Iraqi officials: Extremist groups seek to fuel sectarian conflict in Syria

The dome of Imam al-Hadi shrine in Samarra was badly damaged in 2006 in an attack led by an al-Qaeda affiliate, according to Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security advisor at the time. [Dia Hamid/AFP]

The dome of Imam al-Hadi shrine in Samarra was badly damaged in 2006 in an attack led by an al-Qaeda affiliate, according to Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security advisor at the time. [Dia Hamid/AFP]

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Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) in Syria is aiming to divide communities and incite sectarian crises in the country in the same way al-Qaeda did in Iraq in past years, Iraqi officials and Sahwa leaders told Mawtani.

Attacks targeting religious shrines and attempts to restrict personal liberties in Syria recall the methods al-Qaeda and other armed militias used in Iraq to stoke sectarian prejudices, they said.

Earlier in May, JAN claimed responsibility for abducting the remains of the prophet's companion Hujr bin Adi from his shrine in Adra, near Damascus. The shrine was also desecrated.

By such attacks, JAN is repeating the history of al-Qaeda strikes in Iraq, said Hassan al-Sunaid, chairman of the Iraqi parliament's security and defence committee.

"This group is not honestly trying to set up a democratic system the Syrians dream of," he said. "Rather, it is trying to create a suitable environment for all extremists in the Arab region and the Middle East."

"Thus, it falls on the Syrian people to prevent that from happening, taking Iraq's experience with al-Qaeda as a lesson in every step they take," he told Mawtani.

"Refusing to collaborate with [JAN] and boycotting them would help to a large extent in preventing their expansion inside Syrian territory."

Armed extremist groups in Syria are trying to steer the conflict into sectarian fighting, said Iraqi MP Ahmed al-Alwani.

The desecration of the sacred shrine in Syria recalls the destruction of al-Askari shrine in Samarra, Iraq, in 2006, he said, which "pitched Iraqis into sectarian violence that went on for several years, and for which innocent children, women and men paid with their lives".

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security advisor at the time, said al-Qaeda-linked Iraqi Haitham al-Badri led the team that bombed the shrine.

In addition to JAN, "militias, financed and supported by Iran, are now forming the other side of terror" in Syria, al-Alwani said.

Hizbullah militias and the so-called Abu Fadhel al-Abbas Brigade, a group affiliated with the Hizbullah Brigades in Iraq, "are trying to drag the Syrian people into a sectarian crisis", he said. "As happened in Iraq, they carry the same ideas: killing, destruction, oppressing liberties and attempting to deprive the Syrian people of their rights."

Syrians facing a 'critical phase'

The Syrian people are facing a critical phase, in which they must dissociate themselves from "Jabhat al-Nusra, Hizbullah and every group that murders civilians, or attacks institutions or public figures they differ with in thought or belief", said Sheikh Ahmed Abu Reesha, leader of the Iraqi Sahwa Council.

Sahwa members plan to launch an independent website and use social media pages to inform people -- particularly Syrians -- about the crimes of al-Qaeda and armed militias in Iraq, he said, "so they will not be lured by al-Qaeda slogans or Hizbullah speeches, which aim to play on people's emotions".

The website will include pictures and video footage of attacks that took place in Iraq to show people how much they resemble those currently happening in Syria, he said.

"The hands that blew up the statue in Abu Nuwas Street in Baghdad are the same ones that demolished the statue of the poet Abu al-Alaa al-Maari in Syria," Abu Reesha said.

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    fisherwoman

    2013-5-17

    Hizbollah and al Qaeda are not related