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2 THE ROVING
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
Fayyad and Muhammad Said al-Hakim - who all sit in
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.
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.
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
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).
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).
al-Khazaali - who actually live in Zarga - tried
to stop the fight and got entangled in the whole
mess, just as the