CAIRO Ñ Despite the encouragement of Sunni clerics, Muslim support
for the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is said to remain weak.
Arab analysts and Islamic sources said the number of Muslims who
responded to the Iraqi call for volunteers to fight coalition forces was
much smaller than those who flocked to Afghanistan in the early 1980s in the
war against the Soviet Union. They said about 5,000 Arabs have volunteered
to travel to Iraq over the last month and join Saddam's militias.
"The Muslim youth's enthusiasm to join the war in defense of Iraq has
been less than their enthusiasm to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia and
Palestine," Issam Al Aryan, a Muslim Brotherhood member and former Egyptian
parliamentarian, said. "The reason is that the Iraqi regime, through its
brutality and oppression, lost its credibility in the eyes of Muslims."
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The number of Arab foreign volunteers in Iraq is also much smaller than
those who traveled to Bosnia in the early 1990s to fight against Yugoslavia.
At least 10,000 Muslims from the Middle East were said to have been fighting
in Bosnia and later in Kosovo.
The analysts said the main reason for the weak response was the failure
of Iran to support the Saddam regime. They said Iran has blocked volunteers
from its country and neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan from entering
Al Aryan, in a column for the Saudi-owned Al Hayat daily, acknowledged
numerous religious rulings by Muslim clerics that approved suicide attacks
against British and U.S. troops in Iraq. But the former Egyptian deputy
suggested that the religious rulings were tepid and meant more to
assuage Arab domestic opinion, which opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
So far, a range of prominent Sunni clerics have supported suicide
missions against coalition forces. They include the Al Azhar seminary, the
leading Sunni institution, the mufti of Syria and the spiritual leader of
Brotherhood, Mohammed Mamoun Al Hudeibi.
"Whoever wants to go to Iraq to support the Iraqi people, the door is
open," Al Azhar spiritual leader Sheik Mohammed Tantawi said. "And I say the
door for holy war is open until the day of judgment."
Analysts said another factor that has dampened enthusiasm for the war in
Iraq is the absence of training facilities for Muslim volunteers. They said
that in the early 1980s Pakistan helped establish training camps for Muslim
volunteers who wanted to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. They also cited
massive subsidies by Saudi Arabia to facilitate the recruitment, transport
and training of the volunteers.
"A holy war by militias needs preparation, which means that training
camps will have to be made available for the volunteers in countries
neighboring Iraq, as was the case in Pakistan during the holy war in
Afghanistan against the Soviets," Al Aryan said. "Consequently, we are
facing a situation where emotions are highly charged and calls for holy war
are made, but cannot be carried out."