country: Syria
Details of Formation: There are many divergent accounts of how and when the group was formed. Some trace the origin back to the time when Brigades with that name launched attacks against US and coalition troops in 2005 – 2008 in Iraq, and that it then became part of the Kataeb Hezbollah. Another news source says that Mahdi army fighters had fled from Iraq after being fought by the US in 2007 and that these fighters, in coordination with the Syrian government and Khamenei’s office in Damascus, founded the brigade. Yet another source suggests that the group was founded in Iraq in 2012, after a fatwa issued by the renowned cleric Abu al-Qasim al-Ta’ai, who called for volunteers to fight in Syria. According to Reuters, the Brigade was set up in 2012 in a response to the perceived Sunni threat against Shia shrines (Reuters 2013).
Details of Termination: --
Purpose: The official purpose of the PGM is to protect the Sayyida Zeinab shrine near Damascus (Reuters 2013). The PGM is also used to support the Syrian regime, for example to quell unrest and to defend infrastructure (The Washington Institute 2013). The presence of the Brigade in the surroundings of the Sayyida Zeinab shrine makes the Syrian army’s presence unnecessary. The group is sometimes sent to front lines in Damascus suburbs because the government needs additional troops.
Organisation: According to one news source, the Abbas Brigade is under the supervision of commanders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. One news source mentions that the Brigade’s commander is Abu Ajeeb; another source calls the commander Abu Ajil. According to that latter source, the command is led by Syrian Shabiha loyalists from Assad’s Alawite clan. Members who join the brigade also have to join the Syrian government army and fight for Assad before fighting for the brigade.
Weapons and Training: According to a news source, members receive a 45-day training course in Iran where they learn how to use weapons such as rocket launchers, Kalashnikovs, sniper rifles or rocket-propelled grenades. In Syria, the volunteers have to undergo military training in a training center near the shrine. Another source suggests that the group receives Hezbollah training in Lebanon (The Washington Institute 2013). One news source mentions that members received equipment from the Syrian Government. The group is equipped with versions of the Russian 7.62x54mm SVD (also known as the Dragunov), 7.62×51 bolt-action Steyr SSG 69 rifles and optics-mounted 7.62x51mm FAL-type (Smyth 2013).
Size: At the beginning, the group had around 500 fighters. Numbers quickly surged to 10,000 volunteers, according to a news source from 2013. Other estimates continue to suggest numbers between 500 to 1,500 fighters (Smyth 2013) or 800 to 2,000 fighters (The Washington Institute 2013).
Reason for Membership: Many members are volunteers from Iraq who were motivated by the fatwa by the cleric Abu al-Qasim al-Ta'ai, who called for Shia to fight in Syria. Fighters are provided with weapons, meals, hotels, mobiles and internet. Participating in the brigade was also set as a condition for being permitted and equipped by the Syrian government. Iraqi as well as Syrian Shiite wanted to defend the shrine they perceived as threatened by Sunni rebels (Reuters 2013).
Treatment of Civilians: The Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas Brigade killed children and women in the Al-Nabak neighbourhoods alongside other PGMs. It protected pro-regime residential neighborhoods.
Other Information: The group is also known as Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA). Its fighters mainly originate from three Iraqi groups: The Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), the Kataib Hezbollah and the Kata'ib Sayyid al-Suhada (KSS) (The Washington Institute 2013). The group is named after a seventh century martyr son of Imam Ali who is thought to be the father of Shiite Islam (Reuters 2013). The Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas Brigade has close links to Iran and to the Hezbollah. The brigades fight alongside the Syrian army, even though Reuters (June 19, 2013) reported about infighting with other Iraqi militias (Mehdi Army, Asaib al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbolla) due to disagreements about the subordination under Syrian military orders.
References: Reuters. 2013. “Shi'ite fighters rally to defend Damascus shrine.” March 3. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-shiites-idUSBRE92202X20130303

Smyth, Phillip. 2013. “From Karbala to Sayyida Zaynab: Iraqi Fighters in Syria’s Shi`a Militias.” CTC Sentinel 6(8): 28-32.

The Washington Institute. 2013. “Iran's Foreign Legion: The Role of Iraqi Shiite Militias in Syria.” Policywatch 2096. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/irans-foreign-legion-the-role-of-iraqi-shiite-militias-in-syria

Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD