NEW DELHI: Thousands of Muslims in India have signed up to defend Iraq’s holy shrines and, if need be, fight Sunni Islamist militants in the country where the civilian death toll from the Sunni insurgents’ advance is estimated at around 1,300.
Denouncing the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) as terrorists, Indian Muslims have filled out forms, complete with passport-size photographs and photocopied identification documents, to travel to Iraq.
Leaders of Anjuman E. Haideri, the religious organization spearheading the effort, said they might march to the Iraqi Embassy in New Delhi Friday to deliver the forms.
A Shiite sheikh is leading the effort and the volunteers want to protect shrines venerated by the sect in Iraq, but the group’s leaders say their cause is not sectarian.
Already at the group’s headquarters, located off Karbala Road in a leafy New Delhi neighborhood, picket signs of “It’s not Shias vs. Sunnis [it’s] Iraqis vs. Terrorists” have been prepared.
Whether the volunteers will be granted visas and allowed to travel to Iraq is not clear. Officials at the Iraqi embassy were not immediately available to comment.
Syed Bahadur Abbas Naqvi, the group’s secretary-general, said that since the Indian government did not plan to send forces to Iraq, the supporters had little choice but to go there themselves.
The group wants to defend shrines spread across Iraq in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Samarra and Kirkuk, but also stem the rise of crude oil prices that have shot up as a result of the crisis and could hit importer India hard.
Dilawar Abbas, one of the group’s members, said: “If [ISIS] is in Iraq right now, tomorrow they can be in India.”