The official U.S. and Iraqi story about what happened in Najaf today, which was swallowed and propagated by news wires (and apparently also the New York Times), is complete nonsense. First of all, they can’t even decide whether they were fighting Sunni insurgents or a “violent Shi’ite cult,” as Reuters’ unnamed self-appointed expert put it in their story. Secondly, the U.S. and Iraqi descriptions don’t match and both contain gross inconsistencies; Najaf’s governor, As’ad Abu Gilel, who is a member of the pro-Iranian SCIRI, said they were Sunni insurgents, including Pakistani and Afghan fighters, plotting to stage an attack against Shia pilgrims commemorating the holy month of Muharram in Najaf, and to possibly attack the Shi’ite clerical leadership that is based in the old city, around the shrine of Imam Ali. Then he turned around and said they were local [Shia] loyalists to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, probably referring to the Shi’ite tribe of Bani Hassan around Kufa, which facilitated the assault by Saddam’s Republican Guard against rebels in the 1991 Intifada. (The Bani Hassan tribe is despised by major Shi’ite political parties, and residents of Najaf scornfully refer to their town of Al-Abbasiya, across the Euphrates from Kufa, as Al-Ouja, which is the hometown of Saddam Hussein near Tikrit. Many members of Bani Hassan also supported Sadrists in their 2004 uprising.) A U.S. military source confirmed that 250 “insurgents” were killed and several other militants were captured, including a Sudanese. An Iraqi security source, however, as well as the local Iraqi media, identified the militants as members of a Shi’ite splinter group called Al-Mahdiyoun or Ansar Al-Imam Al-Mahdi, which if true means the U.S. military was once again duped into doing the dirty work of SCIRI and other Shi’ite factions – and, I daresay, Iran – for them.
The Mahdiyoun, or Mahdawiya, as they are called in Iraq, are a very small fringe Shia movement with scattered followers in major urban centres in the south, such as Basrah, Amara, Nasiriya, Samawa and Kut. Their leader is Sayyid Ahmed Al-Hassan, a former disciple of Muqtada’s father Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr from Tannumah in Basrah, and who declared himself the promised Al-Yemani, who according to Shi’ite lore is the vanguard of the twelfth Imam Al-Mahdi (Shi’ite messiah-like figure) and who will prepare for his return. I won’t go into the theological details, but it suffices to say that Ahmed Al-Hassan claimed to have met the Imam Al-Mahdi, that he is infallible, that he is more knowledgeable about the secrets and meanings of the Torah, the bible and the Quran than anyone else, that the Star of David is also the star of Imam Al-Mahdi and the descendents of Prophet Muhammed and that it should not be defiled by Muslims. He opposes the occupation, elections and the constitution because he considers himself the rightful ruler. And he contests the authority of supreme Shi’ite clerics, such as Sistani.
Al-Hassan also wrote letters to major word leaders, some included below:
To Sayyid Ali Khameni,
You are required to immediately hand over the rule in Iran to the vanguard of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him), otherwise you would be considered in disobedience of the orders of Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him). The honourable Iranian people in the land of Al-Rai – which irrigates the earth at the end of time – should enable me to rule the land of Iran.
Vanguard and messenger of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) to all people
Supported by Gabriel, guided by Michael, victorious by Israfil
To the people of Iraq,
The land of discord; Yes, there has been no prophet or messenger sent to Iraq who was not killed or expelled by the people of Iraq. You are required to enable the vanguard of the Imam Al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) to rule Iraq, otherwise you would be considered in disobedience of the orders of Imam Al-Mahdi Mohammed bin Al-Hassan (peace be upon him). My father, Imam Al-Mahdi Mohammed bin Al-Hassan, has ordered me to give those who disobey him either the sword or death under the rule of the sword.
To the president of America, Bush, or whoever holds his position,
It is I who you have seen in your sleep, and you will see me even more. You are required to unconditionally withdraw your military power from Muslim land or, I swear by the One and Only, I will throw America – the iron monster that has stomped on the kingdoms of earth – into the pits of hell, as Daniel (peace be upon him) was told in the Torah. You will hear from me again, and you should know that America will be pushed to my right in the Kingdom of Heaven, and I will crush it, God willing.
He has also issued statements calling on all Iraqi political parties, leaders and Iraqi tribes to pledge allegiance to him or they will suffer in hell. But, as I said, he barely has a few hundred followers scattered all over the country, and I doubt that he would come up with something as foolish as attacking Najaf, because actually it was his movement that has been under attack lately by Iraqi security forces, heavily infiltrated by SCIRI in the south. Last week, his main office and husseiniya in Najaf was raided and destroyed with several of his followers detained by the Aqrab (Scorpion) Brigade of Interior Ministry Commandos. The same happened to his offices in Basrah, Amara and Karbala, days ago. Al-Hassan himself was placed under house arrest in Tannumah, Basrah, by the Iraqi government some months ago.
I suspect this whole campaign is a result of Al-Hassan’s strange, unorthodox teachings and his defiance of the mainstream Shi’ite religious and political institution, including, most importantly, Iran. The movement’s detractors claim the group has engaged in obscene behaviour such as walking naked in public or hosting group sex orgies in husseiniyas and mosques, in order to “provoke” the Imam Al-Mahdi to return, or that they are Saddam loyalists who were planted just before the war by the regime to undermine the Najaf clerical authority, with some even claiming the group is Israeli or supported by US. radical Christian movements.
The “preemptive” crackdown against Al-Hassan – like that against Mahmoud Al-Sarkhi months ago, which I wrote about here – bears all the signs of U.S. Shi’ite allies (SCIRI and Da’wa) fooling the U.S. into supporting them in their intra-Shi’ite struggle to control the south. This is even more shocking because these “cults,” as crazy as they may sound, have never carried arms or posed a threat to anyone; their activities are restricted to theological debate and polemics with other Shi’ite clerics and movements. The fact that they may have a few armed followers means nothing. Virtually everyone in Iraq is armed to the teeth. This might actually turn out to be a massacre against some harmless cultists. If true, then congratulations to the U.S. for carrying out Iran’s dirty deeds in Iraq yet again.
UPDATE: I can't take the idiocy of the media any more. ABC News just described Al-Mahdiyoun as a "doomsday cult" with both Sunni and Shia members preparing to attack the shrine of Imam Ali and Shia clerics in Najaf. Ummm. Four years in Iraq and you still can't get the obvious facts straight? No wonder Iraq got into such a mess.
Hint for the U.S.: There are no "bad guys" and "good guys" in Iraq. Everyone has dirty hands. It makes no sense for you, nor is it going to improve anything in Iraq, to side with one bad guy against another, just because you're so confused that you can't differentiate between friend and foe. Just please remember that. The trick is to reach a settlement where all the "bad guys" are satisified and agree to behave as "good guys" again. Otherwise, just forget about it.