segunda-feira, 5 de fevereiro de 2007

Império vs Exército dos Céus

Não é uma metáfora, aconteceu… um exemplo que me captou a atenção para a complexidade do cenário iraquiano foi o das recentes notícias de uma brutal batalha (mais de 250 mortos e um helicóptero Americano abatido) travada perto de Najaf (no sul Xiita) entre as forças do governo fantoche e dos EUA e uma seita denominada “exército dos céus”. O confronto deu-se no domingo, dia 28 de Janeiro, e as informações do terreno são muito contraditórias. Abaixo envio uma compilação de artigos acerca do sucedido.

US 'victory' against cult leader was 'massacre'
by Patrick Cockburn; The Independent; February 01, 2007
There are growing suspicions in Iraq that the official story of the battle outside Najaf between a messianic Iraqi cult and the Iraqi security forces supported by the US, in which 263 people were killed and 210 wounded, is a fabrication. The heavy casualties may be evidence of an unpremeditated massacre.

A picture is beginning to emerge of a clash between an Iraqi Shia tribe on a pilgrimage to Najaf and an Iraqi army checkpoint that led the US to intervene with devastating effect. The involvement of Ahmed al-Hassani (also known as Abu Kamar), who believed himself to be the coming Mahdi, or Messiah, appears to have been accidental.

The story emerging on independent Iraqi websites and in Arabic newspapers is entirely different from the government's account of the battle with the so-called "Soldiers of Heaven", planning a raid on Najaf to kill Shia religious leaders.

The cult denied it was involved in the fighting, saying it was a peaceful movement. The incident reportedly began when a procession of 200 pilgrims was on its way, on foot, to celebrate Ashura in Najaf. They came from the Hawatim tribe, which lives between Najaf and Diwaniyah to the south, and arrived in the Zarga area, one mile from Najaf at about 6am on Sunday. Heading the procession was the chief of the tribe, Hajj Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, and his wife driving in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. When they reached an Iraqi army checkpoint it opened fire, killing Mr Hatemi, his wife and his driver, Jabar Ridha al-Hatemi. The tribe, fully armed because they were travelling at night, then assaulted the checkpoint to avenge their fallen chief.

Members of another tribe called Khaza'il living in Zarga tried to stop the fighting but they themselves came under fire. Meanwhile, the soldiers and police at the checkpoint called up their commanders saying they were under attack from al-Qai'da with advanced weapons. Reinforcements poured into the area and surrounded the Hawatim tribe in the nearby orchards. The tribesmen tried - in vain - to get their attackers to cease fire.

American helicopters then arrived and dropped leaflets saying: "To the terrorists, surrender before we bomb the area." The tribesmen went on firing and a US helicopter was hit and crashed killing two crewmen. The tribesmen say they do not know if they hit it or if it was brought down by friendly fire. The US aircraft launched an intense aerial bombardment in which 120 tribesmen and local residents were killed by 4am on Monday.

The messianic group led by Ahmad al-Hassani, which was already at odds with the Iraqi authorities in Najaf, was drawn into the fighting because it was based in Zarga and its presence provided a convenient excuse for what was in effect a massacre. The Hawatim and Khaza'il tribes are opposed to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa Party, who both control Najaf and make up the core of the Baghdad government.

This account cannot be substantiated and is drawn from the Healing Iraq website and the authoritative Baghdad daily Azzaman. But it would explain the disparity between the government casualties - less than 25 by one account - and the great number of their opponents killed and wounded. The Iraqi authorities have sealed the site and are not letting reporters talk to the wounded.

Sectarian killings across Iraq also marred the celebration of the Shia ritual of Ashura. A suicide bomber killed 23 worshippers and wounded 57 others in a Shia mosque in Balad Ruz. Not far away in Khanaqin, in Diyala, a bomb killed 13 people, including three women, and wounded 29 others. In east Baghdad mortar bombs killed 17 people.

Official Lies over Najaf Battle Exposed
by Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily; Inter Press Service; January 31, 2007

*NAJAF, Iraq, Jan 31 (IPS) - Iraqi government lies over the killing of hundreds of Shias in an attack on Sunday stand exposed by independent investigations carried out by IPS in Iraq.*

Conflicting reports had arisen earlier on how and why a huge battle broke out around the small village Zarqa, located just a few kilometres northeast of the Shia holy city Najaf, which is 90 km south of Baghdad.

One thing certain is that when the smoke cleared, more than 200 people lay dead after more than half a day of fighting Sunday Jan. 28. A U.S. helicopter was shot down, killing two soldiers. Twenty-five members of the Iraqi security force were also killed.

