January 29, 2007


Iraqis Describe Plot To Kill Shiite Clerics: Cult Leader, Many Allies Died in Siege (Joshua Partlow and Saad Sarhan, 1/30/07, Washington Post)

A Shiite cult leader, who claimed to be a revered Muslim figure who vanished in the 10th century, was killed Sunday along with scores of fighters who were poised to attack a holy city in southern Iraq and assassinate the country's Shiite religious leadership, Iraqi officials said Monday. [...]

The cult leader killed Sunday probably sought to assassinate conservative Shiite religious leaders because they likely would have disputed his claim to be the Mahdi, said John O. Voll, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, in a telephone interview.

The tough part of the WoT is gathering the loons in big enough bunches to kill them efficiently. Nice when they take care of the clustering for us.

Battle-ready Iraq cult leaves casualties and questions (Richard Mauer and Hussam Ali, 1/30/07, McClatchy Newspapers)

Even in Iraq's volatile and violent brew of sectarian, political, tribal and ethnic factionalism, the explosive emergence of the religious group Soldiers of Heaven stands apart as a reminder of how little understanding there is of the country's complex web of militias.

The group's leader, who was known by several names, including his birth name of Diya Abdul-Zahra Kadhim, believed he was the earthly representative of the "Hidden Imam" of Shiite theology, Mohammed al-Mahdi.

Police said Monday that Kadhim, who reportedly was born in 1969 in Hilla, planned to attack the Shiite commemoration of Ashoura today in the holy city of Najaf, an event expected to draw as many as 2 million pilgrims.

Police said Kadhim's motive in planning the assault was to hasten the return of the Mahdi, an event that Shiite theology predicts will lead to peace, justice and the conversion of the world to Islam.

Sunni Muslims don't believe in the Hidden Imam, but the concept is a driving force in Shiite belief. Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr drew the name for his Mahdi Army militia from that theology.

In the absence of hard evidence about the group and its connections, Iraqis have been speculating wildly and contradictorily, asserting that they recognize elements of Shiite, Sunni and other influences among the militants.

Asad abu Kalal, the governor of Najaf, said as much himself on Monday.

"In external form, the way they look is Shiite, but its reality is something else," Kalal said. "They meant to destroy the Shiite and kill the Grand Marjiyas and occupy the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali." The Grand Marjiyas are the four leading ayatollahs in Najaf. They are led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric.

Doomsday cult said to be at center of Iraqi battle: Authorities say Iraqi and U.S. forces fought disciples of a renegade Muslim leader intent on killing Shiite pilgrims (Louise Roug and Saad Fakhrildeen, January 30, 2007, LA Times)
Iraqi officials said the militants had been holed up with their wives and children stockpiling food and weapons in the village of Zergha on the opposite bank of the Euphrates River from Najaf. According to some reports, women and children were among the casualties in the intense ground and air assault.

Abdul-Zahra was a charismatic figure, Iraqi officials said, whose tale conjures up American religious zealots Jim Jones and David Koresh.

The officials said Abdul-Zahra, also known as Thamir abu Gumar, was arrested twice during the rule of Saddam Hussein on charges of claiming to be Imam Mahdi, the revered Shiite Muslim saint who disappeared more than 1,000 years ago and whose return is said to herald a new dawn of justice.

After Hussein was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Abdul-Zahra's group appeared to be a legitimate political movement "coming out of the new civil freedoms," said Ali Jarew, Najaf's provincial security advisor.

But soon Abdul-Zahra, who is in his mid-30s, began telling followers that he was the reincarnation of the Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, another revered Shiite saint.

Jarew described Abdul-Zahra as tall, fair-skinned, rugged and handsome. His followers were said to include Sunnis and Shiites, Iraqis and foreigners, men and women.

They apparently came to believe that the man from the small Shiite town of Hillah was Mahdi, and the chaos engulfing Iraq an omen of the coming apocalypse.

The Iraqi Cabinet, in a statement, described the Heaven's Army as an "ideologically corrupted group" led by a man with "a suspicious history."

Shiites' Ashoura holiday points to past and future (Borzou Daragahi and Raed El-Rafei, 1/30/07, Los Angeles Times)
Ashoura, the 10-day ceremony that culminates today and marks the run-up to the 7th-century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, has leapt in importance in the Arab world since the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Sunni regime.

"Ashoura is the marquee event of Shiism," said Vali Nasr, a scholar at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and author of "The Shia Revival." [...]

For centuries, Shiites communities were considered an underclass in Arab countries, oppressed by powerful and wealthy Sunni leaders, even where Shiites constituted a majority as in Iraq and Bahrain, an island country in the Persian Gulf. While Iran is predominately Shiite, it was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that produced the Arab world's first Shiite-controlled country, an event Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Iraq's main Shiite political coalition, calls the "Ashoura Revolution."

The effect throughout the Middle East and beyond has been electrifying. In Sunni-ruled Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where Shiites until recently were barred from celebrating Ashoura, Shiites pressed for more rights. In Saudi Arabia, Shiites demanded they be granted the right to celebrate Ashoura in the open. The Saudi government nervously complied.

Shiites' demands for rights have upset the centuries-old balance of power in the region but also created new democratic openings in autocratic Sunni regimes.

But the emergence of Shiite Arabs as a significant player on the world stage has been riddled with conflict. Sunni Arabs often refuse to embrace Shiites as fellow Arabs, sometimes deriding them as Persian agents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2007 11:53 PM

Your no Mahdi 'til somebody plugs you.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 30, 2007 12:10 AM

Ghost: Bravo--can't follow that.

Let me just point out that confusion to the enemy is working out very well: Wackistan just gets wackier and wackier.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 30, 2007 11:26 AM