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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid