Unidentified aircraft pounded Iranian-backed militias on Friday in Syria, near the border with Iraq. Eight militiamen were killed by the strikes, Iraqi officials reported. The targets were two trucks carrying ballistic missiles. This latest attack comes at a time when tensions between the United States and Iran are very high after a series of escalating attacks by each.
Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that “unidentified aircraft targeted vehicles and arms depots in the Albu Kamal area, causing a large explosion. At least eight Iraqi Hashed fighters were killed.”
The British-based Observatory said that the aircraft targeted positions belonging to pro-Iran militias in the Boukamal area. This is the land corridor that the Iranians want to secure access to in order to move their missiles from Iran to Syria and Lebanon via Iraq, thus positioning them on the border with Israel.
The organization also said that the death toll could rise, as many other militiamen were wounded in the airstrike. The dead men were identified as not being Syrian.
The militiamen were from the Iranian-backed Imam Ali Battalions. The Battalions, along with several other militias, are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). PMF is also backed by the Iranians, thus giving them plausible deniability in the region.
Sources in the region reported that the airstrikes triggered a huge explosion and said, without offering any evidence, that the aircraft used in the stikes were Israeli. The Israelis rarely if ever comment on airstrikes, but have made it clear that they will not tolerate Iranian bases on their borders. They’ve carried out numerous airstrikes in the past few years on Iranian bases in Syria.
Tensions in the region are still simmering after reaching a boiling point earlier this week. The events accelerated after a rocket attack on a U.S. base killed an American contractor and wounded several other U.S. troops. The attack was perpetrated by Iranian-backed militias. After that, the U.S. finally had enough. The Americans hit the militias hard with airstrikes, killing 25 of them. The Iranian proxies responded by attacking the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
After two days of violence at the Embassy, the United States took out Major General Qassem Soleimani with a drone attack as he landed in Baghdad to meet with the militia commanders. Also killed in the drone attack was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of Iraq’s PMF — he had met Soleimani at the airport on his arrival to Baghdad. The Iranians believe that spies working at the airport tipped off the U.S. that Soleimani had arrived. He had avoided using his private plane over security concerns.
Iran then launched missiles at the U.S. bases in Iraq, thankfully causing no casualties. Later that same evening, a Ukranian airliner took off from Tehran bound for Kiev. When the aircraft popped up on their radar screens, Iranian air defense crews, believed that the U.S. was bringing bombers to Iran. Ignoring the airliner’s transponder, they launched anti-aircraft missiles, hitting the airliner just minutes after takeoff killing all 176 onboard, including 82 Iranians.