"We were going to conduct the usual ceremonies that we conduct every year when we were attacked by Iraqi soldiers," Jabbar al-Hatami, a leader of the al-Hatami Shia Arab tribe told IPS.

"We thought it was one of the usual mistakes of the Iraqi army killing civilians, so we advanced to explain to the soldiers that they killed five of us for no reason. But we were surprised by more gunfire from the soldiers."

The confrontation took place on the Shia holiday of Ashura which commemorates Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad and the most revered of Shia saints. Emotions run high at this time, and self-flagellation in public is the norm.

Many southern Shia Arabs do not follow Iranian-born cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They believe the religious leadership should be kept in the hands of Arab clerics. Al-Hatami and al-Khazaali are two major tribes that do not follow Sistani.

Tribal members from both believe the attack was launched by the central government of Baghdad to stifle growing Shia-Sunni unity in the area.

"Our convoy was close to the al-Hatami convoy on the way to Najaf when we heard the massive shooting, and so we ran to help them because our tribe and theirs are bound with a strong alliance," a 45-year-old man who asked to be referred to as Ahmed told IPS.

Ahmed, a member of the al-Khazali tribe said "our two tribes have a strong belief that Iranians are provoking sectarian war in Iraq which is against the belief of all Muslims, and so we announced an alliance with Sunni brothers against any sectarian violence in the country. That did not make our Iranian dominated government happy."

The fighting took place on the Diwaniya-Najaf road and spread into nearby date-palm plantations after pilgrims sought refuge there.

"American helicopters participated in the slaughter," Jassim Abbas, a farmer from the area told IPS. "They were soon there to kill those pilgrims without hesitation, but they were never there for helping Iraqis in anything they need. We just watched them getting killed group by group while trapped in those plantations."

Much of the killing was done by U.S. and British warplanes, eyewitnesses said.

Local authorities including the office of Najaf Governor Asaad Abu Khalil who is a member of the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) had claimed before the killings that a group of primarily foreign Sunni fighters with links to al-Qaeda had planned to disrupt the Ashura festival by attacking Shia pilgrims and senior ayatollahs in Najaf. The city is the principal seat of religious learning for Shias in Iraq.

Officials claimed that Iraqi security forces had obtained intelligence information from two detained men that had led the Iraqi Scorpion commando squad to prepare for an attack. The intelligence claimed obviously had little impact on how events unfolded.

Minister of Interior Jawad al-Bolani announced to reporters at 9 am Sunday morning that Najaf was being attacked by al-Qaeda. Immediately following this announcement the Ministry of National Security (MNS) announced that the dead were members of the Shia splinter extremist group Jund al-Sama (Army of Heaven) who were out to kill senior ayatollahs in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Iraq's national security advisor Muaffaq al-Rubaii said just 15 minutes after the MNS announcement that hundreds of Arab fighters had been killed, and that many had been arrested. Rubaii claimed there were Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians and Afghans.

But Governor Khalil's office backed away from its initial claims after the dead turned out to be local Shia Iraqis. Iraqi security officials continue to contradict their own statements. Most officials now say that the dead were Shia extremists supported by foreign powers.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has a pattern of announcing it is fighting terrorists, like its backers in Washington.
Many Iraqis in the south now accuse Baghdad of calling them terrorists simply because they refuse to collaborate with the Iranian dominated government.

