An intelligence source provides preliminary information on the players behind the Najaf battle; al Qaeda’s Omar Brigade appears to have player a role
The motivation and prime actors behind the fighting in Najaf remains uncertain one day after the battle ended. As U.S. and Iraq intelligence attempts to sort out the details, media reports indicate a mix of Shi’ite and Sunni fighters were involved in the battle against Iraqi forces, which resulted in upwards of 300 enemy killed in 24 hours of combat.
As we noted earlier this morning, it appears both a Shi’ite ‘end-times cult’ and al_Qaeda in Iraq’s Omar Brigade are likely the prime actors battling against the Iraqi Army and police. An anonymous U.S. intelligence source informs us that the preliminary information indicates this does appear to be the case. He warns this is based on the best available information at this time, however this is still speculative as the situation remains fluid and U.S. and Iraqi intelligence services are still working to piece together the puzzle of the bizarre engagement in Najaf.
According to the intelligence source, the history of the organization behind the fighting in Najaf is sketchy, however what is clear is this was “an anti-Shi’ite establishment cult,” which opposed both the Qom and Najaf schools of Shi’ite Islam as both schools did not recognize Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni (or Diyah Abdul Zahraa Khadom), the cult’s leader, as the Mahdi. Hassani’s group received Saddam Hussein’s support as it opposed both the leaders of the Iraqi Najaf school, as well as the Iranian Qom school. The Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) infiltrated the group during Saddam’s rule to maintain tabs on the organization’s activities.
Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti.
After the fall of Saddam’s regime, the remnants of the IIS maintained its connections with the organization. Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, two of the few Baathists leaders on the original ‘Deck of Cards’ remained free, and exercised control of the intelligence network.
As al Qaeda in Iraq began to absorb the Baathist elements of the Sunni insurgency, it inherited the Baathist intelligence network. Al-Douri swore bayat (an oath of unconditional allegiance) to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2004, placing a large segment of the Baathist insurgency under the command of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Zarqawi let the network lie fallow, as his hatred of the Shia prevented him from utilizing the Shia group. While Zarqawi did utilize individual Shi’ite mercenaries to conduct operations, his contempt prevented him from activating entire Shi’ite groups.
With the rise of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the operational possibilities were expanded. Al-Masri is by far a more shrewed operational and political leader. The intelligence network picked up on the cult’s desire to initiate its “end-times” beliefs by rising up and assassinating the Shia clerics during the festival of Ashura. Seeing an opening to foment chaos, al-Masri moved in elements of the Omar Brigade, the al Qaeda unit tasked with attacking Shi’ites. The Omar Brigade was to take advantage of the Shia-on-Shia fighting in the Najaf region. “Officials in Najaf said Saddam loyalists bought the groves six months ago,” FOX News reported earlier today.
The Shia cult formed the previously unheard of Jaish al-Janna, or the Army of Heaven (also described as Jund al-Samaa, or Soldiers of Heaven in news reports), armed its followers, and prepared fighting positions northeast of Najaf. Women and children were put on the battle lines.
News reports indicate a significant involvement of foreign fighters, as “30 of the dead were Afghans and Saudis and that of the 13 arrested, one was from Sudan.” Our intelligence source warns us that the Shia cult did have an international following, however the belief is some of the foreign fighters were indeed members of al Qaeda’s Omar Brigade.
Iraqi officials in Najaf are convinced al Qaeda had a hand in the fighting. “I have come to the total conviction from what I have seen with my own eyes on the ground that Al Qaeda is behind this group,” said Abdel Hussein Attan, the Deputy Governor of Najaf. “Based on the confessions of interrogated militants and other information, this well-structured group intended to attack Shia clerics and take control of Najaf and its holy sites.”
The fog of war is still thick in Najaf, and time will tell if this narrative proves accurate.
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