The east of Syria came to regional and international focus afresh this week when air raid targeted a coalition of Syria army and its allies fighting terrorists in al-Hari town in Abu Kamal district in Deir ez-Zor province. Reactions to the attack went more serious when Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-run organization, reported that the bombing killed some 52 pro-government forces, adding that at least 30 were Iraqis and 16 others were Syrians.
Shortly after the reports, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) stated that an American fighter jet fired two missiles on the bases of PMF’s 45th and 45th Brigades, responsible for the protection of border with Syria. The attack, PMF continued, killed 22 and injured 12 of the anti-terror fighters. The raid also drew a strong response of Baghdad that called the attack “support for ISIS”.
US Central Command denied responsibility, however, saying in a statement there were “no strikes by US or Coalition forces in that area during the time in question”. Instead, unnamed US officials told AFP and CNN that the strike was carried out by the Israeli regime's air force.
The US ambassador to Baghdad Douglas A. Silliman also responded to the speculations, rejecting that the American fighter jets were involved in the deadly strike against Hashd al-Shaabi, a local name for PMF.
The US has openly held the Israeli regime accountable for the attack, something unprecedented in the US regional policy. But why did Washington rejects involvement in the airstrike and blamed it on Israeli regime?
Fear of Iraq’s strong response
Analysts suggest that what caused the Americans to rush for clearing themselves from the attack and pinning it on Israelis is due to their concerns over Iraqis' serious reaction. The PMF is a leading opponent of the American military presence in Iraq. Any harm to its forces can unleash severe military responses to foreign forces that are based in the West Asian country.
Support the PMF, Iraq’s foreign ministry released a statement, saying that it severely blasts attack on Iraqi forces operating against ISIS terrorist group in the county or Syrian territories, maintaining that the attack serves as a favor to the fundamentalist militant groups.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, led by Qais Khazali, as a leading subunit of PMF, in a statement held that either the American or the Israeli warplanes were responsible for the raid, adding that there is a suspicious scenario hostile to the forces fighting the terrorists. The statement also urged the Iraqi government to specify who was behind the attack and take appropriate measures in reaction regardless of the identity of the attacking party.
“Iraq should firmly stand in the face of the [American and Israeli] threatening plans until they are fully repelled,” the Iraqi popular anti-terror organization further held.
The statement’s text reflects that PMF, as champions of the anti-ISIS battle, are unwilling to show flexibility to any American-led hostilities against their fighters.
Preventing harm to Washington’s regional credit
One of the key reasons that drive the Americans to attribute the attack in Deir ez-Zor to the Israeli army was scapegoat to avoid having to shoulder the responsibility in regional affairs including the fight against terrorism.
The US knows that the fighters who came under attack in al-Hari were members of a key force that has been fighting ISIS terrorist group since 2014, and attack against them damages the America image in the region.
On the other side, Washington marks interests for itself in Syria and Iraq and wants to save them under any circumstances. If Washington is proven to be the culprit behind the recent attack, then it should expect serious endangerment of its position and interests in the two crisis-hit nations. The fast trick to save interests was to shift the blame on Tel Aviv which is the black sheep of the Western-led alliance in the highly chaotic West Asia. In fact, the best option is to foist the costs on a regime with no credibility in the region and has record of violations against different nations.
Fear of more anti-American sentiments
Regardless of who is responsible for the air assault, the very attack against fighters of a popular anti-terror organization and killing at least 22 of them is unacceptable for the Iraqi government and people. On the other side, the regional public knows that Tel Aviv is the sole ally of Washington with closest intelligence and military cooperation. Therefore, any attack, even if is carried out by the Israelis, is not disconnected from the US. This mindset was put to show in recent Iraqi parliamentary election. People gave vote lead to the utterly anti-American forces in the country, hence exhibiting their opposition to the US pr e in Iraq. And the fresh attack on the PMF units in Deir ez-Zor even compounds the antipathy to the US and sets the stage for a new round of public demands to the government to confront Washington’s meddling and influence in Iraq.
From another aspect, even if the June 18 attack is proven to be conducted by Israeli drones, the US image would not be burnished in the eyes of the Syrian people rather it would confirm the US coordination with Tel Aviv which in the past few months intensified striking Syrian government’s positions. Popular rancor against the US strips the country of a place in future Syrian equations, and makes occupying Americans forces to withdraw from the war-torn country at the end of the road.