As tensions between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran-backed Houthi rebels over the war in Yemen continue to rise, a little-known armed group in Iraq has come to the fore.
Calling itself Awliyat al-Waad al-Haq, or the True Promise Brigades, the group claimed responsibility for a drone attack on the UAE on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it launched “four drones targeting vital facilities in Abu Dhabi” in retaliation for the Emirates’ policies in Iraq and Yemen.
The UAE’s defence ministry said it had intercepted and destroyed three drones that penetrated the Gulf country’s airspace over unpopulated areas on Wednesday.
The attack was the latest in a series of aerial assaults on the Gulf state over the past few weeks. The previous three attacks were all claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The UAE, which began fighting in Yemen as part of a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in 2015, has not been a primary target of attacks by Houthis and other armed groups in recent years.
Who are the True Promise Brigades?
Before Wednesday, the Iraqi militia’s only other claimed attack was in January 2021 when it said it had launched drones targeting the Yamama Palace in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
According to the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, the True Promise Brigades has ties to Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, an Iran-backed group listed by the US as a “terrorist organisation”.
The Washington-based think-tank also said the group could be under the direct control of Iran’s elite Quds Force, whose former commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US air attack on Baghdad airport in January 2020.
The media channel of True Promise Brigades, which rarely posts content, was mainly active during the attack it claimed on Saudi Arabia last year and following Wednesday’s attack on the UAE. Its content and posts are usually disseminated by larger Iran-affiliated militia media channels.
The shadowy militia has also been referenced and praised by Kataib Hezbollah’s social media and Telegram channels.
Earlier this year, Kataib Hezbollah launched a fundraising campaign on social media, advertising as a grassroots youth initiative, aiming to encourage Iraqi youth to help Houthi rebels acquire drones that could be used to attack the UAE.
In a statement that circulated on social media, the True Promise Brigades had called the January 23, 2021 attack on Saudi Arabia retaliation for a suicide bombing claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) group in a Baghdad shopping district two days earlier.
A militia official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment publicly on the attack, later told The Associated Press news agency that the drones came “in parts from Iran and were assembled in Iraq, and were launched from Iraq”.
The drone launched from Iraq posed a challenge to Saudi air defences, which have been focused on threats from Iran to the northeast and Yemen from the south.
Small drones can also be harder for radar systems to detect.