Iraqi Army battles Shia cult, Sunni insurgents in Najaf

Iraqi soldiers take positions outside Najaf. (AP Photo). Click photo to view.

Iraqi led operation results in over 300 deaths of enemy fighters

Iraqi Security Forces, backed by American tanks and air support, attacked what appears to be a mixed group of Sunni insurgents and a Shia end-times cult known as the "Soldiers of Heaven." The battle occurred in the suburbs and orchards north of Najaf. "Police Colonel Ali Nomas said 250 militants had been killed," reported Reuters. "The political source said up to 1,000 had been involved. An army source said they wore camouflage and appeared well organised." They were also believed to have possessed anti-arircraft missiles.

Later counts put the number of enemy fighters killed at up to 350, with a minimal loss to Iraqi and U.S. troops. Three Iraqi soldiers were killed and 21 wounded, five police were killed and 19 wounded, and two U.S. soldiers were killed when their helicopter was downed. The leader of the Shia cult, Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni "who claimed to be the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam," was killed during the fighting, which lasted over 24 hours. The Iraqi Army fought what appears to be a well armed, well trained and organized force on its own turf, and deal the enemy serious casualties, while beheading the leadership.

Early reports indicated there were both Sunni terrorists and Shia cultist involved in the fighting. "Governor Asaad Abu Gilel as saying that the militants, who included foreign fighters, had arrived in the city disguised as pilgrims in recent days and based themselves in the orchards, which he said had been bought three or four months ago by supporters of Saddam Hussain."

An American military intelligence informed us the early indications are that the Omar Brigade, al Qaeda in Iraq's unit designated to slaughter Shia, was involved in the fighting. al Qaeda in Iraq would have a vested interest in causing mass casualties of Shia during the pilgrimage to Karbala for the festival of Ashura. Over 11,000 Iraqi Army and police have been deployed to Karbala to provide security for the event.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reports "one possibility is that the men belong to an al Qaeda-affiliated group. If so, they could have been in the vicinity of the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf to launch attacks during celebrations of the Ashura festival... another possibility is that the U.S. and Iraqi troops were fighting a new, messianic Shi'ite militia called the Army of Heaven."

"It is a new militia emerging from [other Shiite] militias," Mustafa Alani says. "You have the Badr militia, you have the Al-Mahdi Army, and you have an [armed] group which belongs to the Al-Dawa party. Now, apparently, if this [theory] is true, we have another, fourth militia emerging now -- a [new] Shi'ite militia."

The U.S. military has yet to release an official statement on the fighting outside Najaf. Based on the reporting and information from multiple media, U.S.and Iraqi sources, the likelihood is the enemy composition consisted of a mix of the Shia Army of Heaven cult and al Qaeda in Iraq fighters from the Omar Brigade. Cooperation between Shia and Sunni insurgent groups is not a new development in Iraq, as Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and al_Qaeda cooperated during the Fallujah/Najaf uprisings in the spring and summer of 2004. Shia Iran has been supplying the Sunni insurgency, al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunnah with weapons and bomb making materials, and is currently sheltering senior al Qaeda leaders within its borders.

As the fighting raged in Karbala, Iran announced it was shutting down the border crossings into Iraq, obstensively to "prevent a large number of pilgrims from flocking across the border without 'legal documents.'" There is no evidence the Iranians have played a role in the uprising in Najaf. The recent assault on the Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, where 5 U.S. soldiers were killed, including four kidnapped and later executed, by what is believed to be the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force, has raised tensions between Iran and the United States.


READER COMMENTS: "Iraqi Army battles Shia cult, Sunni insurgents in Najaf"

Posted by Mike E at January 29, 2007 11:07 AM ET:

This is another indicaton that the ISF is making good progress.

Posted by David M at January 29, 2007 11:16 AM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 01/29/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by eLarson at January 29, 2007 11:51 AM ET:

How much credence should we put in the body count figure given by Reuters's "political source"? Do we have a confirmation from US forces?

Posted by willis at January 29, 2007 12:03 PM ET:

Relax eLarson,

All statistics were confirmed by Jamil Hussein, the AP incarnation of various Iraqis, Kurds, Turks, Sunnis, Shia, etc.

Posted by Neo-andertal at January 29, 2007 12:18 PM ET:

Let us know how the details fill in, for now this seems to be an outlier group with uncertain affiliation. The other possibility is that the group was cobbled together for this specific plot. A major question is: Does this group have any real history, or did it just materialize for a plot. That could tell us something about it's nature. I'm also curious about the nature of the Shiite - Sunni collaboration, if there is any.

I hope that rest of Ashura comes off without too much violence. That would be an accomplishment for the IA. The IA now needs to show that it is the big dog in the neighborhood and is in the process of taking charge.

