Dubai: The killing of Mustafa Badr Al Deen and at least 80 other Shiite fighters backing Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria has made international headlines this week.

People are asking why so many Shiite militiamen have been dying in Syria recently.

Labib Kamhawi, an analyst based in Jordan, attributed the deaths to competition between Russia and Iran for influence over Al Assad.

“Russia has reduced its air strikes Syria, and so all those Iranians are getting killed because of a lack of air cover,” Kamhawi said. “This seems to be part of a Russian strategy to marginalise Iran’s role in Syria and make its influence unparalleled.”

“Let us remember that Russia is a super power and seeks to have the upper hand in Syria. Iran on the other hand is a regional power with ambitions to become a super power,” Riyad Qahwaji, founder and head of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, told Gulf News.

While both Iran and Russia are supporting Al Assad in Syria, Iran has more troops on the ground. Russia has the aerial power.

Offering an alternative explanation for the increase in Shiite fighters killed in Syria, Qahwaji says that Syrian rebel groups could have adapted themselves to Russian and Iranian military tactics and come up with a fresh and effective counter-strategy.

Still other analysts say that the losses of Iranian fighters and their allies in Syria is not a new phenomenon.

“This has been going on from the beginning, but the media has been shedding more light on the issue recently,” Eman Ragab from the Cairo-based Al Ahram Strategic Studies Centre told Gulf News.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Saudi Arabia on Sunday seeking to enlist its support ahead of a potential showdown with Russia at crunch talks in Vienna.

Riyadh has been a key supporter of rebels fighting to overthrow the Damascus regime of Al Assad.