The Syrian and Iraq armies are no strangers to war; but, they have never coordinated with one another, despite their shared interest in defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS).
However, this changed in April of 2016 when both the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Iraqi Armed Forces launched a simultaneous offensive to wedge ISIS in the vast desert landscape that links both their countries.
Unbeknownst to many, the Syrian and Iraqi forces are advancing towards one another on the Damascus-Baghdad International Highway.
Military Operations Begin
Two weeks ago, the Iraqi Armed Forces recently liberated the strategic town of Al-Hit in order to begin their large-scale push to the ISIS strongholds of Al-Baghdadi and Al-Haditha in the Al-‘Anbar Governorate.
Coincidentally, the Syrian Arab Army liberated the ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmur) at the end March, but they would not begin their Palmyra-Deir Ezzor offensive until mid-April.
Now, the Syrian Arab Army is advancing along the Damascus-Baghdad Highway, towards the T-3 Pumping Station, which is only 215 km west of the Al-Qa’im border-crossing into Iraq.
On the other-side of the border, the Iraqi Army and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are situated approximately 175 km east of Al-Qa’im.
The Iraqi Army has recently advanced to the outskirts of Al-Baghdadi; and if they capture this strategic desert-city, they will be in position to cutoff ISIS from their imperative supply route from Salaheddine (Iraq) to Deir Ezzor.
As the map illustrates above, the city of Al-Baghdadi borders Al-Haditha to the east; it has two roads: one that goes to Baghdad and the other Baiji.
The battle for Al-Haditha will be an incredibly important one because it will leave only 100 km of desert between the Iraqi Army and the city of Al-Qa’im on the Syrian border.
The Syrian Army will have a much more boring trip to Al-Qa’im, as they have no sign of civilization for 200 km; but, they do have the Free Syrian Army (FSA) at the Tanf border-crossing to the south.
The FSA will likely not threaten the Syrian Armed Forces because the makeshift roads only lead to the border-city of AbuKamal; so, if they should meet, it will not be until the Syrian Arab Army reaches the Deir Ezzor Governorate.
Are the Iraqi and Syrian armies coordinating with one another?
According to a senior officer from the Syrian Armed Forces, the two armies are working through an intermediary – primarily Iran – to make this push.
Iran is an important ally to both the Iraq and Syrian governments; moreover, they are overlooking the transfer of thousands of Iraqi paramilitary forces to Syria.
More importantly, the arrival of Hashd Al-Sha’abi (Iraqi’s strongest paramilitary unit) to Deir Ezzor City, further implies that something big is coming.
What is Hashd Al-Sha’abi doing in Deir Ezzor?
Hashd Al-Sha’abi is working side-by-side with the Syrian Special Forces to retake the city of Mohassan in southern Deir Ezzor.
The end goal is to eliminate ISIS’ presence in eastern Syria; however, this cannot be done without coordination between the Iraqi and Syrian armies.
If this operation is successful, then ISIS will be contained in northern Syria and their non-threatening pockets in Rif Dimashq, Dara’a, and Al-Sweida governorates.