Friday, November 03, 2006

Iran buying 'whole villages' of converts in Syria; Assad gives 'carte blanche'

WASHINGTON — Iran is moving in on Syria to the point of encouraging Alawis and Sunnis to convert to Shi'ite Islam.

Syrian opposition sources said the regime of President Bashar Assad has given Iran "carte blanche" in Syria. Unlike his late father, Bashar has allowed Iranian clerics to spread the Shi'ite religion in Syria.

Syrian demonstrators carrying photos of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

"Syrians have been observing over the last year a dangerous phenomena mostly witnessed by an alarming number of non-Shia turning to Khomeini-style Shia in return for financial rewards," the opposition Reform Party of Syria stated. "Whole villages and urban areas are adopting the Hizbullah model whereby clinics, schools and social services are provided by Iran in return for Syrians to convert to Shi'ism."

In August 2006, RPS stated, Iran opened two centers in the Syrian port of Latakia. The centers, which teach Farsi, have been converting Sunni Muslims.

"Assad is logically calculating that if Hizbullah, with its 15,000 fighters and a God-like following of its figurehead Sheik [Hassan] Nasrallah, can achieve with $100 million a year the military prowess it exhibited against Israel then why not turn all of Syria into a larger Hizbullah laboratory in the hope of attaining the same results?" the Syrian opposition party stated.

Sunnis comprise 70 percent of Syria. About 11 percent of the country consists of the ruling Alawite community, with the remainder Christians and Druze.

Opposition sources said the spread of Shia in Iran has angered many Sunnis, particularly those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Sunni clerics envision a backlash against Iran and its representatives.

"Many [Sunni clerics] have voiced the following logic: We see the next confrontation in the Middle East along the lines of Israel vs. Iran and we have no choice but to stand by Israel to protect our religion," RPS stated.

"This logic emanates from the fact that no Sunni Arab country has the military competence to stand-up to the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis and also because Israel, unlike Iran, is not interested in converting Sunni Muslims," it said.

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