Iraq's Qaeda backs anti-regime protests in Syria
BAGHDAD - Iraqi insurgents have strongly backed protests against President Bashar al-Assad even though his regime purportedly aided the militants by allowing arms and fighters to cross into Iraq.
One Internet posting on website Honein, a forum for Al-Qaeda supporters, equated Assad's Alawite regime to Iran's former Safavid dynasty, in an effort to show that both are Shiite heresies.
They regularly invoke Iran's Safavid past, referring to the Shiite dynasty that ruled between the 16th and 18th centuries in Persia, and conquered part of Iraq.
Syria is predominantly Sunni Muslim, but ruled by Assad's Alawite minority.
Syria "is a corrupt regime, which fought the believers and the religious, and allowed Iranians to enter Syria, Lebanon and Iraq," the writer added.
In the early 1980s Hafez Assad, father of the current president, launched a brutal attack against the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, killing some 20,000 people in a 1982 massacre in the Sunni city of Hama.
Honein also carries especially gruesome video reports on Syria, "showing the crimes of Bashar," and updating the site every day with new information.
Another contributor, identifying himself as Kataz, predicted that "Bashar and his supporters will end up in the dustbin of history."
"Go to hell, you and your supporters, Bashar," said a posting signed Mohammad al Fatah.
Washington and Baghdad have accused Syria in the past of failing to control its 605-kilometre (375-mile) border with Iraq, harbouring "terrorists," and letting Sunni insurgents and arms transit through Syria for attacks inside Iraq.
Ehsan al-Shammari, a professor of political science at Baghdad University said that "Iraqi Sunni jihadists are responding in a purely religious manner.
"Syrian Islamists in the past have funded jihadists in Iraq, and now the latter believe it is time to pay back (the favour,)" he said.
"Some Iraqi insurgents cross the border to supply weapons to groups in Syria. Those who are armed (inside the protest movement) belong to the Islamist movement," he said.
The only Iraqi fundamentalist to defend the Syrian regime has been Sheikh Mahdi Ahmed al-Sumaidi, who until 2006 was the head of Baghdad's Ibn Tamiya mosque, the most popular prayer centre in the capital.
The forum had harsh words for the cleric, accusing him of publishing a fatwa, or religious decree, on his own website last March in support of Assad's regime.
The cleric had apparently said it was "haram," or religiously forbidden, for Iraqi and Syrian Muslims to support or take part in the demonstrations against Assad's regime.
"The Iraqi people, especially Sunnis, are reminded that this country has helped the mujahedeen in Iraq," he had said.
But on the forum, contributors said it was time for the cleric to keep his opinions to himself.
"I say to all institutions and Islamic groups that are supported by the Syrian regime that the best thing they can do for the revolution is to keep quiet and refrain from talking," wrote Abu Obeidi al-Azzawi, a contributor to Honein.