Syria Today – U.S. Strikes in Iraq; Israeli Strikes Up 40% in 2023

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.

On Thursday, media reports, citing US officials, suggested that the strike targeting a prominent Iraqi militia official linked to recent attacks on American bases in Syria and Iraq was orchestrated by the U.S. military. Meanwhile, an investigation reveals a surge in Israeli strikes against Syria, with 40 recorded in 2023, compared to 28 in 2022 and the same number in 2021.

US military conducted strike, killed Iran-backed Iraqi militia official: Report

The US military was behind the strike that killed a prominent Iraqi militia official on Thursday, according to media reports, citing US officials.

A US official told Fox News, according to Al Arabiya Network, that Washington targeted the Iran-backed official in Baghdad, who the US believes played a key role in attacks on American forces in Iraq over the last few months.

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The US official said the operation was a precision strike on a vehicle believed to be transporting Harakat al-Nujaba official Mushtaq Talib al-Saidi.

Asked about the attack, a US official stopped short of claiming responsibility but said: “The United States is continuing to take action to protect our forces in Iraq and Syria by addressing the threats they face.”

US military officials were giving Baghdad time to rein in attacks by Iran-backed militias. Days before Christmas, the top US military general for the Middle East held talks with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to discuss potential responses, Al Arabiya English previously reported.

After several weeks of attacks, US President Joe Biden had only ordered responses inside Syria in what analysts and former officials have described as largely symbolic strikes despite some of the attacks on US troops being in Iraq.

American forces in Iraq and Syria have been targeted over 100 times since October 17, following the Hamas attack on Israel.

But the US had avoided responding inside of Iraq due to an already frustrated Iraqi public sentiment towards Washington. The US military later targeted Iran-backed militias inside Iraq and killed several fighters on more than one occasion.

Security forces arrest ISIS women attempting to escape al-Hol camp

The Internal Security Forces (Asayish in Kurdish) on Thursday arrested three women and two children of ISIS families attempting to escape al-Hol camp, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Thursday.

SOHR said the women and children were taken to a security centre after their arrest.

The al-Hol camp, controlled by the Syrian Kurdish Asayish, houses thousands of Iraqi, Syrian, and foreign ISIS families. 

On Dec. 28, security forces said they killed a senior ISIS official Abu Obeida al-Iraqi in Syria’s al-Hol camp in a joint operation with the US-led coalition. SOHR said his wife was also killed in the operation.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition have consistently urged foreign nations to bring back their citizens, since the overcrowded al-Hol camp poses a security risk, and there are fears of indoctrination of children.

The Iraqi government has recently repatriated several Iraqi families from the camp.

U.S. strike kills militia leader blamed for Iraq attacks – U.S. official

The U.S. military carried out a retaliatory strike in Baghdad on Thursday that killed a militia leader it blames for recent attacks on U.S. personnel, a U.S. official told Reuters.

Iraqi police sources and witnesses said a drone fired at least two rockets in eastern Baghdad at a facility used by the Iraqi militia group al-Nujaba’a.

Police and militia sources said the rockets hit a vehicle inside the Nujaba’a headquarters and killed four people, including a local group commander and one of his aides. Health sources confirmed the death toll.

The U.S. military has come under attack at least 100 times in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, usually with a mix of rockets and one-way attack drones.

The United States has 2,500 troops deployed in Iraq and 900 in neighbouring Syria in a bid to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State militants.

The U.S. official said the strike hit the vehicle with the intention of killing the militia leader and that was accomplished.

Israeli strikes in Syria increased by 40 percent in 2023 – study

The Syrian Jusoor Research Center, which bills itself as an independent research institution specializing in political, economic and social studies, this week published a detailed study of all Israeli attacks in Syria in 2023. 

The investigation found that 40 attacks were recorded in 2023, compared to 28 in 2022, and the same number in 2021.

According to the research center, over the past year, attacks have been diverse and carried out by air, land and sea, with some of them carried out simultaneously against several areas of Syria. 

In total, 95 sites were struck and 297 targets destroyed, Jusoor said. According to the institute, this increase is directly linked to the expansion of Iranian activities in Syria and Tehran’s attempt to make this country a base for its actions and those of its emissaries against Israel.

According to the center’s data, Israel intensified its attacks in Syria after the earthquake in the country and in Turkey earlier this year and after the October 7 terrorist attack. Iran took advantage of these events to increase the number of its military sites, for a total estimated today at 570, most of them in southern Syria.

According to the report, in 2023, airstrikes were the primary means of Israeli military intervention in Syria and were carried out by F-16 aircraft and drones. Israeli air superiority caused heavy losses to Iranian militias, the institute said. 

Jusoor also claimed that Israeli ground incursions aimed at preventing militias from establishing themselves have taken place. Damascus and its region was the most attacked sector, followed by Aleppo and Quneitra.

The pace of attacks against Iranian militias in Syria is expected to increase in 2024, the study concluded. They will focus on Iranian military advisers and aim to cut land and air logistics lines, Jusoor predicts, meaning Israel will continue to target military and civilian airports.

House usurpers in regime areas deprive Syrians of their own property

Enab Baladi published a detailed article which highlights a significant issue faced by Syrian property owners who have left their homes, particularly in regime-controlled areas. Many of these owners, like Mahmoud al-Asmi and Nihad al-Falouji, allowed displaced families or relatives to live in their properties for free or at nominal rents as a gesture of goodwill or to protect the properties from looting. However, they now face difficulties in reclaiming their properties.

According to the report, homeowners who left Syria during the conflict find their properties occupied by others. These occupants often have connections with security branches, making eviction challenging.

Property owners face legal hurdles and security risks in attempting to reclaim their homes. The lack of proper legal documents, fear of arrest for those opposed to the regime, and threats from occupants are common obstacles.

Occupants of these properties often exploit the owners’ political positions and security situations to avoid eviction. This includes threats of harm to the owners’ relatives in Syria.

Syrian laws, especially those enacted post-2011, complicate property rights. Laws targeting political opponents and “anti-terrorism” measures can lead to the freezing or confiscation of assets, affecting Syrians inside and outside the country.

Recovering property, the report says, is a complex process, dependent on the property’s legal status and documentation. The presence of a real estate contract or title deed is crucial. However, lost or absent documents complicate matters, requiring legal assistance and sometimes involving risks to the appointee due to political affiliations.

The article underscores the plight of Syrian property owners who, having fled for safety, now struggle with the usurpation of their properties and the complex legal and political landscape in Syria. This situation highlights the broader challenges of property rights and legal processes in conflict-affected areas.

 

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