News / Middle East

Number of Shia Fighters in Syria Could Rise Following Fatwa

Hezbollah fighters, center, carry the coffin of their commander Ali Bazzi who was killed in Syria,Dec. 9, 2013.  (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Hezbollah fighters, center, carry the coffin of their commander Ali Bazzi who was killed in Syria,Dec. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Up to 5000 Shia volunteers from Iraq are currently believed to be fighting in the Syrian civil war. Analysts say that number could rise now that a leading Muslim cleric has issued a fatwa saying it is permitted for Shia from Iraq to fight in support of President Bashar al-Assad.  The religious ruling by Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri is likely to have special resonance in Iraq as the cleric is a mentor of the radical Iraqi Shia Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
 
Shia fighters from neighboring countries have played an increasingly significant role in the two-and-half-year-old civil war with much attention being given to fighters from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, which took a lead role in recapturing the strategic town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon.
 
Hezbollah forces have now taken the lead in a government offensive now underway in the mountainous Qalamoun region northwest of the Syrian capital of Damascus.  On Sunday a Syrian government spokesman predicted that a major town in the region, Yabroud, would soon fall to Hezbollah fighters and Syrian army units.
 
But in recent weeks Iraqi Shia numbers have grown too.
 
Phillip Smyth, a terrorism researcher with the University of Maryland, says the Iraqi volunteers are in many ways Iranian proxies and more often than not report to Iranian or Hezbollah commanders on the battlefield rather than Syrian army officers.
 
“The proxy groups sending combatants include Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraq’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah, and other smaller splinters from Iraqi Shia radical leader, Muqtada al-Sadr,” Smyth said recently.  Al-Sadr led an insurgency against the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in 2006.
 
“Without the initial push by Iran and the utilization of its proxy-network, Shia armed involvement via the deployment of volunteer fighters and trained assets would likely have had a miniscule role in the fighting,” says Smyth. He argues, “The Assad regime would have been unable to mount most of its successful recent offensives” without this Iranian-driven assistance.
 
In November, a training video shot at a Syrian military base near Aleppo, surfaced on the Internet of an Iranian military adviser instructing Shia recruits. The video was seized by Syrian rebels and posted online.
 
Exactly how many Iraqi Shia volunteers are fighting in Syria is hard for analysts to calculate but estimates of those in country ranges from more than 3000 up to about 5000. Fourteen Iraqi Shia factions are engaged with the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade being the biggest.
 
How fighters are transported to Syria has become clearer recently with many of the volunteers posting online on Facebook and other social media sites how they got to Syria. Volunteers go to Iran initially and train there before flying to Lebanon from where they are taken into Syria with Hezbollah forces. Many of the fighters in their Internet postings say they were motivated to volunteer for Syria because of their determination to protect Shia shrines.
 
In the spring, militant Sunni Islamists desecrated the tomb of Bin Udai — one of the Prophet Muhammad’s followers prompting a storm of anger across the Shia world.
 
The Western powers have called on the Iraqi government to prevent Shia fighters from going to Syria. Deputy British Ambassador in Iraq, Robert Dean, in a press conference in the summer said the British government “regretted” the participation of Iraqi fighters in the Syrian civil war and called on Baghdad to implement measures to prevent volunteers from going.
 
Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has denied claims of Iraqi government involvement and says Baghdad doesn’t endorse the Iraqi volunteers in the conflict in Syria. But the Iraqi Shia participation is hardly a secret: posters mourning the loss of individual fighters killed in the conflict are mounted in Baghdad’s Liberation Square.
 
Foreign diplomats say that while the Iraqi government has an official position of non-involvement in the war, individual Shia politicians and parties aren’t so restrained.
A European diplomat, who asked not to be named for this article, says the training in urban warfare of Iraqi volunteers takes place in a camp 15 miles from the Iranian capital of Tehran.

“As well as being trained in guerrilla warfare they are required also to attend religious classes,” the diplomat says.

Iranian officials strongly deny any involvement in the training of fighters, or of having any forces such as revolutionary guardsmen in Syria.   Alireza Miryousefi an official at Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York says Arab and Western financial and military assistance is fueling the Syrian conflict.  "The Islamic Republic of Iran has no military involvement in Syria,” he said.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid