The bodies of two Iraqi Shiites killed fighting in neighbouring Syria alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces arrived home on Friday, providing more evidence that members of Iraq’s Shiite majority have joined the war.
The bodies, in coffins wrapped in Iraqi flags, were brought to the southern city of Basra by four-wheel-drive vehicle, an AFP correspondent reported.
People shouted: “We sacrifice for you, oh Zainab,” when the bodies arrived in the city’s Al-Andalus area, a reference to Sayida Zainab, granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed and a figure revered by Shiites.
Abboud Abbas al-Maliki said that his son Mohammed was killed fighting for the Sayid al-Shuhada Brigades at the Sayida Zainab shrine, near Damascus, and that the second man, Hassan Ali Farhoud, was killed alongside his son.
The bodies were brought to Iraq via Iran, he said.
Tribal chiefs, local officials, and police and army officers were present when the bodies arrived. Some fired pistols and Kalashnikov assault rifles into the air in a sign of mourning.
Assad’s forces have been battling rebels seeking his overthrow in a bloody civil war that has reportedly killed more than 94,000 people since March 2011.
Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while most of the rebels are Sunni Muslims.
The Sayid al-Shuhada Brigades are fighting alongside Assad’s forces in the area of the Sayida Zainab shrine, which was a major Shiite pilgrimage site before the civil war.
The funeral was held in Basra earlier this month of another Iraqi Shiite said to have been killed fighting for the Brigades at the shrine.
Foreign Sunni Muslim fighters have joined the ranks of the rebels in Syria, while Lebanese Shiites from the militant group Hezbollah have entered the conflict on the side of Assad’s regime.