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Independent UK: US 'victory' over a cult outside Najaf a fabrication?

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  • Aniruddha Das
    US victory against cult leader was massacre By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad Published: 31 January 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2007
      US 'victory' against cult leader was 'massacre'
      By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
      Published: 31 January 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.
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