(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering the Middle East for several years.)
(c)2007 Dahr Jamail.
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Bush Comment on Najaf Farcical; Hawatimah Tribe of Diwaniyah involved in Mahdist Uprising?
by Juan Cole; Informed Comment; February 02, 2007
Attempts are being made to knock down all kinds of stories about the Najaf uprising. Bush expressed happiness that the Iraqi Army (actually the Badr Corps fundamentalist Shiite militia) acquitted itself well against the rebels. But in fact, the Iraqi security forces were surrounded, cut off and nearly destroyed by heavily armed cultists--and had urgently to call in US troops, tanks and close air support.Bush told National Public Radio on Monday, "My first reaction on this report from the battlefield is that the Iraqis are beginning to show me something." So does the US military not tell Bush when their Iraqi allies get into deep trouble fighting a few hundred cultists and they have to go bail them out? Or was Bush briefed on the situation and he came out and told a bald faced lie to the public about what had happened?Either thing at a time the country is at war is truly horrifying.The radical Sunni Arab newspaper Mafkarat al-Islam and the moderate Arab nationalist newspaperal-Zaman weighed in with yet a fourth account of the fighting in Najaf on Sunday and Monday. In this one, an innocent poor little tribal group from Diwaniyah, the Hawatimah, got up a night-time convoy to the holy city of Najaf on their way to Karbala for Ashura. They happened to have raised anti-Iranian slogans and placards. (At night or early dawn? How could they be seen?) The evil Najaf government authorities, themselves proto-Iranian, suddenly and for no reason launched a massive attack on the Hawatimah, massacring them, as they approached Najaf. In this narrative, the Diwaniyah tribal group had nothing to do with any millenarian cult (al-Mahdawiyah), and were just killed at the instigation of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Badr Corps (pro-Iranian political and paramilitary groupings who basically run Najaf) because they dared object to Iranian influence in Iraq. It is even being alleged in al-Zaman that the Hawatimah were only implementing Bush administration strictures against Iranian machinations in Iraq.Note that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which controls Najaf, is Bush's major ally in Iraq even though it is close to Iran. Those fighting the Najaf government and Iraqi army forces were anti-Iranian. Rightwing bloggers seem confused on these points.It is, of course, possible that the Hawatimah got caught up in the fighting between the Mahdawiyah and the Badr Corps as they were proceeding toward Karbala. And the Najaf authorities did themselve no favors by trying to depict this Shiite group as al-Qaeda (a hyper-Sunni movement) or related to the old Baath Party.But the story in Mafkarat al-Islam makes no sense at all. If the Hawatimah convoy was heading to Karbala, why would it need to go into downtown Najaf? And what was a big convoy of armed tribesmen doing heading for downtown Najaf at night? At night? With Iraq's lack of security? The al-Zaman narrative even justifies them being heavily armed on the grounds that they were traveling at night. But doesn't explain why they were operating under cover of darkness in the first place. The traveling at night thing seems suspicious to me.In contrast, al-Hayat reports in Arabic that its stringers interviewed residents of Zarqa just north of Najaf who confirmed that the Mahdist sect leader, Diya' Kazim Abd al-Zahra, who also went by Ahmad Hassaan al-Yamaani, of Diwaniyah, 38, had indeed bought orchards there and settled there with hundreds of followers. They kept bringing in truckfuls of sand. When asked why, they said that they wanted to build barriers to mark of "their property."Hmm. The Mahdist leader was from Diwaniyah. The Hawatimah were from Diwaniyah and were coming in a big armed convoy at night toward Najaf. If we set aside the claims of this group of Hawatimah to be innocent victims and assume that they were Mahdists coming to help with a planned assault on Najaf (empty and unguarded while all the other Shiites converged on Karbala for Ashura), then it would explain a lot. Heavily armed tribesmen could easily have overwhelmed the Iraqi army, if they had RPGs and automatic weapons. They would have the element of surprise, esprit de corps, and probably some would have served in the old Baath army and might well have much more military experience than the green Iraqi army troops thrown against them. Tribesmen are formidable and often outfitted like private armies. And if they were coming to support the Mahdawiyah cultists in the orchards, that explains where the high-powered weapons came from. They so devastated the Iraqi forces that the US had to send troops, tanks and helicopters to rescue the latter.If we posit an involvement of the Hawatimah from Diwaniyah in the Mahdist uprising at Najaf, it raises the question as to whether they were the "rogue elements" that launched an uprising in Diwaniyah itself in late August, 2006. At the time, this violence was blamed on the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, but spokesmen for Muqtada at the time complained that "rogue elements" not under his control were stirring up trouble there. The Mahdawiyah was founded in 1999 by Abdul Zahra, a young civil engineer from Diwaniyah who had been a follower of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (Muqtada's father) but established a group that split off from the Sadrists.Admittedly, a lot of what I have written is speculative, and I'm open to being corrected by better evidence. (That is the fate of all historians but especially those who try to catch history on the run.) But I think it is pretty easy to resolve the contradictions among the major accounts by assuming that this was a Mahdist uprising aimed at taking Najaf, centered on the coming of the Promised One, to which a group of Hawatimah clans were coming to lend aid. The Hawatimah story of their innocence, as reported in the Sunni press, seems to me to have a lot of holes in it.
Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute and writes the blog "Informed Comment." This was his blog entry for Jan. 31, 2007.

