with Ali al-Fadhily
NAJAF, Iraq - Iraqi government lies over the killing of hundreds of Shi'ites 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 kilometers northeast of the
Shi'ite 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 US 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 Shi'ite 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 Shi'ite holiday of Ashura which commemorates
Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad and the most revered of Shi'ite
saints. Emotions run high at this time, and self-flagellation in public is the
Many southern Shi'ite 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 Sistani.
Tribal members from both believe the attack was launched by the central government
of Baghdad to stifle growing Shi'ite-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
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 plantations."
Much of the killing was done by US 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 Shi'ite pilgrims and senior ayatollahs in Najaf. The city is the principal
seat of religious learning for Shi'ites 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
Minister of Interior Jawad al-Bolani announced to reporters at 9am 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 Shi'ite splinter extremist group Jund al-Sama (Army of Heaven) who were
out to kill senior ayatollahs in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
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
But Governor Khalil's office backed away from its initial claims after the
dead turned out to be local Shi'ite Iraqis. Iraqi security officials continue to
contradict their own statements. Most officials now say that the dead were Shi'ite
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.
(Inter Press Service)