Much of the commentariat’s speculation over the possible consequences of a U.S. attack on Syria is focused on how Assad might respond. What mustn’t be discounted or marginalized in attempting to predict how it will all unfold is how forces sympathetic to Assad might react independently of the embattled Syrian strongman.

The Alawite leader’s Shia militiamen friends in Lebanon are probably the main cause of American pundit-based hand wringing – perhaps due to the Lebanese Civil War, and the subsequent Syrian occupation of Lebanon. But Iraq, host to recent bloodshed, a porous border with Syria, and a greater number of U.S. assets, is more vulnerable – particularly as sectarian strife there seems directly proportional to violence in Syria. As an August 6 report in the Abu Dhabi based newspaper The National put it, “Shia militias fight against their Sunni counterparts in Iraq and Syria, turning the two countries into one battleground.”

It doesn’t take a scholar to see that Shia militias in Iraq might, therefore, be less than amused by a military operation that amounts to little more than yet unsubstantiated concern trolling. And least one “umbrella group” that represents the rank-and-file of a number of Iraqi Shia militias is already promising retribution if President Obama decides that rattling his sabre won’t suffice.

“All their interests and facilities in Iraq and the region will be targeted by our militants if the United States insists on attacking Syria,” a spokesman for the Iraqi militia group al-Nujaba’a told Reuters by telephone, without giving details.

Bravado this may be. Is President Obama willing to find out?

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.