Mystery Arises Over Identity of Militia Chief in Najaf Fight
BAGHDAD, Jan. 31 — New questions arose Wednesday about the sectarian identity of the man who led a renegade militia into battle last weekend against American and Iraqi troops near the holy city of Najaf.
At a news conference on Wednesday meant to clarify details of the skirmishes, which left at least 250 militants dead, Iraqi officials declared that Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri, identified as the leader of the militia, was actually a Sunni militant who had been able to take control of the militia group by masquerading as a Shiite. Gen. Qais Hamza al-Mamouri, chief of police for Babil Province, said that while Mr. Basri led a Shiite splinter group known as the “Soldiers of Heaven,” he was in fact an impostor from Zubair, a Sunni stronghold on the southwestern edge of Basra. He said the man’s real name was Ahmed Ismail Katte.
“He is a Wahhabi from a Sunni town,” General Hamza said, referring to the austere sect of radical Sunni Islam founded in Saudi Arabia. “His family is Sunni, and his family trained him to be Shiite.”
Two clerics from another renegade Shiite sect — loyal to Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi, a Basri rival — offered the same assessment privately, lingering after the news conference in Hilla, about 50 miles north of Najaf, to confirm that Mr. Basri was not in fact one of their own.
But their only evidence seemed to be a link to Zubair. And after days of widely varying assertions from Iraqi officials regarding the number of battle casualties and the nationalities and beliefs of the militants, the claims about Mr. Basri only added to confusion about who exactly the Americans and Iraqis had fought in a long battle, beginning Sunday.
The fight — less than two months after the American military handed control of this province to Iraqi forces — raised questions about the Iraqis’ ability to handle their security. Since many of the militants were believed to be Shiites, it also highlighted the risk of rifts within Iraq’s majority Shiite sect. Shiite leaders have sought to distance themselves from the estimated 1,000 fighters who were in bunkers 10 miles from Najaf, apparently with plans to assassinate Shiite leaders and occupy the city’s Imam Ali mosque.
On the first day of the battle, Asad Abu Ghalal, the governor of Najaf Province, said that the militants were Sunni extremists, Iraqis and foreigners dressed in Afghan and Pakistani garb. Several Shiite clerics then said that the group was a splinter Shiite sect loyal to Mr. Basri, who studied at Hawza, a revered Shiite seminary in Najaf but later broke with the established Shiite leadership. The reports that he was a Sunni, if true, raise the question of whether he studied at a Shiite seminary to establish Shiite credentials.
Some officials have said that Mr. Basri’s group was financed by Shiite Iran, yet the claims on Wednesday hinted at links to Al Qaeda, which is Sunni. Shiite politicians have also said that the group was infiltrated by former intelligence officers of Saddam Hussein. Zubair has been considered a center for loyalists and spies from the old government, which was dominated by Sunnis.
“I’m 100 percent sure that the group’s deputy” — Diyah Abdul Zahraa Khadom, also known as Ahmed Hassan al-Yamani — “was a security officer from the old regime,” Jalal Adin al-Sagheer, a Shiite member of Parliament, said Wednesday. “And he was killed in this operation.”
“Now you can clearly see this operation was very strong and determined to destroy the new Shiite-led government,” he added.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki continued to provide lukewarm support for the White House plan to add troops for a new Baghdad security plan. “We believe that the existing number, with a slight addition, will do the job,” he said, in an interview with CNN. “But if there seems to be more need, we will ask for more troops.”
The United States military reported the deaths of four American service members. Two soldiers and a marine were killed Tuesday in Anbar Province. Another soldier died Wednesday from combat in Salahuddin Province.
In Baghdad, 10 bodies were found, handcuffed and blindfolded, an Interior Ministry official said. About 10 mortars fell on the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya, killing four people and wounding 20. At least four other people were killed in the capital by shootings and bombs.
Qais Mizher and Ali Adeeb contributed reporting.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

