Weapons confiscated by Iraqi policemen in Baghdad
Weapons confiscated by Iraqi policemen in Baghdad Reuters

The Syrian conflict is lining the pockets of arms smugglers in Iraq, a country beset by its own sectarian divisions.

Routes used to transport arms from Iraq to Syria have been around for years, but the Syrian opposition's demand for more weapons has revitalised trade.

Not long ago, weapons from Syria were making their way to Iraq to support the Sunni insurgency.

According to analysts and politicians, jihadists are increasingly joining the armed struggle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri confirmed that he supports the uprising.

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, a close ally of Hamas, has also called for Muslims to join in the struggle against Assad.

Iraqi government officials speaking to AP on condition of anonymity said Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters and other jihadists transport weapons from Baghdad to the nothern province of Nineveh in Syria.

The price of weapons in the provincial capital, Mosul, have risen rapidly in response to demand form the Syrian opposition.

With prices for a Kalashnikov rifle ranging from $100 to $1,500 (£63 to £950), smuggling is also proving to be an attractive business proposition for poor civilians.

The Syrian uprising, which is being led by a largely Sunni opposition, is calling for a regime to be overthrown that has a predominantly Shia Alawite power base.

Iraq is contending with a serious sectarian crisis that is threatening the unity of the coalition and officials fear that the conflict taking place in Syria is further fuelling sectarian divisions between Sunnis and Shias in the country.

Moreover, once Assad is gone, stronger ties between the Sunnis in Syria and Iraq could be viewed as a threat by the Shia factions in power in Iraq.

An investigation set up by the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council has accused the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, and his supporters of financing pro-Sunni attacks against Shia official's and pilgrims in the country.

In December, the government ordered the arrest of Hashemi on the grounds of similar accusations.

Hashemi has denied the charges, saying Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is leading a smear campaign against Sunni officials in a bid to consolidate his own power.