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Najaf Battle Stopped Plot To Kill Shiite Leaders

From a disappointed Washington Post:

Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, the leader of a messianic Shiite cult called ‘Soldiers of Heaven,’ is seen on a poster found in Zarqa, outside Najaf, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007.

Iraqis Describe Plot To Kill Shiite Clerics

Cult Leader, Many Allies Died in Siege

By Joshua Partlow and Saad Sarhan
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; A01

BAGHDAD, Jan. 29 — A Shiite cult leader, who claimed to be a revered Muslim figure who vanished in the 10th century, was killed Sunday along with scores of fighters who were poised to attack a holy city in southern Iraq and assassinate the country’s Shiite religious leadership, Iraqi officials said Monday…

The discovery of a heavily armed Shiite-led cult, intent on attacking venerated Shiite symbols and leaders, startled Iraqi security officials who were already contending with rival religious factions battling for supremacy in the country.

"This is a new step in the annals of terrorism," Iraq’s minister of national security, Shirwan al-Wahli, said in an interview. Wahli said the fighters were led by a man known as the Judge of Heaven, who claimed to be a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali. Wahli said the man also declared himself the Mahdi, the reappearance of the 12th imam, or leader of the faithful, who many Shiites believe vanished in the 10th century and whose return will mark an era of redemption and peace.

The cult leader killed Sunday probably sought to assassinate conservative Shiite religious leaders because they likely would have disputed his claim to be the Mahdi, said John O. Voll, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, in a telephone interview.

The most recent comparable event occurred in 1979 in Saudi Arabia, Voll said, when a man claiming to be the Mahdi took over the holy sanctuary in Mecca. He and his followers were killed.

Wahli said the cult leader came from southern Iraq and had written a book laying out his "supernatural, unbelievable" ideas. Over a matter of months, he recruited the estimated 700 people, known as the Soldiers of Heaven, who lived in tents and huts on farmland near Zarqaa, about eight miles northeast of Najaf, Wahli said.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said the man’s name was Samer Abu Kamar, but other Iraqi officials assigned him different names.

Iraqi officials said Monday that they had not finished removing explosives or counting casualties from the siege, and their estimates of the number of fighters killed ranged from 200 to more than 400. The U.S. military, which provided backup ground troops along with helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft support, said more than 100 fighters were captured. Two U.S. soldiers died when their helicopter crashed during the operation.

Wahli said the structure of the group was Shiite, but it involved Sunni fighters and "based on the level of training, support and financing, it obviously has received support from outside Iraq."

About 10 Iraqi soldiers and police officers also died in the battle, the Reuters news service cited Wahli as saying…

Iraqi and U.S. military officials characterized the attack as a positive signal that the Iraqi security forces were able to lead a major battle and were willing to target extremists from the same Muslim sect that runs the central government. The U.S. military handed over primary control of Najaf province to Iraqi security forces last month…

"The aggressive manner in which the Iraqi soldiers performed north of [Najaf] going after the anti-Iraqi forces was impressive," said Col. Michael Garrett, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, in the statement…

"There were extensive preparations, they were highly trained, and they fought in an orderly way," said Wahli. "Their leader kept insisting through a loudspeaker that they keep fighting, despite repeated attempts by the Iraqi security forces to get them to stop." …

If this plot had succeeded there would have been real hell to pay. But it didn’t, thanks largely to the brave Iraqi troops who broke it up.

And yet most of the new reports have been about how shaky the Iraqi soldiers were.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, January 30th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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