Dahr Jamail: Official Lies over Najaf Battle Exposed


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

January 31, 2007
Official Lies over Najaf Battle Exposed
Inter Press Service
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily
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NAJAF, Iraq, Jan 31 (IPS) - Iraqi government lies over the killing of hundreds 
of Shias in an attack on Sunday stand exposed by independent investigations 
carried out by IPS in Iraq.

Conflicting reports had arisen earlier on how and why a huge battle broke out 
around the small village Zarqa, located just a few kilometres northeast of the 
Shia holy city Najaf, which is 90 km south of Baghdad.

One thing certain is that when the smoke cleared, more than 200 people lay dead 
after more than half a day of fighting Sunday Jan. 28. A U.S. helicopter was 
shot down, killing two soldiers. Twenty-five members of the Iraqi security force
were also killed.

"We were going to conduct the usual ceremonies that we conduct every year when 
we were attacked by Iraqi soldiers," Jabbar al-Hatami, a leader of the al-Hatami
Shia Arab tribe told IPS.

"We thought it was one of the usual mistakes of the Iraqi army killing 
civilians, so we advanced to explain to the soldiers that they killed five of us
for no reason. But we were surprised by more gunfire from the soldiers."

The confrontation took place on the Shia holiday of Ashura which commemorates 
Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad and the most revered of Shia 
saints. Emotions run high at this time, and self-flagellation in public is the 

Many southern Shia Arabs do not follow Iranian-born cleric Ayatollah Ali 
al-Sistani. They believe the religious leadership should be kept in the hands of
Arab clerics. Al-Hatami and al-Khazaali are two major tribes that do not follow 

Tribal members from both believe the attack was launched by the central 
government of Baghdad to stifle growing Shia-Sunni unity in the area.

"Our convoy was close to the al-Hatami convoy on the way to Najaf when we heard 
the massive shooting, and so we ran to help them because our tribe and theirs 
are bound with a strong alliance," a 45-year-old man who asked to be referred to
as Ahmed told IPS.

Ahmed, a member of the al-Khazali tribe said "our two tribes have a strong 
belief that Iranians are provoking sectarian war in Iraq which is against the 
belief of all Muslims, and so we announced an alliance with Sunni brothers 
against any sectarian violence in the country. That did not make our Iranian 
dominated government happy."

The fighting took place on the Diwaniya-Najaf road and spread into nearby 
date-palm plantations after pilgrims sought refuge there.

"American helicopters participated in the slaughter," Jassim Abbas, a farmer 
from the area told IPS. "They were soon there to kill those pilgrims without 
hesitation, but they were never there for helping Iraqis in anything they need. 
We just watched them getting killed group by group while trapped in those 

Much of the killing was done by U.S. and British warplanes, eyewitnesses said.

Local authorities including the office of Najaf Governor Asaad Abu Khalil who is
a member of the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq 
(SCIRI) had claimed before the killings that a group of primarily foreign Sunni 
fighters with links to al-Qaeda had planned to disrupt the Ashura festival by 
attacking Shia pilgrims and senior ayatollahs in Najaf. The city is the 
principal seat of religious learning for Shias in Iraq.

Officials claimed that Iraqi security forces had obtained intelligence 
information from two detained men that had led the Iraqi Scorpion commando squad
to prepare for an attack. The intelligence claimed obviously had little impact 
on how events unfolded.

Minister of Interior Jawad al-Bolani announced to reporters at 9 am Sunday 
morning that Najaf was being attacked by al-Qaeda. Immediately following this 
announcement the Ministry of National Security (MNS) announced that the dead 
were members of the Shia splinter extremist group Jund al-Sama (Army of Heaven) 
who were out to kill senior ayatollahs in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali 

Iraq's national security advisor Muaffaq al-Rubaii said just 15 minutes after 
the MNS announcement that hundreds of Arab fighters had been killed, and that 
many had been arrested. Rubaii claimed there were Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians and

But Governor Khalil's office backed away from its initial claims after the dead 
turned out to be local Shia Iraqis. Iraqi security officials continue to 
contradict their own statements. Most officials now say that the dead were Shia 
extremists supported by foreign powers.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has a pattern of announcing it 
is fighting terrorists, like its backers in Washington. Many Iraqis in the south
now accuse Baghdad of calling them terrorists simply because they refuse to 
collaborate with the Iranian dominated government.

(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist 
writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been 
covering the Middle East for several years.)

Posted by Dahr_Jamail at January 31, 2007 06:47 PM

©2004-2007 Dahr Jamail.

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