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Syrians told to prepare for fight with U.S.

by Tricky Dick Wednesday, Apr. 02, 2003 at 9:24 PM

It is considered certain that the fatwa was approved by Syria's authoritarian government, which has tightly controlled religious bodies since its ruthless suppression of a fundamentalist uprising in 1982.

Syrians told to prepare for fight with U.S.

Iraq war is just the beginning, leaders say

Juliette Terzieff, Chronicle Foreign Service
Monday, March 31, 2003

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

Damascus, Syria -- With U.S. officials accusing Syria
of hostile acts, the religious establishment here is
busy preparing Syrians to stand and fight any future
American military intervention against this hard-line
Arab state.

"We've all heard the threats against Syria from Donald
Rumsfeld, and we understand that anyone who extends a
hand of help to the Iraqi people will be a target of
that aggression," said Salah Kuftaro, general director
of the Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Foundation in Damascus.
The U.S. secretary of defense charged last week that
Syria is shipping military equipment to Iraq that
endangers the lives of allied forces.

Expressing views commonly held among Syrians, Kuftaro
said: "Iraq is just a beginning. This is a war against
Arab civilization that forces us to defend ourselves."


On Sunday, Kuftaro took pains to explain the meaning
behind a fatwa, or religious edict, issued Friday by
his father, Sheikh Ahmad, the chief mufti of this
predominantly Sunni Muslim nation for the past 38
years.

The edict, the first of its kind from such an
influential religious leader in the region, said
Muslim men and women were obliged to resist invading
forces using any and all means available to them,
including martyrdom operations.

Sheikh Ahmad also called for a boycott of goods
produced by the United States and its allies.

It is considered certain that the fatwa was approved
by Syria's authoritarian government, which has tightly
controlled religious bodies since its ruthless
suppression of a fundamentalist uprising in 1982.

Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa blasted Washington
Sunday, saying that Syria was rooting for a U.S.
defeat in Iraq. He told the parliament that "the U.S.
administration has led its people to a catastrophic
stage and put them in confrontation with the entire
international community."

'THE SAME BODY'

The younger Kuftaro, a well-dressed, clean-shaven man
who is gradually taking over the mantle of leadership
from his father, spoke of a pan-Islamic response to
the crisis: "Every Muslim in the world is part of the
same body. If you stick a needle into one part of the
body, all the organs will respond."

But he seemed to back away from the idea that Sunni
clerics or the regime were tacitly encouraging jihad
against the United States, saying, "The fatwa is not a
green light to people to start killing innocents."

He also sent encouragement to the peace movement in
the allied nations: "We applaud our brothers and
sisters in America and Great Britain for their
determined efforts to stop this illegal aggression."

An Iraqi suicide bomber struck a checkpoint in central
Iraq Saturday, killing four U.S. soldiers. On Sunday,
members of the radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad
claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that
injured 30 people at a mall in the Israeli town of
Netanya.

Neither incident is believed to be directly related to
the elder Kuftaro's pronouncement, but observers
increasingly worry that more and more young Muslim men
will lay down their lives in attacks on Western
targets. Iraqi officials say thousands of Arab
volunteers are flocking there to become martyrs.

"There are a lot of young, passionate men in this
region with no work and little hope, and they have
been waiting for some sign from religious leaders to
act," said a Western diplomat in Damascus. "The actual
wording of the fatwa will likely prove to be
irrelevant."

MORE ATTACKS TO COME

Iraqi officials promised Saturday that more attacks
are on the way, as did spokesmen in Lebanon for
Islamic Jihad.

"(We) announce the good news of the arrival of (our)
first martyrdom attackers in the heart of Baghdad --
to fulfill the holy duty of defending Arab and Muslim
land," the armed wing of Islamic Jihad said in a
statement Sunday.

Beyond the war itself, talk by U.S. officials about
installing a U.S. military governor in Iraq after the
regime's downfall and changing the political cast of
the Middle East also has inflamed passions.

Images of U.S. troops briefly raising the Stars and
Stripes in the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr caused
the Arab "street" to jump to the conclusion that the
United States plans a long term occupation of Iraq.
The rising civilian death toll in Iraq only reinforces
that perception.

"We are neither blind nor stupid," said Damascus
cabbie Mohammed Salim. "Whatever we felt for Saddam
before no longer matters. George Bush is now our
enemy."

Salim is among those convinced that Syria is next.
"This is not about Saddam. This is about domination
over all Arabs, and that is completely unacceptable,"
he said. "We will fight it."

Said Salah Kuftaro: "This is not a war of religions
but a war of colonization, and as such martyrdom
operations are a legitimate right of the Iraqis and
any other nation under attack. If the resistance of
the French against Hitler was justified, then why not
the resistance of the Iraqi people?"

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

Page W - 7
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