So What Happened in Najaf? Zeyad, Healing Iraq January 30, 2007 The Sadrist account: Nahrain Net, a Sadrist website, quotes anonymous sources from the Hawza and security officials in Najaf that an armed group named "Jund Al-Samaa’" (the Army of Heaven, the Soldiers of Heaven, the Soldiers of the Skies) were amassing in palm groves at Zarga, north of Kufa, and that they were plotting to take supreme Shi’ite clerics in Najaf, including Sistani, Ishaq Al-Fayyadh, Ya’qubi, Mohammed Al-Hakim, and Muqtada Al-Sadr, as hostages in order to use as a bargain to control the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. Allegedly, a list was found with the group that contained names of senior clerics in Najaf and Karbala, and that Muqtada was number two on the list after Sistani. They added that the group was coordinating with Ba’athists and Al-Qaeda and that they have received logistic and monetary backing from Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi Health Minister’s account: Health Minister Ali Al-Shammari (Sadrist Bloc) revealed that over 123 militants were wounded in the battle and that they were being treated in Najaf’s hospitals. Militants killed were "in the hundreds," most of who are of unknown identities. The group’s military commander was killed in the battle and he was identified as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, a man from Hilla. Ahmed Du’aibil, Media Spokesman of the Najaf Governorate (SCIRI): 250 – 300 militants were killed in the clashes at Zarga. "16 terrorists" were detained, including two Egyptians and a Saudi. The Iraqi News Agency quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source that the group’s leader is Ahmed Kadhim Al-Gar’awi Al-Basri (Ahmed Hassan Al-Basri), born 1969, and was a Hawza student of Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr (Muqtada’s father) in Najaf. He left to Iran right before the war and declared himself the vanguard of Imam Al-Mahdi, leading to his imprisonment by Iranian authorities for heresy. He was released and returned to Iraq after the war and he started preaching in Basrah, where he also put under house arrest by Iraqi authorities. His schools and husseiniyas in major cities in the south were closed and vandalised by Iraqi security forces and the Scorpion Brigade of the Interior Ministry Commandos detained several of his followers in Najaf last week. The source added that 140 militants were captured in the clashes yesterday. SCIRI’s Buratha News Agency quotes a source in the Dhu Al-Fiqar Brigade, which fought the militants yesterday, saying over 1,000 "terrorists" were killed and 50 detained, with 200 "brainwashed women and children." He added that the area was full of corpses and a large amount of ammunition and weapons was confiscated. Deputy Governor of Najaf Abdul Hussein Abtan (SCIRI), as quoted on Al-Iraqiya TV: "Hundreds of terrorists have been killed, and hundreds detained. Their brainwashed families were also at the location and we are moving them to another place and clearing the killed and prisoners to complete investigations. Our information indicates that foreign groups funded this operation, but they used false slogans and recruited naive people in order to destroy holy Najaf and to kill the great clerics as a starting point and then to move to control other governorates. That is what their slain leader, who called himself the Imam Al-Mahdi, told them." The deputy governor first said the group’s leader was a Lebanese national, but later he identified him as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, from Hilla. It seems there were no journalists to point out this contradiction to him in the room when he made this statement. Najaf Governor As’ad Abu Gilel (SCIRI): The group was led by a man named Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib. Their planned attack was meant to destroy the Shiite community, kill the grand ayatollahs, destroy the convoys and occupy the holy shrine. He identified the group as "Shi’ite in its exterior, but not in its core." Another unnamed captain in the Iraqi Army, quoted by Buratha News Agency: "The leader who was killed claimed he was the Mahdi. He is in his forties and is from Diwaniya. Many Arab fighters were captured including Lebanese, Egyptians and Sudanese." Major General Othman Al-Ghanimi, Iraqi commander in charge of Najaf quoted by AP: Members of the group, including women and children, planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill as many leading clerics as possible. The group’s leader, wearing jeans, a coat and a hat and carrying two pistols was among those who were killed in the battle. Saddam’s Al-Quds Army, a people’s militia established in the late 1990s, once used the same area where the group was based. Ahmed Al-Fatlawi (SCIRI), member of Najaf Governorate Council, quoted by AP: "We have information from our intelligence sources that indicated the leader of this group had links with the former regime elements since 1993. Some of the gunmen brought their families with them in order to make it easier to enter the city. The women have been detained." Colonel Ali Jiraiw, spokesman for the Najaf police, quoted by the Guardian: "The group which calls itself Army of Heaven had established itself two years ago in farms near Kufa. But it ran into trouble with the Jaish al-Mahdi militia loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has a base in Kufa and who regards the group as heretical. The group is led by Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Al-Yamani, and its followers believe in the imminent return of the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure whose coming heralds the dawn of a kingdom of peace and justice." So let me get this straight. The Iraqi officials can't agree on who they were fighting or who their leader was, so how did they figure out all these colourful details about "brainwashed women and children" and the intentions of killing all clerics or bombing the shrine or taking over the shrine, etc.? Also, alleged eyewitnesses said they saw fighters in "Afghan robes." What is an Afghan robe, anyway? I doubt someone from Kufa would know an Afghan robe when they see it. Also, why doesn't the government produce the evidence that foreign fighters have been captured? SCIRI’s website posted this photo of the group’s leader, and another of him lying dead in the battlefield. Another story that is surfacing on several Iraqi message boards goes like this: A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe, which inhabits the area between Najaf and Diwaniya, arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, "To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area." The tribesmen continued to fire in all directions and in the air, but they said they didn’t know if the helicopter crash was a result of their fire or friendly fire from the attackers. By 4 a.m., over 120 tribesmen as well as residents of the area had been killed in the U.S. aerial bombardment. The Islam Memo website says an American NBC cameraman and an Iraqi journalist named Aws Al-Khafaji were trying to reach the area to film the battlefield but were prevented by a security force from the Najaf governor’s office to leave their hotel in Najaf. The website also quotes Sheikh Khalaf Abdul Hussein Al-Khaz’ali, who said the government killed 33 members of his tribe and that they described them as Al-Qaeda. A delegation from the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are allegedly negotiating with the Najaf governor to retrieve the corpses of 70 tribesmen, including women and children, still kept at the Najaf Hospital. The delegation threatened with "grave consequences" if the corpses are not delivered to the tribes within 24 hours. A source from Diwaniya said that 57 bodies have reached the city and were buried in the Hawatim tribe cemetery, west of the city, Monday afternoon. The website published a list of the names of those who were killed from the tribe. Both the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are anti-SCIRI and anti-Da’wa. Last July, they threatened to kill any of their members who join the Mahdi Army or the Badr Organization. SCIRI, on the other hand, accuses the tribes of being Ba’athists and Saddam loyalists. And, by the way, the Western media is confusing Ahmed Al-Hassan with Mahmoud Al-Hassani Al-Sarkhi, another Sadrist drop-out. They are not the same person, but they lead similar movements. Here is the background of Al-Sarkhi.

