For Iraqis, aid to rebels in Syria repays a debt

FALLUJA, Iraq (NY Times) — Not so long ago, Syrians worked to send weapons and fighters into Iraq to help Sunnis fighting a sectarian conflict; suddenly, it is the other way around.

A belated celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on the outskirts of this western Iraqi city on Saturday quickly took on the trappings of a rally for Syria’s rebels. Young boys waved the old green, black and white flag Syria adopted in the 1930s after declaring independence from the French. Others collected money to send aid and weapons to the fighters opposing President Bashar al-Assad’s government across the border.

“I wish I could go there with my gun and fight,” said Sheik Hamid al-Hais, a tribal leader interviewed at his compound in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

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French-British rivalry in the Middle East

Regional conflict

It is increasingly clear that Syria’s sectarian war is becoming the regional conflict that analysts have long feared. The rush of recent events — including bombings and assassinations in Damascus and Aleppo, and intensifying violence in northern Lebanon coming directly out of the sectarian hostilities in Syria — suggest that the Assad government now also faces antagonists across its borders.

Like Iraq and Afghanistan before it, analysts say, Syria is likely to become the training ground for a new era of international conflict, and jihadists are already signing up. This weekend, Al Qaeda’s ideological leadership and, more troublingly, the more mainstream Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, called for jihadists around the world to fight Mr. Assad’s government.

Poreus borders and tribal loyalties

(The National) – Deir Ezzor is crucial to Bashar Al Assad’s survival as president. It accounts for 70 per cent of Syria’s oil and gas output, and is part of the agricultural breadbasket that makes Syria self-sufficient in many foods.

The province borders Iraq and could become a major conduit for smuggled weapons if an armed insurgency continues to gain momentum. There have already been reports of weapons crossing near the porous Abu Kamal border gate and Syrian officials say they have been fighting “armed gangs” in the province for months.

Tribal links between Deir Ezzor’s 1.5 million Sunni Arab population and powerful, wealthy Sunni clans in Iraq and Saudi Arabia mean it could have a central role if sectarian tensions between Syria’s Sunni majority and ruling Alawite minority become a decisive factor. Such tribal links worked to help the anti-American insurgency in Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003.

Free Syria Army executes 10% of their prisoners, the other 90% join their ranks  [France24 video reports from Binnish, near border with Turkey – Oui]

"But I will not let myself be reduced to silence."