Militia Spotlight has previously reported on the Iraqi muqawama’s increased targeting of U.S. points of presence in Syria. Militia accounts first began reporting on these attacks in June, describing rocket attacks against U.S. bases. Then, in the first half of July, militia channels reported on five attacks in Syria, coinciding with a major escalation against coalition forces in Iraq. Sporadic attacks continued through September, before pausing (largely tracking a reduction of militia attacks over the border in Iraq). An exception was an unusual attack on the U.S. base at al-Tanf using four one-way-attack drones on October 20, which Militia Spotlight (and media outlets) reported on.
In the first half of December, however, attacks in Syria have resumed, including at least two rocket attacks. In addition, muqawama channels have reported on at least four roadside bomb attacks, which purport to target coalition logistics convoys. These convoy attacks are all alleged to have occurred around al-Hasakah province in Northeast Syria (Figure 1). While the targeting of convoys is a very common muqawama tactic in the Iraq theater, until now militias have not reported on (or claimed) roadside bomb hits in Syria. Media activity regarding convoys in Syria was limited to images demonstrating monitoring efforts of U.S. convoys in the area.
Reported attacks in Syria are loosely mirrored the muqawama’s posture in Iraq – rising during periods of escalation and falling during partial ceasefires. Militias have continued to use rockets and drones in Syria, however, even at times when attacks in the Iraqi theater have been increasingly limited to roadside bombs. The most recent uptick correlates with growing escalation and threats by muqawama media channels and social media influencers, the Tansiqiya (muqawama coordination committee), and by Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and its leader Akram Kaabi. The Tansiqiya has reconfirmed that a deadline for the militia’s “ceasefire” against U.S. forces will expire on December 31, 2021, and this deadline has been repeated extensively across militia media.
Unlike in Iraq, where increasingly attacks have had negative political consequences for militias, Syria seems to be treated as more of a no-holds-barred environment. As a result, militias may be more willing to overreach there. It is likely that the latest rise in reported attacks is part of the escalation – and testing- ahead of potential violence when the militia-imposed ceasefire expires.
It is also possible that militias could act primarily in Syria as they respond to ongoing U.S. and coalition presence in Iraq in early January after the militia’s withdrawal deadline of December 31. (Militias could also strike in Syria to mark the upcoming anniversaries of the killing of militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muqandis and Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3, and he January 5 non-binding motion of a minority of Iraqi MPs to evict foreign forces). Erbil could also be seen by militias as a relatively low-cost target location.