Fighters for Shiite Messiah Clash with Najaf Security, 250 Dead Juan Cole, Informed Comment January 28, 2006 Well, a big battle took place at the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Saturday night into Sunday, but there are several contradictory narratives about its significance. Iraqi authorities, claimed that the Iraqi army killed a lot of the militants (250) but only took 25 casualties itself. The Shiite governor of Najaf implied that the guerrillas were Sunni Arabs and had several foreign Sunni fundamentalist fighters ("Afghans") among them. He said that they based themselves in an orchard recently purchased by Baathists. Other sources said that the militants were Shiites. I'd take the claim of numbers killed with a large grain of salt, though the Iraqi forces did have US close air support. I infer that the guerrillas shot down one US helicopter. That's one narrative. Here is another. The pan-Arab London daily al-Hayat reported that the militiamen were followers of Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. It says one of his followers asserted that the fighting erupted when American and Iraqi troops attempted to arrest al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. The latter tried last summer to take over the shrine of al-Husayn in Karbala. It may have been feared that he would take advantage of the chaos of the Muharram pilgrimage season to make a play for power in Najaf. Al-Hayat says that although As'ad Abu Kalil, governor of Najaf, said the attackers were Sunnis, the director of the information center in Najaf, Ahmad Abdul Husayn Du'aybil, contradicted him. The latter said, "At dawn, today Sunday, violent clashes took place between security forces and an armed militia calling itself "the Army of Heaven," which claims that the Imam Mahdi will soon appear." He added, "The goal of this militia is the killing of clergymen and the grand ayatollahs." The group follows Ayatollah Ahmad al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, called al-Yamani, who is said by his followers to be in direct touch with the Hidden Imam or promised one. In the fighting 10 Iraqi security police were killed and 17 wounded. One official said that the death toll among the militants was not known. Al-Hayat, however, quotes a member of the group, Abu al-Hasan, who is said to be close to al-Hasani al-Sarkhi. He said that the rumors that the group intended to conduct a campaign of assassinations inside Najaf was "devoid of truth." It says that an attempt had been made to arrest al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, who was present in the al-Zarkah, an agricultural area east of Najaf, which caused his followers to revolt. Al-Hasani al-Sarkhi's followers had earlier burned down the Iranian consulates at Basra and Karbala, and demonstrated in Hilla and elsewhere. Sawt al-Iraq in Arabic says that a number of al-Hasani al-Sarkhi's aides were arrested early last week as part of the current crackdown in preparation for the American surge. Then there is yet a third narrative. Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that on Saturday night into Sunday morning, a Shiite millenarian militia calling itself "The Army of Heaven" (Jund al-Sama') attempted to move south from the Zarqa orchards just north of Najaf to assassinate the four grand ayatollahs of Najaf-- Ali Sistani, Bashir Najafi, Muhammad Ishaq Fayyad and Muhammad Said al-Hakim. The holy city of Najaf, where Ali is buried, is the seat of Shiite religious authority in Iraq. The militiamen, devotees of an obscure religious leader named Ahmad Hassaani, are said to have infiltrated the area from Hillah, Kut and Amara. The well-armed, black-clad militiamen were heard to call upon the Mahdi, the awaited Promised One of the Muslims, to return on that night. This group is not the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, which bears no enmity toward the grand ayatollahs, but rather a separate and different sect altogether. Shiite clerics told the NYT that the sect is the Mahdawiya of Ahmad al-Basri (possibly Ahmad Hassaani al-Basri?). Although the NYT was told that this millenarian sect (it believes that the end of time is around the corner) was supported by Saddam, you can't pay any attention to that sort of allegation when it comes to Iraqi sectarianism. It seems most likely that this was Shiite on Shiite violence, with millenarian cultists making an attempt to march on Najaf during the chaos of the ritual season of Muharram. But who knows? It is also possible that the orthodox Shiites in control of Najaf hate the heretic millenarians and the threat of the latter was exaggerated. Darned if I know. The reports of the Army of Heaven being so well armed make no sense if it was a ragtag millenarian band. But those reports could be exaggerations, too. It seems most likely that the Mahdawiya is the sect of Sheikh Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi and that al-Basri was the founder of the sect. That would be a way of reconciling al-Zaman with al-Hayat. The dangers of Shiite on Shiite violence in Iraq are substantial, as this episode demonstrated. Ironically, given Bush's mantra about Iran, the trouble makers here are a sect that absolutely hates Iran. According to Reuters, Sunday would have been a horror show in Iraq even if you hadn't had the Najaf clashes. Three US troops were killed Sunday, and more were announced killed. Police found 29 bodies in the capital, victims of sectarian violence. Over 20 people died in bombings in the capital, including a mortar strike on a girl's school. More deadly bombings in the northern oil city of Kirkuk. NYT strikes me as being a little breathless about Iranian plans for investment and development aid in Iraq. These plans were negotiated by two Iraqi prime ministers, Ibrahim Jaafari and Nuri al-Maliki on trips to Iran where wreaths were laid on the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. They were reported on at length at the time of those visits, and there is nothing new here. As for American officials, when asked about such plans in the past, they said that they hoped Iraq would have good relations with all its neighbors and understood that there would be economic relations with Iran. I can't see what the big crisis is. By the way, the Iranians are building an airport at Najaf to bring in the Shiite pilgrims, too.

