10/10/2005

Sunni-Shiite Religious War in Iraq Feared - Yahoo! News

ZARQA, Jordan - From hilly Zarqa and nearby Salt, from Cairo, Damascus and distant points, young Arab fighters have slipped across the desert and into
Iraq. If that shattered land now plunges into a religious war of Sunni against Shiite, will these ranks of foreign volunteers swell further?
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Some here in his hometown hope more will follow Iraq's most notorious volunteer, Abu Mussab Zarqawi. But many hope not.

"We're all Muslims. We shouldn't fight each other," townsman Abu Salah, 50, told a reporter as he rushed into Friday prayers recently at the drab storefront Mosque of Omar, wedged between shops in the shadows of a narrow downtown street.

A curbside perfume peddler listening in said many young men from Zarqa have gone over the border to join the anti-U.S. insurgency. "But if it's civil war, they won't get involved," said Ashraf Abu Abdullah. "Instead, we in Jordan should help resolve it."

Hundreds of men were shedding their shoes for the service. A Sunni sheik's sermon blared from the mosque loudspeaker, an earsplitting screed against belly dancing on satellite television. As the faithful spread prayer rugs on the sidewalk, a young man approached, wearing the full beard of a devout Muslim.

"Yes, lots have gone in already," the long-robed Abdullah told the visitor, giving only his first name. "If there's civil war, lots more will go."

Why? he was asked. It's simple, he said: "For God."

Having heard enough, a plainclothes security agent then stepped out of the crowd and ordered the reporter to cease questioning mosque-goers — one more symptom of official nervousness over the role Jordanians play next door in Iraq.

No one knows how many Jordanians and other foreigners have joined Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq or other elements of the Sunni Muslim insurgency. A Saudi Arabian intelligence report, cited by researchers of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, estimates 3,000 of some 30,000 fighters are non-Iraqis. Algerians, Syrians and Yemenis predominate, it says.

Their importance outweighs their numbers. Foreigners are believed responsible for most of Iraq's shocking suicide bombings, and are openly trying to provoke war between the country's Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The sectarian antagonisms may deepen with Iraq's Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.

An all-out civil war in Iraq could further inflame Sunni extremists elsewhere. More militants among Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi sect, who practice an austere and radical brand of Islam, might try to aid Iraq's minority Sunnis.

"I'd expect the Saudis to get a lot of petitions from Wahhabists demanding that they get out of the way if young men want to go to Iraq and fight," said W. Andrew Terrill, a Mideast expert at the U.S. Army War College.

Sunni-Shiite Religious War in Iraq Feared - Yahoo! News

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