Tens of Thousands of Shiite Muslims Flock to Karbala
As Shiite Muslims flock to Karbala, US and Iraqi forces thwarted an attack in the Holy city. A radical Islamic sect had planned on carrying out mass attacks during the Shiite pilgramage.
Iraqi pilgrims bring a huge national flag inside the shrine of Imam Hussein during Muharram, an important period of mourning for Shiites. The Remembrance of Muharram marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
The battle, which raged into the night as U.S. ground forces entered the fray alongside Iraqi troops, took place in the village of Al-Zarga, about 5 miles east of Najaf and 80 miles south of Baghdad. One Iraqi official said about 250 militants were killed, and six members of the Iraqi security forces reportedly died.
Najaf is almost wholly Shiite and had been regarded as one of the safest Iraqi provinces. U.S. forces transferred authority to the Iraqi army there in December.
The makeup of the insurgents was unclear. Najaf officials suggested they were Sunnis, but Assad Abu Galal, the governor of Najaf province, said they were members of a little-known, ultra-radical and violent Shiite group called Jund al-Sama, or the Soldiers of Heaven. The insurgent fighters wore headbands inscribed with the group’s name.
The leader of the group, Abu Gumer al-Yamani, says he’s the representative on Earth of the 12 th Imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, the “hidden Imam” believed by most Shiites to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed. Sunnis say there was no 12 th Imam, but many Shiites believe he will reappear to bring Islam to the entire world.
Ahmed Diabel, spokesman for the Najaf governor, said the Soldiers of Heaven, some of them Afghanis, have been infiltrating farms around Al-Zarga for the past several months. Recent intelligence reports said they planned to hide among the thousands of pilgrims who currently are making their way to the holy city of Karbala for the religious holiday Ashura on Tuesday, Diabel said.
Once there, the militants intended to assassinate as many clerics as possible, starting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Diabel said.
In murdering the religious authorities, they hoped to hasten the reappearance of the Mahdi, he said.
Men prepare meals for pilgrims during Muharram, an important period of mourning for Shiites. in Karbala, Iraq. (AP)
Pilgrims walk about a holy shrine of Imam Hussein during Muharram, an important period of mourning for Shiites in Karbala, Iraq, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Sunday Jan. 28, 2007. (Yahoo)