Missteps by Iraqi Forces in Battle Raise Questions MARC SANTORA BAGHDAD, Jan. 29 —Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday. They said American ground troops — and not just air support as reported Sunday — were mobilized to help the Iraqi soldiers, who appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia, which calls itself the Soldiers of Heaven and had amassed hundreds of heavily armed fighters. Iraqi government officials said the group apparently was preparing to storm Najaf, a holy city dear to Shiite Islam, occupy the sacred Imam Ali mosque and assassinate the religious hierarchy there, including the revered leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during a Shiite holiday when many pilgrims visit. “This group had more capabilities than the government,” said Abdul Hussein Abtan, the deputy governor of Najaf Province, at a news conference. Only a month ago, in an elaborate handover ceremony, the American command transferred security authority over Najaf to the Iraqis. The Americans said at the time that they would remain available to assist the Iraqis in the event of a crisis. The Iraqis and Americans eventually prevailed in the battle. But the Iraqi security forces’ miscalculations about the group’s strength and intentions raised troubling questions about their ability to recognize and deal with a threat. The battle also brought into focus the reality that some of the power struggles in Iraq are among Shiites, not just between Shiites and Sunnis. The Soldiers of Heaven is considered to be at least partly or wholly run by Shiites. Among the troubling questions raised is how hundreds of armed men were able to set up such an elaborate encampment, which Iraqi officials said included tunnels, trenches and a series of blockades, only 10 miles northeast of Najaf. After the fight was over, Iraqi officials said they discovered at least two antiaircraft weapons as well as 40 heavy machine guns. The government knew that the Soldiers of Heaven had set up camp in the area, but officials said they thought they were there to worship together. Mr. Abtan said the Iraqi forces later decided to move on the group because an informer said Sunday was “zero hour” and the government noticed more men streaming into the area. “If this operation had succeeded, it would have been a chance of a lifetime for them,” he said. The Iraqis initially sent a battalion from their Eighth Army Division, along with police forces, but they were quickly overwhelmed, according to an Iraqi commander at the scene. The battalion began to retreat but was soon surrounded and pinned down, and had to call in American air support to keep the enemy from overrunning its position. American Apache attack helicopters and F-16s, as well as British fighter jets, flew low over the farms where the enemy had set up its encampments and attacked, dropping 500-pound bombs on the encampments. The Iraqi forces were still unable to advance, and they called in support from both an elite Iraqi unit known as the Scorpion Brigade, which is based to the north in Hilla, and from American ground troops. Around noon, elements of the American Fourth Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division were dispatched from near Baghdad. After an American helicopter was shot down at 1:30 p.m., some of those soldiers helped secure the crash site and recover the bodies of the two American soldiers killed in the crash, according to a statement by the American military. Others joined in the effort to combat the renegade militia, the statement said. A commander in the Scorpion Brigade said the combined American and Iraqi forces killed 470 people. He also said some of the dead Soldiers of Heaven fighters were found bound together at the ankles and suggested that the chains had probably been used to keep people from fleeing and to keep them moving as one unified group. Government estimates of the number of fighters killed ranged from 120 to 400. An Iraqi military official said at least 25 security force members were killed in the battle. Iraqi officials said Monday that they had killed the leader of the militia in the weekend fighting, identifying him as a man who went by the name Ahmed Hassan al-Yamani, but whose real name was Diyah Abdul Zahraa Khadom. However, a Shiite cleric who has had contact with the group said the real leader was Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri. The cleric said he believed that Mr. Basri was alive and probably hiding near Karbala. Mr. Basri, while unknown to the average Iraqi, is relatively well known among the clerical hierarchy in Najaf, according to several clerics interviewed for this article. The clerics who were interviewed said that Mr. Basri was a student of Moktada al-Sadr’s father, a revered cleric, and that Mr. Basri and the senior Mr. Sadr had a split in the early 1990s. The governor of Najaf, Asad Abu Ghalal, in an interview on national television, said government intelligence officials told him that the Soldiers of Heaven have had ties with the government of Saddam Hussein as far back as 1993. He also said that the farmland where the militia had set up camp had been bought by a former Hussein loyalist, although he said that did not initially raise concerns about the group’s intentions. Government officials were quick to point the finger at Al Qaeda, alleging that it provided financing for the group. But numerous Shiite clerics, seeking anonymity for fear of contradicting the government, said it was highly unlikely that Al Qaeda, a Sunni group, would link up with a Shiite messianic group. Officials in the Shiite-dominated government are loath to detail internal rivalries in their community, but in the past three years there have been several clashes between rival factions, and the deaths of two senior Shiite ayatollahs have been linked to internal struggles for dominance. The often bloody internal rivalries have been overshadowed by the more overt Sunni-Shiite war being fought daily in Baghdad and in other mixed cities.

