Albin Szakola

Iraqi militia transferred from
Syria’s Aleppo to Palmyra

Kataib al-Imam Ali offered no explanation for the sudden move.

Kataib al-Imam Ali officers discuss the transfer. (Facebook/Kataib al-Imam Ali)

BEIRUT – An Iraqi militia operating in Syria has been transferred from Aleppo, where rebels in recent months have engaged in fierce battles with foreign Shiite fighters.


Kataib al-Imam Ali announced on July 17 that its “forces were moved from Aleppo to Palmyra,” without offering an explanation for the sudden redeployment.


On Wednesday evening, the militia—which has close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—publicized a series of photos showing its fighters transporting supplies to Palmyra under the supervision of its field commander, Mohammad al-Bawi.



Kataib al-Imam Ali fighters preparing for the move to Palmyra. (Facebook/ktaebali1)


Hours later, the Shiite fighting force released photos showing Bawi touring the desert town, which pro-regime forces retook from ISIS in March 2016.



Kataeib al-Imam Ali commander Mohammad al-Bawi in front of Palmyra's Fakhreddine al-Maani Castle. (Facebook/ktaebali1)


Kataib al-Imam Ali was formed in June 2014 following ISIS’s lightning advances in Iraq, which prompted the creation of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, a government-sanctioned umbrella organization of militia forces.


The transfer of the militia to Palmyra comes after a leading Lebanese daily close to Hezbollah reported that the regime was preparing a major military operation in eastern Syria.


Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin wrote June 18 that Iran, Russia and Syria have agreed on a “large action plan” for a “very big battle in the Deir Ezzor” province in which Hezbollah will play a “central role.”


“Perhaps the forces of [Hezbollah] will face a test largely resembling what happened in Qalamoun, Zabadani and Qusayr,” he said, in reference to the lead role Hezbollah took in the 2013-2015 operations to clear rebels from regions along Syria’s border with Lebanon.


Amin, an influential commentator known for his close relations with Hezbollah, noted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has expressed its “strong desire” to support the regime troops holed up in the city of Deir Ezzor, which have been repeatedly attacked by ISIS since the jihadist group swept rebels out of the rest of the province in mid-2014.


“A loss [in Deir Ezzor] means a real massacre of thousands of civilians and soldiers, and the loss of a key area in eastern Syria,” the Al-Akhbar column cautioned.


According to Amin, the plans for a wide-scale Deir Ezzor offensive moved forward after the June 9 meeting of Iran, Russia and Syria’s defense ministers in Tehran.


He wrote that mobilization efforts for the upcoming campaign “have just started,” but clarified that the battle will start in the “not-too-distant future.”


Syrian army troops backed by Hezbollah, Russia and Iran seized Palmyra—an ancient archaeological city approximately 185 kilometers west of Deir Ezzor—from ISIS on March 27.


In the days following the Palmyra victory, the pro-regime forces set their sights eastward on Al-Sukhna, a town on the M20 highway leading to Deir Ezzor, however no major desert drive materialized.

Kataib al-Imam Ali officers discuss the transfer. (Facebook/Kataib al-Imam Ali)