IRAQ: Beware of Rayan al-Kildani and the ‘Christian’ Babylon Brigade

Rayan al-Kildani is under sanctions of the United States for grave violations of human rights and corruption. Human Rights Without Frontiers recommends that the EU put him under sanctions. 

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (26.01.2024) – In a recent address to the government of Iraq, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Cardinal Sako, has called on the executive power to ensure justice for Christians in the Muslim-majority country. He also advocated for the removal of militias, including those affiliated to the Babylon Brigade, from the Nineveh Plainand their replacement by the forces of the army and the federal police.

In a previous article entitled “Beware of Rayan al-Kildani and his ‘Christian’ Babylon movement” published by Bitter Winter, I had denounced how Rayan al-Kildani had viciously usurped the political representation of the Iraqi Christians by defaming the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the historical and legitimate representative of the Christian community, and by manipulating the amended Iraqi election system with the assistance of Shia political activists I had also exposed his fabricated news in which he allegedly had the support of the Pope, which was afterwards denied by the Vatican.


Who is Rayan al-Kildani and what is the ‘Christian’ Babylon Brigade? 

Born on 3 September 1989 in Iraq, Rayan al-Kildani is the commander of the paramilitary Babylon Brigades, a so-called ‘Christian’ militia, that was formed as part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) also known under the names of People’s Mobilization Committee (PMC) and Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

The PMF is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of approximately 67 different armed factions. According to various sources, the number of their fighters ranges from 60,000 to 120,000. They are mostly Shia Muslims, including Khomeinist organizations as well as some Sunni Muslim, Christian and Yezidi groups. The PMF is at odds with Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq’s Shias.

Some of the PMF component militias which pledge allegiance to Iran are considered terrorist groups by some states, while others have been accused of promoting hatred and violence between religious communities.

Pro-Iran Khomeinist organizations in the PMF have been engaged in political and ideological conflicts with pro-Sistani activists.

On 18 July 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the leader of the Babylon Brigades, Rayan Al-Kaldani, for alleged human rights violations.


Relations with the Catholic Chaldean Church 

Al-Kildani’s efforts to claim leadership of Iraq’s Christian community and thus to control properties held by the Church after the mass Christian exodus have become desperate since an uprising against his forces by Christians in the Nineveh Plains in March 2023. Al-Kildani then unsuccessfully tried to take command of a base belonging to the Emergency Response Unit of the Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU), an approximately 500-strong self-defence regiment made up of local Christians.

Acting with the backing of Archbishop Younan Hanno and all the other top Christian leaders in the Nineveh Plains, local Christian citizens gathered at the Bishopric of the Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdeda and forced Kildani’s fighters out of the town.

Public anger towards the militia has steadily grown on account of its longstanding involvement in the corrupt shakedown of locals at checkpoints, its harassment of women, and its attempts to replace local officials with people loyal to the Babylon Brigade.

That incident was a humiliation for al-Kildani and his brother Osama, the day-to-day of the Babylon Battalion. The project to take over the Plains of Nineveh is a family ambition involving Rayan al-Kildani, his three brothers and his two sons-in law. He wants to create and control an autonomous region with his clan at the head, according to Cardinal Sako.


US  Magnitsky Law: Sanctions 

On 18 July 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two militia figures, Rayan al-Kildani and Waad Qado, and two former Iraqi governors, Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan and Ahmed al-Jubouri, for sanctions based on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act targeting perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuse.

They were held accountable for serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and for exploiting their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens.

Many of the corruption- and abuse-related actions committed by these sanctioned individuals occurred in areas where persecuted religious communities are struggling to recover from the horrors inflicted on them by ISIS.

As a result of today’s actions, all property and interests in property of these individuals, and any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by these individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons were blocked and reported to OFAC.

Rayan al-Kildani 

In May 2018, a video circulated among Iraqi human rights civil society organizations in which al-Kildani, the leader of the 50th Brigade militia, cut off the ear of a handcuffed detainee.

The 50th Brigade is reportedly the primary impediment to the return of internally displaced persons to the Christian populated Ninevah Plain.  It has systematically looted homes in Batnaya, which is struggling to recover from ISIS’s brutal rule.  The 50th Brigade has reportedly illegally seized and sold agricultural land, and the local population has accused the group of intimidation, extortion, and harassment of women.

Human Rights Without Frontiers recommends that the European Union put him under sanctions   

Photo: Rayan al-Kildani (Rudaw)

Further reading about FORB in Iraq on HRWF website