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Arabs volunteer to die for Iraq

By Samia Nakhoul

Click to enlarge photo

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Arabs enraged by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the suffering inflicted on fellow Muslims are volunteering to help fight U.S. and British troops and some even say they are ready to act as suicide bombers.

Worried about their relations with Washington, some Arab countries appear to want to try to stop their citizens travelling to Iraq, but Baghdad said on Sunday more than 4,000 Arabs ready to "martyr" themselves had already arrived.

An Iraqi army officer killed four U.S. soldiers in a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint in central Iraq on Saturday, the first such incident of the war that Iraq vowed to repeat -- and said foreign volunteers were flocking in to help.

"The Mujahideen who have come to Iraq have come from all Arab countries, without exception," Iraqi military spokesman Hazim al-Rawi said. "We are a believing people, a fighting people, Jihad (holy war) is a must, a duty ordained by God."

"This is a war for oil and Zionism. We want to help Iraqis, not Saddam," said Amr, a student volunteer from Cairo. "I know I might die. I don't want to kill people but I will if I have to, to protect people like those children with their heads missing."

Television footage of civilian casualties from Iraq's second city of Basra showed a child with its head blown off.

President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party is secular and has traditionally been hostile to Islamic fundamentalists, but has appealed to fellow Muslims in the fight against the United States and has long championed the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian group Islamic Jihad said on Sunday it had sent a first wave of suicide bombers to Baghdad to help Iraqis fight U.S. and British troops. "This is to fulfil the holy duty of defending Arab and Muslim land," it said in a statement.

Abu Imad al-Rifai, Islamic Jihad's Lebanon representative, said the would-be bombers had not come from Palestinian territories but from several countries and declined to say how many had gone to Iraq, but said more were on the way.

MUSLIM FURY

Chanting "suicide attacks lead to freedom", about 150,000 Moroccans poured through the streets of Rabat on Sunday in the latest protest in the Muslim world against the war in Iraq.

But for angry Muslims elsewhere, marching was not enough.

The Iraqi embassy in Algeria said last week that over 100 volunteers, fathers as well as young women, had offered to go into battle against U.S. and British troops.

In Lebanon an Iraqi embassy source said earlier this month more than 20 volunteers had already left for Iraq, and hundreds more had applied for visas.

Arab and Muslim volunteers, some from the United States and Europe, fought in Afghanistan against the U.S.-led military campaign to root out al Qaeda and oust their Taliban protectors after the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.

Al Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden has called on Muslims to unite to fight the West.

Abdul-Aziz al-Qassem, an outspoken Saudi cleric, said he expected Saudi nationals to try to head to Iraq to fight.

"I feel a great eagerness among young people to go to help Iraq because of anger at America when people see pictures of victims and destruction," he told Reuters. "This is a Muslim country and people want to go and help Muslims."

Qassem said that as the war intensified, some Muslim clerics might issue calls for Saudis to go to Iraq.

Some Saudi towns near the border with Iraq have been declared off bounds, sources said. But Qassem said Saudi nationals could easily slip through the porous border.

EGYPTIANS

Egyptians keen to fight said their government, an ally of Washington and a major recipient of U.S. aid, was trying to stop them going to Iraq by demanding a letter stating the purpose of their visit, but they said they would not be deterred.

"The Egyptian government is making it difficult to go to Iraq because it is scared of America and because it doesn't want people with military training to return here and fight the government," said Mahmoud, an engineer from Cairo heading a delegation of 50 men trying to get to Iraq via Syria.

Shabaan, a labourer, agreed: "We are Muslims, it is our duty to go and fight if someone tries to occupy Muslim land.

"If you ask any Egyptian in the street they will tell you they want to go and fight, we are all ready, there are millions of people who think the same way."

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