More news on Iraq battlefield.....


Some Arabs 'going to the jihad in Iraq'

The New York Times Wednesday,
April 2, 2003


DAMASCUS, Syria - Adil Omar Abu Shinaf, a 30-year-old Libyan in a flowing khaki robe, strode into a battered phone booth near one of this city's main bus terminals and dialed long distance to his family home in the coastal hamlet of Barak.
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"Dad," he said. "I am going to the jihad in Iraq!"
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After the call, he said that his father wished him 'Godspeed' and his mother, weeping, chastised him for not telling anyone of his plans before leaving Libya. Abu Shinaf, a laborer, is one of hundreds of men from across the Arab world and beyond who are milling around Damascus, hoping to cadge a seat to Baghdad on one of the free buses provided by the Iraqi interests section or, if they have the means, paying for a long-distance taxi.
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"The prophet Mohammed warned that there would be no judgment day until the Muslims fight with the Jews," Abu Shinaf said, enumerating the reasons for his odyssey. "We see no difference between the Americans and the Jews and, God willing, we Arabs can settle all our accounts with the Americans and the British. Damn America."
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A combination of religious zeal and Arab nationalism seems to drive the volunteers, and, perhaps, no small amount of outrage and horror at the daily scenes of civilian carnage broadcast from Iraq. Not unlike their counterparts who went to Afghanistan a generation ago to battle occupying Soviet soldiers, most of the Arab volunteers seem to feel compelled to fight the infidel, although emotions are stronger about Iraq due to shared ties of not only religion but language, race and culture.
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However, there remains one key difference this time. Many Arab governments, still reeling from the bloodshed fomented at home by the veterans of the Afghan war, especially those who ended up under the tutelage of Osama bin Laden, seek to bar the route. The notable exception is the government of Saddam Hussein.
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"Iraq seeks those volunteers in order to make it into a pan-Arab war and eventually a pan-Islamic war," said Haitham Kailani, a retired Syrian diplomat and former general. "They want to change it from an Iraqi war against America and its allies into an Islamic war."
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The attempt not only deflects attention from Saddam's own record, but may pressure Arab governments allied with Washington like Jordan and Egypt because their irate populations may demand a policy shift.
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Not a day goes by without some exhortation from Baghdad for the faithful to join the fray. In one of the strongest such statements, an Iraqi official Tuesday read a statement from Saddam on television that said jihad was a duty when any Islamic nation is attacked, and heaven the sure reward for death.
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Almost daily, one senior figure or another boasts that another 1,000 Arab volunteers have arrived in Iraq. Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said at a news conference Tuesday that the count now stood at 6,000, with half of them willing to be suicide bombers or, as he put it, "ticking bombs."
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"This is what we ask of the Arab populations," he said.
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It is difficult to ascertain from the volunteers which ones might seek such a role. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is any guide, those who boast about it rarely prove to be the ones who blow themselves up.
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One man, noticing a reporter in the midst of a group of volunteers, mimed strapping explosives around his waist. "We are not afraid," he said, adding "Boom!" and then pointing heavenward.
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Officially the Syrian government discourages anyone from going, considering untrained volunteers an added burden on the Iraqi government. Farouk Shara, the foreign minister, while criticizing the United States this week for waging the war, also told the Syrian Parliament that volunteers should be dissuaded. Some Syrian men said the staff at the Iraqi Consulate, which coincidentally sits across the street from the U.S. Embassy, told them they could not go.
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But Syria has long maintained one of the most liberal entry policies in the Middle East - anyone holding a passport from any Arab country can enter or leave with few questions asked.
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"If anybody is going it is beyond our control as the government," said Buthaina Shaaban, the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. "We have long borders with Iraq and we can't put a policeman on every single meter."
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She said that given the level of Arab anger stemming from civilian bloodshed, especially after years of similar scenes involving Palestinian civilians, it was surprising that Syria was not overrun with millions of volunteers.
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One factor limiting the number is that other Arab governments are preventing young men from leaving. An Egyptian official said the security police at all borders had been instructed to turn back any young men heading for Syria if they failed to provide proof of a decent job or other plausible reason for going. Jordanian volunteers say anyone who admits wanting to go to Iraq to fight is turned back.
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"The borders were closed to them and their passports voided because the government thought that we would turn into other bin Ladens," said Mohammed Ahmed, a 23-year-old volunteer from a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan.
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Rulings from religious institutions on the issue of jihad have been mixed. Al Azhar, the most venerable seat of Islamic learning, issued an edict in Cairo, calling for jihad, although a later clarification stressed that it meant jihad in the sense of a nonviolent struggle.
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Syria's top Muslim religious authority, Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro, last week encouraged suicide bombings in Iraq. "I call on Muslims everywhere to use all means possible to thwart the aggression, including martyr operations against the belligerent American, British and Zionist invaders," he said in a statement.
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One reason Syria has been discouraging anyone from leaving is that the road to Baghdad is considered too dangerous.
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But the volunteers who hear of such dangers say they will not be deterred.
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"I will stay there until the last infidel leaves the land of Iraq," said Abu Shinaf, the Libyan volunteer.
 

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