BAGHDAD - Iraqi Shi'ite militias have begun openly acknowledging they are fighting in Syria, in what they see as a worthy battle against rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, especially his hardline Sunni opponents.
By recognizing their role in Syria's war, Iraqi Shi'ite fighters may gain recruitment momentum to help Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, in a war that is splitting the region along sectarian lines.
The war has already pulled in Sunni Islamists from outside Syria to join rebel ranks. Syria, for its part, has begun sending militias loyal to Assad for training at a base in Shi'ite Iran, Assad's key ally, fighters say.
In recent months, Iraqi Shi'ite militants have said volunteers are crossing into Syria to fight, often alongside Assad's troops, or to protect the Sayyida Zeinab shrine on the outskirts of Damascus, a particularly holy place for Shi'ites.