Thousands of Shiite Muslims from Iraq and beyond will take up arms against Sunni al-Qaeda “savages” in Syria, if fellow Shiites or their shrines come under attack again, Iraqi Minister of Transportation and leader of Badr Organization, Hadi al-Ameri said.
Ameri said in an interview with Reuters, “Do you want us to remain silent? While Shiites are being abused and you help them with money and weapons and America is also helping them with money and weapons,” referring to rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Amiri is the head of the Badr Organization, a political movement that arose from a heavily armed, Iran-trained militia and many of whose members are now part of Iraq’s security forces.
After two years of fighting that has left 93,000 dead, the Syrian civil war is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines, with mainly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, whose Alawite sect derives from Shiite Islam.
The conflict is splintering the Middle East along a divide between the two main denominations of Islam, becoming a battlefield in a proxy war between Assad’s main regional ally, Shiite Iran, and his Sunni enemies in Turkey and the Gulf Arab states.
With Russia and Iran arming Assad’s forces, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militia joining the war on Assad’s behalf, Western powers have agreed in the last week to increase aid to the mainly Sunni rebels.
Ameri said Shiites had been galvanized by the killing of approximately 60 members of their sect at the hands of Sunni insurgents in Syria’s eastern province of Deir al-Zor earlier this month.
“If another attack against Shiites takes place similar to Deir al-Zor, or against the shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab, not only a handful of men, but thousands of Shiite men will go to fight alongside the regime and against al-Qaida and whoever backs al-Qaida,” Ameri said.
“After Deir al-Zor, thousands of Shiite youths from Iraq and all over the world will head to fight in Syria. If 300 Lebanese Hezbollah fighters changed the equation in Syria, Iraqi young men will go to Syria to change it a hundred times over,” Ameri said, referring to Hezbollah forces whose intervention enabled Assad loyalists retake the town of Qusair this month.
When asked whether the Iraqi government is sponsoring Shiite fighters across the border, Ameri said that the case of Shiite fighters coming from Iraq is like Sunni insurgents flow from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and some other Arab countries.
“The Iraqi government has nothing to do with that. As said on Tunisian , Libyan and Egyptian governments that they do not know ... we, also in the Iraqi government does not know anything “.
Ameri emphasized that the official position of the state is that it does not sponsor Iraqi fighters, saying, “They are going to protect their holy places”.
“I fought against Saddam Hussein for more than 20 years as I fought in the mountains, marshes and in all regions. If I was given the choice to fight between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, I would choose to fight alongside Saddam Hussein against al-Qaeda because there is no worse than Al –Qaeda”.
“There is a hateful sectarian project to tear the whole region ... This will only serve the Zionist project,” Ameri added. Some Sunni clerics, including al-Qaradawi have called for “jihad” against the Syrian government after the intervention of Hezbollah Shiites fighters in fighting there to help Assad.
Iraq shares border with Syria that extends for about 600 km, bordering Anbar and Nineveh provinces from the Iraqi side. Observers warn that the Syrian crisis situation in the region began to evolve and take a sectarian turn.