are growing suspicions in Iraq that the official story of the
battle outside Najaf [January 28, 2007] 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.
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.
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.
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 6 am on Sunday.
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.
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
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.
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 4 am on Monday.
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.
of "Soldiers of Heaven" who were killed at Najaf
on January 28, 2007.
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.
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.
Patrick Cockburn is the author of The Occupation: War, resistance
and daily life in Iraq (published by Verso), a finalist for the
National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book
General Mutinies Against Blair