Najaf 'under control' after Iraqi forces defeat mystery fighters Michael Howard in Sulaymaniya Tuesday January 30, 2007 The Guardian The Iraqi government yesterday declared an end to major combat operations near Najaf, where US and Iraqi forces had fought hundreds of fighters from an obscure Islamic splinter group suspected of planning attacks on the Shia clerical establishment during today's Ashura celebrations in nearby Kerbala. Defence ministry officials said 200 militants, including the cult's leader, had been killed in the fighting and 60 were wounded. The site of the battle, in an agricultural area north of Najaf, was said to be under the control of Iraqi security forces by early yesterday morning. However, estimates for the number of dead and injured varied widely, as did information about the motives and membership of the previously unknown group, known as the Army of Heaven, which believes in the return of the Mahdi, a 9th century imam whose reappearance will signal a new world of justice and peace. Muhammad al Askari, the defence ministry spokesman, said: "The victorious Iraqi forces, with US help, have smashed the group of terrorists who were planning to disrupt the holy day of Ashura." He said 120 fighters had been arrested and caches of weapons and documents were seized. The US military were largely quiet about the operation, during which two American soldiers lost their lives when a helicopter was brought down. The US handed responsibility for security in Najaf province to Iraqi forces last month. But there was growing concern yesterday at the apparent ease with which the group's followers had managed to dig themselves in and build up a cache of heavy weapons under the noses of Iraqi security forces - in a part of the country where security is relatively good. Police commanders in Najaf who launched the operation against the group at dawn on Sunday said they had been surprised by the ferocity and firepower they encountered. Initially outgunned, they called in US air support that included Apache attack helicopters and F-16 jets. "We found bunkers full of mortars and automatic weapons and anti-aircraft rockets," a police spokesman said. On a visit to Najaf, Iraq's national security minister, Sherwan al Waeli, said the final death toll was still being calculated. He said the cult's leader, named as Mahdi bin Ali bin Abi Taleb, believed to be a 40-year-old from the Shia city of Diwaniya, was killed.,,2001655,00.html

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