I can't help to notice that this latest incident is happening right under Sadr's nose. It could be completely fortuitous; I don't think Sadr is involved. It does put on a nice show for Sadr's people: This could be you! I'm quite happy that Sadr's people are going to ground, that is if we remain aggressive and take advantage of it. That's the key, the IA needs to be aggressive now and take charge. They don't need to take care of the insurgency problem overnight, but they do need to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

Posted by Glenmore at January 29, 2007 12:42 PM ET:

It appears to be a collaboration between Al Quaeda and an amateur apocalyptic Shia cult: Why would that happen?
The best reason I can think of is AQ is employing useful idiots as a diversion for something else, perhaps a 'normal' but bigger hit on the Shia pilgrimage, or maybe something political. At any rate, I'd keep my head on a swivel out there right now.

Posted by willis at January 29, 2007 1:00 PM ET:

Neo asked "A major question is: Does this group have any real history, or did it just materialize for a plot."

I assume its the latter because they vaporize as fast as they materialize. The virgins are busy today!

Posted by nancy at January 29, 2007 1:47 PM ET:

Another set of false body counts
just like Vietnam
"oh Lookie we just killed a million vc, we won the war!

Posted by cjr at January 29, 2007 2:33 PM ET:

Let me see if I can summarize. The IA and IP:

-detected the insugents before they were ready
-planned and executed a large attack
-killed hundreds while losing few of their own
-killed the leader.
-protected a large number of innocent people for wholesale murder.

Wow. Talk about outstanding perfromance and a "best possible" outcome.

Posted by MARY at January 29, 2007 3:26 PM ET:

'iraqthemodel' sees it different

Posted by Neo-andertal at January 29, 2007 4:09 PM ET:

Iraq the model's post was at least a half day earlier than this one. Everything isn't clear even now. We may all see this differently once it has all washed through.

Posted by Captain America at January 29, 2007 4:23 PM ET:

I believe I could use a scorecard.

Posted by Tom W. at January 29, 2007 5:11 PM ET:

"Another set of false body counts just like Vietnam
'oh Lookie we just killed a million vc, we won the war!'"

Spoken like a true parrot head. Repeating brain-dead slogans and making spurious comparisons only shows that your analysis is utterly superficial.

Polly want a cracker! Braaaaawk!

Posted by Neo-andertal at January 29, 2007 6:48 PM ET:

NBC is really playing this incident up, as if a major new (terrorist) player has made an appearance. More impending doom. Well yes, I hope no one causes a major blowup during the Ashura festivities but this is group is no major new player.

They are also indicating that they are well trained. I think I'll wait before drawing any such conclusion.

Posted by section9 at January 29, 2007 7:59 PM ET:

Pardon me for asking but if I were the Revolutionary Guards, and I wanted to hide my cooperation with Al Qaeda in Iraq, it might not be a bad idea to develop a stooge force like the Soldiers of Heaven: cannon fodder to give the wider Iraqi audiences the impression that the Sunnis and Shi'a are cooperating against the Crusading Infidel.

These guys came out of nowhere. My bet is that they were an artificial creation of Iranian intelligence. The presence of the Omar Brigade in the vicinity makes me doubly suspicious that this was the case.

Posted by Dave at January 29, 2007 10:45 PM ET:

Anyone catch MSNBC today? They were talking about the the huge number of insurgents we killed and the headline on the screen was "Civil War?". Am I the only one not connecting the dots? That's like saying California is headed towards a civil war because the LAPD arrested 100 gang members.

Posted by Dave at January 29, 2007 10:51 PM ET:

Actually, I'm not sure if I saw that on MSNBC or CNN. Either way, both channels are clueless.

Posted by RTLM at January 29, 2007 11:12 PM ET:

This will become more clear in the next few days. What is clear now is that the Iraqis can and will fight and win against the terrorist gangs.

With proper motivation.

What concerns me is how well this "cult" was armed. The Iraqis were obviously better trained and had our cover in the battle. The Somalia model works.

Posted by Minh-Duc at January 30, 2007 12:40 AM ET:


Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni's Cult is not a new group. They have been around for a long time. Just because Western media totally suck and fail to report on them; it does not mean our military is not aware of them.

I knew of them when I was in Iraq back in 2004. Everyone in the South (if not all of Iraq) knew of them. It was not a secret. Ahmed Hassani is considered by most Shiites to be a heretic. It is a blaspheme to porclaim oneself a Mahdi.

Posted by jon at January 31, 2007 10:29 PM ET:

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.

Posted by BobK at January 31, 2007 10:56 PM ET:

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.

Posted by jon

You cant take this seriously I hope?