US airstrikes in Syria ‘hit food depots covertly handling militia weapons’: report
Iraqi militia sites in Syria targeted by US airstrikes on Sunday night were commercial depots believed to be covertly handling weapons, anonymous local sources in Syria told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service.
On Sunday, the Pentagon announced that the US had struck three "operational and weapons storage facilities" belonging to Iran-backed Iraqi militias on the Syria-Iraq border.
The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) coalition of pro-Iranian Iraqi militias, also known as Hashed al-Shaabi, announced that four of its fighters were killed. The group condemned the attack, saying that the fighters were in Syria to prevent IS militants infiltrating Iraq.
Pro-Iranian Iraqi militias have fought in Syria on the side of President Bashar al-Assad's regime since the early years of the Syrian conflict.
Sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that the targeted sites were six kilometres away from the Qaim border crossing between Syria and Iraq.
The crossing was reopened in September 2019 after several years of closure due to the presence of Islamic State group extremists in the area. It handles commercial goods and there is a free trade area nearby but it is also a logistical lifeline for the Iraqi militias fighting in Syria.
The sources said that the strikes hit depots whose official purpose was to store and transport food supplies, but were also believed to have been used to transport weapons.
They added that this was not the first time the depots had been targeted, saying that on 15th June, warplanes of unknown origin had hit the area and the nearby Imam Ali base, killing or injuring 10 Iraqi militiamen.
The anonymous sources also said that the area around the Qaim border crossing was not under the authority of either the Iraqi government or the Syrian regime, but under the control of Iran-backed militias, adding that the militias had built many structures in the duty-free area and were involved in trading goods.
The international anti-IS coalition, which works with the Iraqi army and security forces, is present on most of the rest of the border between Syria and Iraq, preventing Iran-backed militias from approaching.