An Iraqi Sunni tribal Sheikh has admitted to sending “hundreds of men and tens of thousands of dollars worth of arms and other aid” to Syria to support the rebellion against embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
The Sheikh, whose identity was kept confidential during an interview with The Daily Telegraph, said that half a dozen of his men have paid with their lives during the bloody civil conflict in Syria. He said they had been buried where they fell.
He also told the newspaper he has bought 100 Kalashnikovs, 50 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and a few sniper rifles.
“A hundred Kalashnikovs are not going to bring down Assad,” he admitted.
Although it is unclear of the exact time the Sheikh began sending forces across the Iraq-Syria border, the newspaper says that the tribal leader had announced his plans to revolt with activists “last year,” when the crackdown on anti-government protests turned deadly.
The United Nations puts the civilian death toll in Syria at 7,500, since security forces launched their crackdown on dissent after protests erupted in March 2011.
According to the report, the Sheikh had met with “a young Syrian revolutionary” last year who expressed his concern over the mounting civilian deaths.
“We want freedom and democracy, but they started killing us,” the activist told the Sheikh.
To that the Sheikh, a titular head of a group of linked tribes straddling the Syria-Iraq border, replied: “We will revolt with you.”
But reports earlier this month had suggested that Iraqi Sunni tribes would not want to interfere in the Syrian conflict, with their own experience of civil war still fresh.
Tribal leaders had told Reuters that arming Syrians against Assad would fuel the conflict and raise the number of civilian deaths even more.
“We do not accept that a single bullet reach the opposition from our sovereign land, from Iraq. The people and the authority have to solve it politically,” Sheikh Hamad Hnein said in his home in “Coolie Camp,” a village which still uses the name given to it by British troops at a nearby airbase who housed day laborers here in the 1930s.
Many of the tribes in Western Iraq share kinship ties with Sunni tribes across the border in Syria who oppose Assad.
“As simple people, we hope to do the impossible for the Syrian people. But this support, if it isn’t rational and logical, if it’s weapons and aggravation, then the people will pay the price, not the authorities,” Sheikh Khaled Khalifa also told Reuters.
Iraqi officials and arms dealers have reported an influx of weapons and Sunni Muslim insurgents into Syria across the Iraq border, but so far it has not seemed to be an organized and sustained flow.
Just a few years ago, this part of Iraq was caught in battle between al-Qaeda, who used the area as a launchpad for their insurgency, and Sunni tribal leaders who wanted to kick them out.
During the Syrian conflict, stories had begun circulating early in the uprising of “foreign fighters” heading for the uprising, The Daily Telegraph reported.
“It was claimed that the Sunni “badlands” of western Iraq — a haven for al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups during the Iraq war — were repaying the help offered to them by jihadi fighters against the Americans,” the newspaper stated.
James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, has cited evidence of al-Qaeda activity in Syria as well as Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who has also backed these claims and refused to support the Syrian uprising.
Maliki ultimately fears his Shiite-dominated government will come under threat from a Sunni takeover of its neighbor.
Meanwhile, figures vary over the numbers joining the fight against Assad’s regime. The sheikh who spoke anonymously estimated the total numbers in Syria as being in the hundreds, the newspaper stated.
(Written by Eman El-shenawi)