Why thousands of Iraqi fighters have poured into Syria to aid Assad

The light was low and the music loud in the “Sun of the Countryside” nightclub. Suddenly, the DJ lowered the drumbeat to a whisper as the lounge singer brought the mic close to his lips. Around him a trio of pouty women in elaborate hairdos and bright colored gowns undulated.

“Let Syria remain under Bashar Assad,” he intoned, repeating his phrase of the Syrian president like a mantra. The dancers nodded their head to the rhythm of his words.

As civil war rages in Syria , its outcome has become of vital importance to Iraqis who see the fight there as another front in the battle they face at home. It has pushed some factions of the country’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) — paramilitary groups embroiled in their own war against Islamic State — to fly supplies and thousands of men across the border to help battle the rebels fighting Assad.

“For us, the primary battle is in Syria. If it is not dealt with, then we will pay the price here,” said Aws Khafaji, head of the Iraqi subsidiary of the Abu Fadl Abbas Brigade, a Shiite faction that emerged in Syria in 2012 and whose membership is dominated by Iraqis.


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