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Weapons flowing from Iraqi Sunnis to Syria's rebels?

So says a fairly credible CNN report.

By Staff writer / April 2, 2012

Syrian rebels aim during a weapons training exercise outside Idlib, Syria, in February.

AP/File

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An intriguing, but hardly surprising, report from CNN in Iraq about Sunni tribal support for rebel fighters in Syria is a reminder of the ways in which Syria's civil war could spread, and of the strange bedfellows created by a year of upheaval and change in the region.

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The CNN report contains an interview with a man described as tribal leader of the Dulaim, one of the largest tribes in Iraq whose members also spread into Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Members of the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab tribe formed the backbone of the fight against the US occupation of Iraq, and the rise of the country's Shiite-dominated government during the height of the war in the country.

In the middle of the last decade, arms and fighters flowed across the Syrian border to aid Iraq's Sunni insurgents, inspired by a combination of tribal loyalty and religious piety. Now, the sheikh tells CNN, the Iraqi Dulaim are returning the favor.

"You've all seen what the Syrian government is doing. It's time for us to return our debt. It's our duty."

What debt? He said Syrian members of the Dulaim came to fight along with Iraqis against the US-led assaults on Fallujah in 2004. In April and November of that year, two separate attacks on the Sunni insurgent stronghold left about 90 coalition troops dead, most American, and over 1,500 residents and fighters dead.

The civilian casualties from the assault remain unclear, though the Iraq Body Count website estimated that 600 civilians died in the first assault in April on the ancient city along the Euphrates. Dozens of buildings in town were destroyed, and the vast majority of civilian inhabitants fled in late 2004, returning later.

The Dulaim leader told CNN that many of the skills developed in fighting the US are now being exported to Syria. He says expert IED makers have been sent to Syria (improvised explosive devices were the prime killer of US troops during the Iraq war), as well as 35 heavy machine guns, "hundreds" of AK-47 assault rifles, and about 30 Iraqi fighters. Most of that aid has flowed to Syria's Deir al-Zour Governorate, the eastern Syrian province that borders much of Iraq's Anbar province.

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