Amid the current Israel-Hamas conflict, there are concerns about the ongoing targeting of U.S. forces stationed in Iraq and Syria by armed groups supported by Iran, and about the potential for a major escalation of attacks on U.S. forces should Israel proceed with a ground invasion of Gaza with an aim to destroying Hamas.
These attacks on U.S. forces should hardly come as a surprise, as they reflect a continuation of a trend that has been ongoing for years. It is also logical to expect an escalation in light of U.S. support for Israel both previously and during the present conflict.
Indeed, in the case of the U.S. deployment in the al-Tanf region of southeast Syria that borders Iraq, it is not unreasonable to view that deployment as essentially being a service rendered by the Americans to Israel (at least since the years of the Trump administration and continued under the Biden administration), in that the deployment is primarily about blocking a "land-route" from Iran to Lebanon that passes through al-Tanf, rather than countering the Islamic State presence in that region (the latter being the official justification for the U.S. mission there). In other words, the U.S. presence in al-Tanf is now mainly about reducing the perceived threat of Iran and Iranian-backed groups to Israel, even if the U.S. government does not admit it publicly.
Despite all the concerns about the actual and potential targeting of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, many formations in Syria that are backed and partly led by Iran continue to engage in deployments and assignments intended to combat the Islamic State in the wider "badiya" region of Syria that encompasses the central deserts and steppes. That insurgency, while prone to being exaggerated by some observers, poses some problems for the Syrian government and its allies. Recently, a fighter from the 313 Force -- one of the Iranian-backed formations in Syria -- was killed in the Ithriya region, which is part of the badiya. This fighter's name was Wesam Ali Ghareb and I document his life below.
Wesam was born in 1989 and was among the inhabitants of the al-Sayyida Zaynab area (named for the shrine of al-Sayyida Zaynab) in Damascus. He studied up till the completion of preparatory school in Syria, and was working in a shop for shoes to help his father and the family. He then joined the ranks of the Syrian formations backed by the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 2014. He participated in battles in the following areas:
. Dayr al-Zur
As part of his role in the 313 Force, Wesam eventually rose to become a personal companion to the commander of the Hadhrat Abbas Regiment, which is led by 'al-Hajj Abu Haydar' of the IRGC. Wesam was then "martyred" in an Islamic State attack on the regiment's forces in the Ithriya area in mid-October. During that attack al-Hajj Abu Haydar was wounded.
Wesam was married and had three children, the oldest of whom was 8 years old. While I myself know many people who have served in the 313 Force, I never interacted with Wesam. Below are some more photos of Wesam.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is an Arabic translator and editor at Castlereagh Associates, a Middle East-focused consultancy, and a Ginsburg/Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum. He runs an independent newsletter at aymennaltamimi.substack.com.