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From Qusair to Yabrud: Shiite foreign fighters in Syria

Foreign Shiite fighters are rallying to the defense of the Syrian government in the civil war, with implications for the future of Syria and the strategic balance in the Middle East.
A view shows an empty Syrian Army post at the outskirt of the Syrian village of Rankus, near the Lebanese-Syrian borders, January 3, 2013. A Lebanese citizen who crossed into Syria through a mountainous frontier region said the army appeared to have withdrawn from several border posts and villages in the area. Rebels controlled a line of border towns and villages north of the capital Damascus, stretching about 40 km (25 miles) from Yabroud south to Rankus, said the man, who did not want to be named and visi

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — On Feb. 13, Ali Barakat uploaded a video to YouTube titled “Nasheed: Nasr bi-Yabrud,” or “Anthem: Victory in Yabrud.” Yabrud, a Syrian town about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Damascus, is the site of a battle between rebel groups and President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, who are supported by Shiite militant factions, including Hezbollah. The video shows footage of the conflict in Syria — advancing troops, firing tanks, a countryside in smoke — set to a pulsing pop song whose refrain promises, “I will decide your victory in Yabrud.” Barakat is a Lebanese singer and proud Hezbollah advocate. As of Feb. 18, the song has attracted more than 40,000 views and hundreds of comments pledging fealty to Hezbollah and wishing death upon its enemies.

This video — and thousands of other videos, photos, Facebook testimonials and websites like it — bear witness to a rapidly growing and little-understood phenomenon emerging in war-torn Syria. The Syrian revolution has ushered in the return of global Shiite jihad to the political arena, with an increasing number of Shiite militants arriving in Syria from around the world. Most of these fighters come from Iraq and Lebanon, with their numbers supplemented by recruits from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and some African countries. Scholars and journalists have not yet tackled the issue of Shiite militancy in depth. Most current research on the militants fighting in the Syrian revolution focuses on al-Qaeda and other non-Shiite organizations.

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