Iraqi fighters from the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade in Damascus.
Much has been written about foreign jihadists fighting in Syria, but the focus has been on those fighting with the rebels. However, less has been written about those who have decided to wage their holy war on the regime’s side.
The Sayyidah Zaynab mosque in the suburbs of Damascus contains the mausoleum of the Prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, and is thus a major pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims. As the battle between the Syrian army and rebels reached the outskirts of Damascus, some groups threatened to destroy the edifice. This prompted Shiite fighters (President Basher al-Assad is an Alawite within the Shiite branch) to take up arms to protect their sacred site. These combatants, who belong to a group called the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade, are not only Syrian: there are also Lebanese, Iraqis, and Afghans
Iraqi fighters from the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade.
Recruitment campaigns for this brigade have been taking place in southern Iraq as well as in the capital Baghdad, in part to replace fallen fighters. Videos paying tribute to foreign martyrs – including Shiite Iraqis – who died while fulfilling their “duty of jihad” are appearing increasingly often on social media networks.
Fighters in Bagdad getting ready to head to Syria.
Meanwhile, in the central Syrian region of Homs, speculation is rife as to the extent Hezbollah in Lebanon - Hezbollah are also Shiites, like Assad - has been supporting the Syrian regime’s military operations. In fact, when the conflict turned into a full blown civil war more than a year ago, the “Party of God” sent advisors on urban guerrilla warfare
to consult for the Syrian army. They did not, however, send fighters. This arrangement continued for a while, but as the conflict dragged on, members of Hezbollah joined in the fighting
in the border region of Qusayr in Syria.
Many people in Shiite villages in the Qusayr region identify themselves as Lebanese: most families and clans living there have members on both sides of the border. For them, this border only exists on paper. The president of Hezbollah’s executive council, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, recently said that defending these people was “a national duty”.
For several days now, the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters have been fighting ferocious battles against Sunni jihadists in the region. Besides Hezbollah’s goal of protecting the local population, the area is strategically important for all the parties involved in the conflict. By occupying this region, the rebels would create a junction with the areas in northern Syria under their control, while the regime would lose the junction between the capital Damascus and its stronghold along the coastline.