Hajj Hassan al-Abbadi, 54, never expected that his 22-year-old son, Abu Fatima wanted to fight in Syria. When he left home, al-Abbadi thought his son was going with friends to tour Iran, he said.
"I was shocked when one of his friends telephoned me to say, 'May you live long, and may Abu Fatima rest in peace,'" al-Abbadi told Mawtani.
Abu Fatima and another young Iraqi, Majtabi al-Hassany, had died in a clash with Syrian opposition fighters, al-Abbadi told Mawtani during a joint funeral service for the two men, whose bodies arrived on April 5th in Baghdad al-Jadeeda.
According to al-Abbadi, his son and al-Hassany had joined the Abu Fadhel al-Abbas Brigade, a group affiliated with the Iran-backed Hizbullah Brigades in Iraq.
"My son was a worker at a soap factory before he joined a group of extremist, uneducated friends," al-Abbadi said. "I often tried to persuade him to avoid their company but he refused."
"Today, he reaped what he sowed by leading himself to death," he said. "He did nothing for his country, nor did he save anyone. Rather, he fell a victim to a conflict of a country to which he did not belong."
Like Abu Fatima al-Abbadi and Majtabi al-Hassany, a number of young Iraqi men have reportedly headed to Syria to fight in that country's conflict, according to security officials and members of parliament.
On March 28th, April 5th and April 9th, Iraqi security officials at al-Waleed border outlet received the bodies of seven young Iraqis between 17 and 30 years old, "who were all killed in fighting inside Syria", said Col. Bassem Khalaf al-Obaidi, an officer with the third brigade of the second district of the border guard forces command.
"Their passports show they had officially left [Iraq] for Iran, not Syria, and there is a missing link between when they left for Iran and when their bodies arrived in Iraq from Syria," he said.
"Iraqi al-Qaeda members who are killed in Syria do not come back to us, as they are buried there," he said. "But the bodies of those fighting alongside the regime of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad are returned."
He said groups affiliated with Iran take Iraqi youths to Iran under the guise of religious tourism, where they are trained, given a reasonable amount of money, and then sent to Syria by air.
"We have information indicating there are training camps in Iran close to the Iraqi borders, devoted to graduating fighters to send to Syria," al-Obaidi said, including fighters belonging to the Abu Fadhel al-Abbas Brigade, which includes Iraqis, Lebanese and Syrians.
The Hizbullah Brigades in Iraq confirmed in a statement to Mawtani that fighters are being sent to Syria.
The Abu Fadhel al-Abbas Brigade "is devoted to the protection of religious shrines in Syria against" the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Jabhat al-Nusra, said Sheikh Watheq al-Battat, the leader of the Hizbullah brigades, of which the Abu Fadhel al-Abbas Brigade is a part.
"We believe that defending [the shrines] is a sacred jihadist duty from which we cannot shrink, and those groups opposed to the regime of President Assad should not come close to our shrines," al-Battat told Mawtani.
Al-Obaidi said Iraqi security forces try to block "anyone suspected of intending to fight in Syria, whether for the opposition or the regime -- part of the Iraqi policy of non-interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries."
"After this was discovered, Iraqi authorities stepped up security measures along the borders and at land border crossing outlets in particular," he said, adding that those groups started "sending fighters by air, rather than through the normal land route".
Last month, the Iraqi government said it would tighten search measures on Iranian planes and ground convoys traveling to Syria to ensure they contain no weapons. Syria-bound Iranian flights using Iraqi airspace will be monitored and suspect planes will be grounded and searched.
"The Iraqi government is trying hard to stop these death trips, whether for young Iraqis or others, which are undertaken by way of Iraq," al-Obaidi said.
Security reports that reached the office of the Iraqi parliament speaker "confirmed the death of a number of Iraqi youths in Syria, who were fighting on the side of the regime of President Bashar Assad", said Iraqi MP Ahmed al-Alwani.
Iran is directly involved in recruiting Iraqis and Lebanese to fight in Syria using the young men's need for money, and their religious fervor, which is driven by Iraqi religious leaders close to the Iranian regime, he said.
Security reports "point to night time flights between airports in al-Najaf, Tehran and Damascus to transport gunmen, who are being trained by al-Quds Force", he said, accusing Iran of seeking "to support the Bashar Assad regime in any way it can, but without sacrificing its own citizens, and instead sending Iraqis and Lebanese to fight there".
"We have evidence on this and are now working on preparing a complete file to present to the concerned authorities to put an end to it," he told Mawtani.
"Iran has become a source of concern" for all states in the region, al-Alwani said.
"Al-Qaeda is also playing a role in the recruitment process in all the region's countries, but al-Qaeda is a terrorist, non-official organisation, whereas what Iran is doing is an official effort," he said, calling on Iranian authorities to stop "exploiting the financial need and religious fervour of young men to thrust them into a big battle that would trigger a sectarian conflict in the entire region".
"Throughout the past two weeks, there have been repeated scenes of the bodies of young Iraqis killed in Syria, who were fighting under the Abu Fadhel al-Abbas Brigade, and this matter is now apparent to everyone," said Hamed al-Mutlaq, rapporteur of the Iraqi parliamentary security and defence committee.
Such recruitment "cannot serve the peace in Syria or Iraq", he told Mawtani. "The entire area will be in a serious predicament if the recruitment of young men, whose bodies we see brought to Iraq every now and then, continues."
He said many of those sent "to protect sacred shrines" are "residents of poor areas, squatters, illiterate people or others who, by the use of misguided teachings, were persuaded to go".
"Iran bears a large part of the responsibility for the blood that is being shed in Syria and Iraq, and it must realise that this behavior has placed it in the same niche as that of al-Qaeda," he said.
"The position of the religious authorities in Iraq on the Syrian crisis is clear: a political solution and non-interference in Syrian internal affairs," said Sheikh Ali al-Haidari, one of the clerics in charge of Baghdad's sacred al-Kadhimiyah shrines.
"As Shia religious leaders, representatives of the higher authorities in Iraq, we prohibit going to Syria to fight for this side or that," he told Mawtani. "We see Iran's moves in this respect as far from innocent -- in this, it is fuelling the sectarian war in Syria and stoking it in Iraq once again. It must stop using religious emotion for its political interests in the survival of the Assad regime."
"Those who go there and die cannot be considered martyrs because they went in the absence of a fatwa or an honest religious call for jihad," he said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi political analyst and director of the Baghdadi House for strategic studies, Taleb Naji al-Karkhi, told Mawtani he believes "Iran is trying to use Iraqi youths as fodder for the Syrian conflict, just as al-Qaeda is doing today: recruiting fighters and training them for political ends."
"The disappearance of the Assad regime would mean a weakening of Iran's and the Lebanese Hizbullah's role in the region," he said. "Thus, it resorts to such actions for fear the rise of a truly democratic regime in Syria would undermine this role."