August 4, 2012

Iranians kidnapped in Damascus - a mistake

Sitt Zaynab Mosque - مسجد السيدة زينب

A bus carrying 48 Iranians was seized by gunmen today in a suburb of Damascus. The Iranians were pilgrims heading to visit a Shi'a shrine just south of the city - the Sitt Zaynab mosque.

Sitt Zaynab, literally Lady Zaynab, refers to Zaynab bint 'Ali, the daughter of 'Ali and Fatimah (daughter of the prophet Muhammad) making her the granddaughter of the prophet, daughter of the first Shi'a imam and brother of Hasan and Husayn, the second and third imams. She is buried in the mosque - it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Syria.

The shrine is visited by thousands of Shi'a Muslims each month, including many Iranians. Because Syria and Iran are allies, Syria remains a popular destination for Iranian tourists. They can be seen at many of the tourist destinations in Syria and Lebanon. A must-see for them is the Sitt Zaynab mosque. The mosque has been a target for Sunni fundamentalists in the past - see my article Syria - Car bomb attack near Shi'a shrine about an attack in September 2008.

Although most of the fighters of the Syrian opposition are Sunni - a factor of the demographics of Syria - and some are Islamists with a religious political agenda, I find it surprising that the opposition would kidnap a busload of Iranian tourists. Granted, Iran is a close ally of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad - Iran has provided weapons and deployed members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to assist the Syrian military and security services, as well as buying Syrian oil to bolster the country's finances. I would think that the opposition has enough on its plate right now trying to fight the Syrian military.

Now that the opposition has the Iranians, what do they plan to do with them? Do they honestly believe that either the Iranian or Syrian regimes are going to change their behavior because of 48 Iranian pilgrims? If so, they have made a huge mistake in judgement. Both regimes have demonstrated a callous disregard for their own people - look at the Syrian air force attacks on Aleppo, Homs and even Damascus.

My analysis: this is a wasted effort on the part of the opposition. It is a diversion they do not need and will do nothing to further their cause.