Saraya Al-Mukhtar (“SM”), also known as The Chosen Brigades, is a Bahraini militant group primarily comprised of Shi’a Muslims. The group formed in 2013 after the ruling Al-Khalifa regime led a crackdown on pro-democracy protestors during the 2011 Arab Spring (1). The group utilises sophisticated IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in pursuit of the ousting of the Al-Khalifa regime in order to bring about the end of Sunni minority rule in the country (2).
History & Geopolitics
The fundamental objective of Saraya Al-Mukhtar is to bring about the fall of Bahrain’s current regime through armed means in order to establish a Shi’a-led state (1). Followers of Shi’a Islam reject the first three Caliphs who came after the death of the Prophet Mohammad and instead only recognize the fourth Caliph, Ali Ibn Abi Talib. As a result, the largely Sunni population in the Middle East regard the Shi’a as Rafida (rejectors) (3). Saraya Al-Mukhtar acts against what they claim is the systemic oppression of the Bahraini Shi’a, in addition to condemning the regime's alliance with the United States. Presently, Iran is the only Shi’a-led state in the region (4).
The current regime has close ties to the United States as Bahrain houses a naval base which is subsequently home to the United States Fifth Fleet (5). In 2018, the United States State Department classified SM as a terrorist group, stating the group is an Iranian-backed terror cell (6). In addition, Saudi Arabia seeks the maintenance of the Al-Khalifa regime in order to counter the spread of Shi’a and therefore, Iranian influence in the region (7). SM utilises Twitter and Telegram to display their support of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as well as their support of the Iraqi militant group Kata’ib Al-Imam Ali (6).
Approach to Resistance
Between the group's founding and 2015, it claimed responsibility for numerous IED attacks against Bahraini security forces (6). Furthermore, official SM Twitter posts allude to the regular training of its militants by the IRGC (6). However, since 2015 the group has not claimed responsibility for any attacks, with the US State Department also reporting that Bahrain has not witnessed a deadly attack since 2017 (6). Although Saraya Al-Mukhtar seems to be militarily dormant at the present time, the group -- as aforementioned -- regularly uses social media to illustrate their ideological solidarity with the Iranian regime, as well as with the Iraqi group Kata’ib Al-Imam Ali (6).
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Namo, Abdulla. What is Bahrian's Saraya Al-Mukhtar Militia?. Washington: Federal Information & News Dispatch, LLC, 2020. https://www.proquest.com/reports/what-is-bahrians-saraya-al-mukhtar-militia/docview/2471338129/se-2.
(2) - Micheal, Knights and Matthew Levitt. “The Evolution of Shi’a Insurgency in Bahrain.” Combatting Terrorism Center Sentinel 11, no. 1 (2018): 18–25.
(3) - Laurence, Louër and Ethan Rundell. Sunnis and Shi’a: A Political History. JSTOR. Princeton University Press, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvp2n4ft.
(4) - Bilal, Y. Saab. “Iran’s Long Game in Bahrain.” Atlantic Council (2017) http://www.jstor.com/stable/resrep16799
(5) - Naval Sea Systems Command, “Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Center - Bahrain,” www.navsea.navy.mil, n.d., https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/RMC/FDRMC/Bahrain/WhyBahrain/OurMission/5thFleet.aspx.
(6) - Caleb, Weiss. “State Department Designates Iranian-Backed Bahraini Militia | FDD’s Long War Journal.” www.longwarjournal.org, December 15, 2020. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2020/12/state-department-designates-iranian-backed-bahraini-militia.php.
(7) - Toby Matthiesen, Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Spring That Wasn’t, 1st ed. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017), 15.