Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi: A Syrian Hezbollah Formation

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

An emblem of Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi (The Imam Mahdi Brigade): “Liwa al-Imam Mahdi: The Imam Ali Battalion. The Islamic Resistance in Syria.” Note the classic extended arm and arm associated foremost with Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The quotation above the rifle reads: “Indeed the party of God are the ones who overcome” (Qur’an 5:56), a play on ‘Hezbollah’ (The party of God).

The Syrian civil war has seen the rise of a number of formations that promote the idea of building a native Syrian Muqawama Islamiya (‘Islamic Resistance’) and Hezbollah. Examples include Quwat al-Ridha (recruiting mainly from Shi’a in the Homs area), the National Ideological Resistance (based in Tartous/Masyaf area), the Ja’afari Force (recruiting mainly from Damascene Shi’a) and al-Ghalibun. Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi, referring to the twelfth Shi’i Imam, is another group along these lines. For comparison, the National Ideological Resistance also has the label Jaysh al-Imam al-Mahdi (The Imam Mahdi Army).

Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi appears to have at least two sub-components: the Imam Ali Battalion and the Special Operations al-Hadi Battalion. The information available on Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi through social media is patchy at best, but I was able to speak to the commander of the Imam Ali Battalion, who goes by the name of al-Hajj Waleed and is from Ba’albek in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. According to al-Hajj Waleed (who is a member of Hezbollah), Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi was set up two years ago by Hezbollah and has recruits from all of Syria. Of course, this latter assertion is a fairly standard rhetorical line. Private Facebook accounts run by those associated with Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi largely point to origins in western Syria.

The commander added that the group has participated in a number of battles, including Deraa, Quneitra, Ghouta, Aleppo and the Ithiriya-Raqqa route. Some of these operations (e.g. fighting in south Aleppo countryside and positions on the Ithiriya hills) have been mentioned on social media. More images of relevance can be found below.

Abu Hadi, the leader of the al-Hadi Battalion. His real name appears to be Rani Jaber and he is Syrian (specifically from Deraa). Note his Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi armpatch. The al-Hadi Battalion claims at least two squadrons: the first led by ‘al-Saffah’ and the second led by ‘Abu Ali Karar.’

Fighters posing with the flag of Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi (The Imam Ali Battalion). Identical with the emblem at the top of the article.

Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi fighters in Aleppo. Note their armpatches.

Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi (The Imam Ali Battalion) fighters as part of preparations for “the battle of the north” (according to a source that posted this photo and others in early June 2016). This likely refers to participation in the Aleppo fighting.

Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi (al-Hadi Battalion) fighters. Note the portrait immediately behind them featuring the Syrian flag design. Portrait on top: “Come and behold me, for I am the sister of Hussein. At your service, oh Zaynab” (latter phrase in Arabic- Labbayk ya Zaynab– referring to Sayyida Zaynab, a central figure in Shi’i jihadi discourse on account of the concept of defending her shrine in the Damascus area).

Al-Hajj Waleed

Photo from al-Hajj Waleed featuring the flag of Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi (The Imam Ali Battalion). The portrait on the wall reads: “Oh Zaynab al-Kubra” (‘al-Kubra’ a common epithet given to Sayyida Zaynab).

The leader of the al-Hadi Battalion with a sword on the design of Imam Ali’s Dhu al-Fiqar. The text inserted into the photo reads: “Liwa al-Mahdi: remaining on the pledge, al-Hadi Battalion.”

A Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi member: note the armpatch featuring Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene’i. This affinity should not be surprising considering the group’s connection to Hezbollah, which is itself ideologically loyal to Khamene’i.

In the red chair: Muhammad Jaber (Abu Zayd), brother of Rani Jaber. Note the Hezbollah insignia on the person standing next to him.

In total, Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi’s contribution to the fighting in Syria seems similar in scale to that of the Ja’afari Force and the National Ideological Resistance. Al-Hajj Waleed gave his toll of killed (‘martyrs’) and wounded at 25 and 55 respectively. Thus, the military capabilities of these groups should not be exaggerated, but it is apparent how Hezbollah is trying to project influence into Syria through the creation of multiple formations and brands in order to recruit Syrians.

