What Happened In Najaf: A Battle or a Massacre?

What Happened In Najaf?

Sheila Musaji

We know that there was an incident in Najaf in which between 250 and 400 ‘militants’ were killed and at least 200 more wounded with only 25 casualties for the Iraqi Army.  The Iraqi Army was fighting, or attacked a group of either Shia Pilgrims or a heavily armed Shia cult group called the Soldiers of Heaven intent on murdering as many high level Shia clerics as possible.  It was either a fierce gun battle with a radical cult or a massacre.  The Iraqi Army had British and American air support and American ground support.

Getting at the truth of what happened is going to be difficult because the reports are so disparate. 

The Boston Herald, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and other mainstream papers had headlines like “ Iraqi cult planned attack on top Shiite clergy during religious festival, officials say”

The first report of suspicions about what actually happened came from Patrick Cockburn, “US ‘victory’ against cult leader was ‘massacre’” “A picture is beginning to emerge of a clash between an Iraqi Shia tribe on a pilgrimage to Najaf and an Iraqi army checkpoint that led the US to intervene with devastating effect. The involvement of Ahmed al-Hassani (also known as Abu Kamar), who believed himself to be the coming Mahdi, or Messiah, appears to have been accidental.  The story emerging on independent Iraqi websites and in Arabic newspapers is entirely different from the government’s account of the battle with the so-called “Soldiers of Heaven”, planning a raid on Najaf to kill Shia religious leaders.”

Now we are seeing many more reports pointing to a possible cover up.

In the present case, we were told that “hundreds of gunmen from a ‘messianic cult’ (Soldiers of Heaven) planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill clerics on the holiest day of the Shiite calendar”. We are expected to believe that they put their wives and children in the line of fire so they could conceal their real intention to lay siege to the city. ... What we know now, is that, there were no foreign fighters (or Al Qaida, as was originally stated) nor were there any Sunni militants. It was a group of Shiites who were rivals of the leading Shiite-led government (the SCIRI and Da’wa parties which represent Muqtada al Sadr and Abdel Aziz al-Hakim)  Mike Whitney, “The Media Coverup of the Najaf Massacre” 

According to USA Today The U.S. military said more than 100 gunmen were captured but it did not say how many were killed. Iraq’s Defense Ministry, by contrast, raised its figures on Tuesday to say 263 militants were killed, 210 wounded and 392 captured.

Juan Cole gives two additional narratives about what happened.  Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily of the Inter Press Service News Agency have uncovered many discrepancies in official government accounts.  It would seem that we need to find out whether or not this was a battle or a massacre