Published — Monday 16 December 2013
Last update 15 December 2013 11:55 pm
BAGHDAD: A leading Shiite cleric widely followed by Iraqi militants has issued the first public religious edict permitting Shiites to fight in Syria’s civil war alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The fatwa by Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim Al-Haeri, one of the mentors of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, comes as thousands of Shiite fighters mostly from Iraq and Lebanon play a major role in the battles.
The call likely will increase the sectarian tones of the war, which pits Sunni rebels against members of Assad’s Alawite sect.
Al-Haeri is based in Qom, Iran’s religious capital. Among his followers are many fighters with the feared Shiite militia, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, or Band of the Righteous, an Iranian-backed group that repeatedly attacked US forces in Iraq and says it is sending fighters to Syria.
That militia is headed by white-turbaned Shiite cleric Qais Al-Khazali, who spent years in US detention but was released after he was handed over to the Iraqi government.
Asked by a follower whether it is legitimate to travel to Syria to fight, Al-Haeri replied: “The battle in Syria ... is a battle of infidels against Islam and Islam should be defended. Fighting in Syria is legitimate and those who die are martyrs,” Al-Haeri said in comments posted on his official website.
An official confirmed that the comments are authentic.