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    Middle East
     Feb 3, 2007
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A massacre and a new civil war

By Pepe Escobar

The massacre that occurred in Najaf, Iraq, last Sunday by now has been wildly deconstructed over the Arab press. What emerges has virtually nothing to do with the official Baghdad and Washington spin of Iraqi troops killing 250-odd heavily armed apocalyptic cultists dubbed "Soldiers of Heaven". They were said to be about to attack not only Shi'ite pilgrims but also the "Big Four" ayatollahs of Iraq - Ali al-Sistani, Bashir Najafi, Muhammad

shaq Fayyad and Muhammad Said al-Hakim - who all sit in holy Najaf.

When the embattled Nuri al-Maliki government in Baghdad gloats in unison with the Pentagon and US President George W Bush about such a masterful display by the Iraqi army, supported by the lethal firepower of US tanks and F-16s, something is terribly off the mark. Especially as the "Iraqi army" in question is composed in its majority by the Badr Organization, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI's) paramilitary wing, which is peppered with death squads.

Najaf Governor As'ad Abu Gilel, a high-ranking SCIRI politician himself, has told Najaf Radio FM that no fewer than "300 terrorists were killed, 650 detained and 121 wounded, while 11 Iraqi soldiers were killed and 27 wounded". One thousand "terrorist" casualties suggest firepower comparable to the US raids in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in December 2001.

The official Baghdad spin maintains that the battle was provoked by an evil mastermind, Ayatollah Ahmad al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, also called al-Yamani, born in Diwaniya, a charlatan with a background in fine arts and the leader of the Mahdi Mahdawiya millenarian movement (a splinter Sadrist movement). It's important to note that his offices in Najaf were closed 10 days before the massacre, and many of his aides arrested: this already suggests a government crackdown preceding the upcoming US surge/escalation.

The Najaf governor's first intervention was to scream that Najaf was being attacked by al-Qaeda. Official spin painted the guerrillas as Sunni Arabs sprinkled with al-Qaeda-style Arab Afghans. Muaffaq al-Rubaii, Iraq's national security adviser, was quick to announce that "hundreds of Arabs" - he mentioned Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians and Afghans - had been killed. Then the Najaf governor said that "British and Arab passports" were found in the battlefield, proving interference by "a certain neighboring Arab country" (he didn't specify which). And finally, he decided to change his story from al-Qaeda to the "Soldiers of Heaven", fanatical Shi'ites who happened to be supported during the 1990s by none other than Saddam Hussein and were now being helped by evil Ba'athists.

In this sorry attempt by the Iraqi government to create a one-size-fits-all conspiracy (Saddamists, al-Qaeda and Iranian fanatics all in cahoots), the main problem is how to fit in current US anti-Iran hysteria. The Mahdawiya have never had anything to do with Iran. This is a nationalist Iraqi group: no wonder they are fiercely opposed to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is Iranian, born in Sistan-Balochistan province.

According to Abu al-Hasan, a Mahdawiya member close to Sarkhi, quoted by London-based Al-Hayat, the accusations of a planned ayatollah massacre in Najaf are nothing but lies. Hasan said what happened was that Iraqi police tried to arrest Sarkhi, his followers revolted, and that led to the massacre.

Religiously, it's important to note that the Shi'ite clerical aristocracy in Najaf - of which Sistani is the epitome - does not like being challenged, be it by the Sadrists or, worse even, by a splinter group. In parallel, Arab Shi'ites all over southern Iraq prefer to trust an Arab marja (senior spiritual leader) in Najaf, and not a Persian (Sistani).

But according to Arab reports, the traveling Shi'ite pilgrims were not Mahdawiya, but were from the al-Hawatim tribe, which lives between Najaf and Diwaniyah. The chief of the tribe, Hajji Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, was killed along with his wife and driver at the Zarga checkpoint near Najaf. So the tribe - fully armed of course, the only way to travel in "liberated" nighttime Iraq - revolted (that explains the weapons; the "Soldiers of Heaven", depicted as a scruffy bunch, could never have been so well armed).

Another tribe, al-Khazaali - who actually live in Zarga - tried to stop the fight and got entangled in the whole mess, just as the 

Continued 1 2 

Pilgrims massacred in the 'battle' of Najaf  (Feb 2, '07)

Iraq's money for nothing (Feb 2, '07)

The 'axis of fear' is born (Feb 2, '07)

Bush's three-front blunder (Jan 31, '07)


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