Comments (8)

Abdel said:

هذا يعني ان تيار المقاومة يتمدد من لبنان الى سورية والى العراق..وبالتالي فمعركة سورية هي بداية لمعركة اكبر مع اسرائيل..وهذا مالا يعلمه من لا يعرف حيقية ايران فهي قد خلطت الدين بالسياسة..ويغفل الاميركان والروس عن هذه الحقيقة..لانهم تنقصهم الخبرة في هذا المجال..ومما يؤكد رأيي هذا هو عودة الفصائل المقاومة في غزة الى الحظيرة الايرانية..واعادة اعلان ولائهم لايران..اذا الخطر القادم لا محالة هو على دول الخليج وعلى اسرائيل..امام فشل الادارة الامريكية الحالية وهي اثبتت انها انسلخت وتنصلت من اخلاقيات امريكا المعروفة..فالرئيس يكذب..وكذلك وزير خارجيته كيري..وامتداد الازمة السورية ستكون اسرائيل ضحيتها بالاخير

July 24th, 2016, 5:31 am


Majedkhaldoun said:

where is Mathew Barber?
Syria comment has representative of ,Alawi, Shiites , Assyrians,Christians, for this blog to represent minority Syrians , it needs someone to represent Kurds , Druze, unless permission from Iran is needed

July 24th, 2016, 6:47 am


ghufran said:

Terrorists from Jaish Al-Islam shelled Damascus neighborhoods again killing 8 civilians. One of the shells fell on a restaurant. This is your revolution, thawrajiyyeh, keep lying about the true nature of the rebel force with the hope that some moron out there will believe you !!

July 24th, 2016, 3:19 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Wow, another armed gang in Syria! Who knew?

July 24th, 2016, 6:29 pm


Majedkhaldoun said:

In 1956 Briton and France along with their local police , Israel , attacked Egypt, they failed, following that failure , Nasser used his talent , being great communicator and with his speeches he was able to stay in power and in fact gained power, the popularity of Nasser among Arabs led to the formation of United Arab Republic , which Israel was extremely scared of, KSA was used to separate that union, by then Abdulkareem Nehlawi, but not till Nasser was able to invigorate Arabs in the next five years and the Colonial states lost Iraq to Abdulkareem Qassem ,and threw away the rule of King Feissal , and turn Iraq to a country hostile to the colonial west, and later Libya ,also brought Qazzafi , and Nasser .by mistake overthrew the government of Yemen, ,the Jordanian King brought British soldier to protect himself , Nasser made several mistakes by antagonizing KSA and the Gulf States , later his biggest mistake was involved in 1967 war, and his other mistake he did not improve relations with Iraq, simply because he was a dictator , and not a democratic leader
Nasser dictatorship in Syria led to the separation of Syria and Egypt , , Nasser with his popularity turned to more dictator and abandoned democracy , that was great mistake , I am very sure that had he upheld democracy , that Union could have lasted and grew more by adding Iraq to the Union , the nothing could had stopped him
I say that because we now should learn from that lesson , people love and support democracy , and support their democratic leader , Erdogan must be very careful to maintain democracy, he must move fast to get rid of his worst enemies , but should slow and even forgive the second tier enemies so they will join him , and he should not be very aggressive.
In the next few years and with his popularity is sky high among the people in Turkey and in the Arab world, things around him will change to his advantage as things turned in the past to Nasser advantage
Erdogan is smart wise and schrewed, but the thrill of victory and the high popularity should be a reason to stick to democracy, and be transparent in his actions, and must stick to democratic Islam, I trust he will

July 24th, 2016, 6:37 pm



You criminals ask democracy in Turkey while support Assad, Khamenei and Putin?

July 30th, 2016, 10:38 am


Ghufran said:

It is rather disgusting to read rebels media comments about the war in Hasakah where Kurds want to take full control of the province supported by US military. Rebels supporters called for attack on the army all over Syria then they condemn it because it is surrounded and getting closer to losing another province, the same people, and the Turkish government, will be the first to cry if a Kurdish state is declared in Syria at the expense of local Arabs who are being forced out of their homes by Kurdish militias.

August 19th, 2016, 2:10 pm


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