Updated: Jan 21
Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is an Iranian supported Shiite militia located in Iraq. Fiercely anti-American, the organization has repeatedly conducted operations against coalition forces since 2003. Although technically apart of the 45th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), KH has directly challenged the ability of the Iraqi government to govern while simultaneously advancing Iranian interests. KH has been designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
In order to sustain its intense operational tempo and pay an ever-growing number of fighters, Kata'ib Hezbollah relies on a variety of legitimate and illegitimate income sources. These include funding from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), commercial holdings at Baghdad International Airport, smuggling operations along the Iraqi-Syrian border, and kidnap-for-ransom schemes.
Sources of Revenue
Funding from Iran
Kata’ib Hezbollah receives a large amount of funding from the IRGC's Quds Force, an Iranian amalgamation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). According to the US Department of Treasury, KH began to receive large deposits of currency from Tehran as early as 2008, along with weapons training and technical support from Iran's Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah.
IRGC operatives deliver currency to KH by several means, including through the delivery of hard currency on direct flights from Iran and by the use of money channeling through European banks. As Kata'ib Hezbollah oversees baggage handling operations and some storage warehouses at Baghdad International Airport, managing shipments of currency in and out of the facility is extremely simple. For larger transfers, Iran must rely on the international banking system, and thus assume a greater amount of risk. Several European banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, and Barclays have repeatedly transferred funds illegally from individuals in Tehran to representatives of Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq. These funds would go on to finance attacks against US troops, coalition forces, and NGOs in the war-torn country.
Kata’ib Hezbollah has significantly increased its hold over commercial assets, including several important operational aspects of Baghdad International Airport. In fact, KH representatives maintain limited control of ground baggage services, airport hotels, and the Baghdad International VIP Lounge. Furthermore, KH has invested funds into the maintenance of "Kilometer One", the infamous side-road upon which the United States assassinated the organization's leader and greatest ally: Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qasem Soleimani, respectively.
KH has also been known to utilize blackmail, private partnerships, and threats in order to gain access to lucrative civil contracts across Iraq, although the vast majority center around infrastructure development in Baghdad.
Kata’ib Hezbollah's use of smuggling to raise funds has been well documented by the international community and coalition intelligence agencies. Illegal movements usually take place over Highway 20 near the Iraqi-Syrian border. In this area, KH units control all legitimate commerce and smuggling operations. There are also indications that KH mans several entry points along the border, such as the Husaybah Point of Entry. This allows it to permit access to any vehicles it sees fit without a proper inspection by Iraqi customs officials.