The Sadrist account: Nahrain Net, a Sadrist website, quotes anonymous sources from the Hawza and security officials in Najaf that an armed group named “Jund Al-Samaa’” (the Army of Heaven, the Soldiers of Heaven, the Soldiers of the Skies) were amassing in palm groves at Zarga, north of Kufa, and that they were plotting to take supreme Shi’ite clerics in Najaf, including Sistani, Ishaq Al-Fayyadh, Ya’qubi, Mohammed Al-Hakim, and Muqtada Al-Sadr, as hostages in order to use as a bargain to control the shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf. Allegedly, a list was found with the group that contained names of senior clerics in Najaf and Karbala, and that Muqtada was number two on the list after Sistani. They added that the group was coordinating with Ba’athists and Al-Qaeda and that they have received logistic and monetary backing from Saudi Arabia.
The Iraqi Health Minister’s account: Health Minister Ali Al-Shammari (Sadrist Bloc) revealed that over 123 militants were wounded in the battle and that they were being treated in Najaf’s hospitals. Militants killed were “in the hundreds,” most of who are of unknown identities. The group’s military commander was killed in the battle and he was identified as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, a man from Hilla.
Ahmed Du’aibil, Media Spokesman of the Najaf Governorate (SCIRI): 250 – 300 militants were killed in the clashes at Zarga. “16 terrorists” were detained, including two Egyptians and a Saudi.
The Iraqi News Agency quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source that the group’s leader is Ahmed Kadhim Al-Gar’awi Al-Basri (Ahmed Hassan Al-Basri), born 1969, and was a Hawza student of Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr (Muqtada’s father) in Najaf. He left to Iran right before the war and declared himself the vanguard of Imam Al-Mahdi, leading to his imprisonment by Iranian authorities for heresy. He was released and returned to Iraq after the war and he started preaching in Basrah, where he also put under house arrest by Iraqi authorities. His schools and husseiniyas in major cities in the south were closed and vandalised by Iraqi security forces and the Scorpion Brigade of the Interior Ministry Commandos detained several of his followers in Najaf last week. The source added that 140 militants were captured in the clashes yesterday.
SCIRI’s Buratha News Agency quotes a source in the Dhu Al-Fiqar Brigade, which fought the militants yesterday, saying over 1,000 “terrorists” were killed and 50 detained, with 200 “brainwashed women and children.” He added that the area was full of corpses and a large amount of ammunition and weapons was confiscated.
Deputy Governor of Najaf Abdul Hussein Abtan (SCIRI), as quoted on Al-Iraqiya TV: “Hundreds of terrorists have been killed, and hundreds detained. Their brainwashed families were also at the location and we are moving them to another place and clearing the killed and prisoners to complete investigations. Our information indicates that foreign groups funded this operation, but they used false slogans and recruited naive people in order to destroy holy Najaf and to kill the great clerics as a starting point and then to move to control other governorates. That is what their slain leader, who called himself the Imam Al-Mahdi, told them.” The deputy governor first said the group’s leader was a Lebanese national, but later he identified him as Dhiaa’ Abdul Zahra Kadhim, from Hilla. It seems there were no journalists to point out this contradiction to him in the room when he made this statement.
Najaf Governor As’ad Abu Gilel (SCIRI): The group was led by a man named Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib. Their planned attack was meant to destroy the Shiite community, kill the grand ayatollahs, destroy the convoys and occupy the holy shrine. He identified the group as “Shi’ite in its exterior, but not in its core.”
Another unnamed captain in the Iraqi Army, quoted by Buratha News Agency: “The leader who was killed claimed he was the Mahdi. He is in his forties and is from Diwaniya. Many Arab fighters were captured including Lebanese, Egyptians and Sudanese.”
Major General Othman Al-Ghanimi, Iraqi commander in charge of Najaf quoted by AP: Members of the group, including women and children, planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill as many leading clerics as possible. The group’s leader, wearing jeans, a coat and a hat and carrying two pistols was among those who were killed in the battle. Saddam’s Al-Quds Army, a people’s militia established in the late 1990s, once used the same area where the group was based.
Ahmed Al-Fatlawi (SCIRI), member of Najaf Governorate Council, quoted by AP: "We have information from our intelligence sources that indicated the leader of this group had links with the former regime elements since 1993. Some of the gunmen brought their families with them in order to make it easier to enter the city. The women have been detained.”
Colonel Ali Jiraiw, spokesman for the Najaf police, quoted by the Guardian: “The group which calls itself Army of Heaven had established itself two years ago in farms near Kufa. But it ran into trouble with the Jaish al-Mahdi militia loyal to Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has a base in Kufa and who regards the group as heretical. The group is led by Sheikh Ahmed Hassan Al-Yamani, and its followers believe in the imminent return of the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure whose coming heralds the dawn of a kingdom of peace and justice."
So let me get this straight. The Iraqi officials can't agree on who they were fighting or who their leader was, so how did they figure out all these colourful details about "brainwashed women and children" and the intentions of killing all clerics or bombing the shrine or taking over the shrine, etc.?
Also, alleged eyewitnesses said they saw fighters in "Afghan robes." What is an Afghan robe, anyway? I doubt someone from Kufa would know an Afghan robe when they see it. Also, why doesn't the government produce the evidence that foreign fighters have been captured?
SCIRI’s website posted this photo of the group’s leader, and another of him lying dead in the battlefield.
Another story that is surfacing on several Iraqi message boards goes like this: A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe, which inhabits the area between Najaf and Diwaniya, arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, “To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area.” The tribesmen continued to fire in all directions and in the air, but they said they didn’t know if the helicopter crash was a result of their fire or friendly fire from the attackers. By 4 a.m., over 120 tribesmen as well as residents of the area had been killed in the U.S. aerial bombardment.
The Islam Memo website says an American NBC cameraman and an Iraqi journalist named Aws Al-Khafaji were trying to reach the area to film the battlefield but were prevented by a security force from the Najaf governor’s office to leave their hotel in Najaf. The website also quotes Sheikh Khalaf Abdul Hussein Al-Khaz’ali, who said the government killed 33 members of his tribe and that they described them as Al-Qaeda. A delegation from the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are allegedly negotiating with the Najaf governor to retrieve the corpses of 70 tribesmen, including women and children, still kept at the Najaf Hospital. The delegation threatened with “grave consequences” if the corpses are not delivered to the tribes within 24 hours. A source from Diwaniya said that 57 bodies have reached the city and were buried in the Hawatim tribe cemetery, west of the city, Monday afternoon. The website published a list of the names of those who were killed from the tribe.
Both the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are anti-SCIRI and anti-Da’wa. Last July, they threatened to kill any of their members who join the Mahdi Army or the Badr Organization. SCIRI, on the other hand, accuses the tribes of being Ba’athists and Saddam loyalists.
And, by the way, the Western media is confusing Ahmed Al-Hassan with Mahmoud Al-Hassani Al-Sarkhi, another Sadrist drop-out. They are not the same person, but they lead similar movements. Here is the background of Al-Sarkhi.