More than two dozen people killed in US airstrike in eastern Syria
The Americans claim that they bombed a pro-Iranian paramilitary group that poses a threat to the American contingent in the region. However, earlier Joe Biden announced his intention to return the United States to a nuclear deal with Iran. How do the words of the American president fit with his actions?
On Friday night, the US Air Force launched several strikes in the area of the Syrian city of Abu Kemal in the province of Deir ez-Zor near the border with Iraq. The air raid killed up to 22 people. It is reported that these were fighters of the Shiite group “Kataib Hezbollah”, which is part of the “Forces of People’s Mobilization” (“Hashd al-Shaabi”) – pro-Iranian formations of Iraqi Shiites. As TASS explains, the units of “Hashd al-Shaabi” are fighting on the side of the government army of Syria against the terrorists of the “Islamic State*”.
US planes attacked a convoy of Shiite militias after they crossed the Syrian-Iraqi border near the Qaim checkpoint, Saudi TV station Al Arabiya reported on Friday. According to Bloomberg, the targets of the missile attack of American planes were also objects located near this border crossing, which is used to transfer Shiite fighters from Iraq to Syria.
Official Damascus called the airstrike on its allies a manifestation of American aggression. The Russian Foreign Ministry, in turn, called on Washington to respect the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR).
During the presidency of Donald Trump, the US Air Force repeatedly subjected the territory of Syria to missile and bomb strikes, but the attack on a convoy of pro-Iranian militias was the first such operation since the election of Joe Biden. Newly appointed Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the air operation on the Syrian-Iraqi border was accompanied by diplomatic measures, including consultations with US partners in the Middle East coalition. And the strike itself, according to Kirby, was caused by the fact that pro-Iranian groups pose a threat to the US military in the region.
At the same time, Biden received criticism from congressmen from his own party.
“There is absolutely no reason for the President to authorize a military strike that is not self-defense against an imminent threat without Congress approval. We need to leave the Middle East, and not exacerbate the situation”, – said Rep. From California, Democrat Ro Hannah, TASS reports.
London-based The Guardian named the possible reason for the American strike: the publication believes that it was a response to the shelling of an airport in Erbil, the capital of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, that occurred last Monday. On February 15, a little-known Shiite group believed to be a front for the pro-Iranian People’s Mobilization Forces attacked Erbil airport. As a result, an employee under a contract with the Philippines died, and nine people, including US military personnel, were injured.
As the Guardian notes, this shelling was a continuation of regular attacks by pro-Iranian forces in Iraq against the US military – actions in revenge for the elimination of the commander of the Al-Quds special forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani. This officer, we recall, was killed in January last year in Baghdad as a result of a missile attack from an American drone. The Pentagon confirmed that the liquidation of General Soleimani was carried out on the personal order of President Trump.
But for President Biden, another retaliation by the pro-Iranian Shiites – the shelling of the airport in Erbil – was the first serious test, the Guardian noted. After all, the new head of the White House seeks to renew the nuclear deal between Tehran and the world powers, canceled by Trump in 2018.
“Perhaps the current airstrike is a signal addressed not so much to Tehran as to the US partners and allies in the region, since now many in Israel and in the Gulf countries are nervous”, – said Andrei Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, political scientist. In his opinion, there is a fear that Biden will take pro-Iranian positions and, for the sake of an agreement with Tehran, will make too great concessions, including those on issues such as the Syrian one.
But as a result of such a show of power to the allies, Biden’s reputation in the United States itself could suffer. The aforementioned Democratic Congressman Hannah stressed that the actions of the new president do not actually differ from what Trump did in the Middle East.
In a very similar way, and in the same area of the Iraqi-Syrian border, Israel also operates, which views Iran as the main geopolitical rival in the region. For example, on January 13, the Israeli Air Force attacked military positions and ammunition depots in the vicinity of the cities of Deir ez-Zor and Abu Kemal. According to Sky News Arabia, the attack killed at least 57 Syrian soldiers and fighters of pro-Iranian Shiite formations fighting on the side of the SAR.
Israeli political scientist, ex-head of the Nativ special service Yakov Kedmi, in turn, believes that the attack on the column of pro-Iranian Shiites should not be linked with “some kind of business between the United States and Iran itself”.
“Discussion of the nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran goes on as usual, without linking with the local actions of the US military against Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria”, – Kedmi told VZGLYAD newspaper. The interlocutor stressed that the United States regularly strikes Iran-oriented groups based in Iraq and Syria, as they pose a threat to the American military and civilians stationed in these Middle Eastern countries.
“The current blow was revenge for the airport attack. Then there was shelling in Baghdad when rockets fell near the US embassy. Now the Americans have taken revenge by bombing facilities in eastern Syria. But it was a local showdown”, – the Israeli expert said.
Kedmi believes that it is too early to draw conclusions: whether the US military contingent will remain in northeastern Syria on the territory of the self-proclaimed Kurdish autonomy of Rojava, or will leave. A presence in Syria will depend on dialogue between Iran and the Biden administration.
“If this dialogue is positive, it will resolve the issue of the presence of not only American but also Iranian troops in Syria”, – Kedmi said.
We add that earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow intends to directly inquire with the United States about their plans for a presence in Syria. In his speech, the minister recalled that the US military is in the country illegally. They enjoy the support of the armed formations and the Rojava administration, which is not authorized by the Syrian government to deal with the presence of foreign military personnel.
Alexander Rybin, Look
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