Confirm Action

Are you sure you wish to do this?

Confirm Cancel
Member Login

Site Notices
Posted: 5/3/2004 8:23:11 PM EST

Iraq's Mysterious Vigilante Killers

Monday, May. 10, 2004
The dark blue Volvo sped toward the guard post near Najaf's Safi al-Safa shrine just as the muezzin began his evening call to prayers. Inside the car, three gunmen prepared to fire. Their targets were members of the Mahdi Army, a band of militants loyal to the firebrand Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has holed up in Najaf for the past month to avoid capture by the 2,500 U.S. soldiers surrounding the city. As the Volvo neared the tiny brick-and-reed building, a gunman in the car opened up with his AK-47, hitting one of al-Sadr's men. Mahdi Army members say they ran the Volvo down, killing one of the three gunmen and capturing the remaining two. But other witnesses say the car disappeared into the night, its occupants unharmed. Either way, it was a blow for al-Sadr's army, which last month staged dramatic uprisings against coalition forces in several cities.

With the U.S. seeking to avoid an outright confrontation with al-Sadr's forces inside Najaf, the holiest city for Iraq's majority Shi'ites, a shadowy group of al-Sadr's rivals appears to be taking matters into its own hands. Locals say the gunmen in the Volvo came from a new group calling itself the Thulfiqar Army, seemingly named for a famed two-pronged sword that in Shi'ite tradition was used by Imam Ali, the martyred son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. Two weeks ago, the group began distributing leaflets ordering al-Sadr to leave Najaf immediately or face death. Since then, residents say, Thulfiqar has killed up to four Mahdi Army militiamen, a figure challenged by al-Sadr officials, who claim the group is the invention of American propaganda. U.S. officials say they believe the group exists but have few clues about its composition. "We don't assess it to be a very large activity at this point," coalition spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said last week.

Plenty of people have an interest in seeing al-Sadr and his ragtag army cut down. The cleric has little widespread support among mainstream Shi'ites. But al-Sadr's rise has alarmed senior Shi'ite clerics, who view him as an upstart demagogue. Al-Sadr's troops have regularly clashed with the more powerful Shi'ite militia known as the Badr Brigade. Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the most prominent Shi'ite leader in Iraq, has ordered all Shi'ite factions to avoid further confrontation with al-Sadr's men, fearing it would lead to fratricidal Shi'ite violence, but, Iraqi intelligence sources say, Thulfiqar could be a splinter faction of the Badr Brigade working independently. Those sources think Thulfiqar may also be receiving support from Iran's intelligence services, which may fear that al-Sadr's anti-U.S. militancy could jeopardize the expected establishment of a Shi'ite-dominated government.

Many residents of Najaf have tired of al-Sadr and his militia's thuggish ways. Out of earshot of Mahdi Army members, locals complain that al-Sadr's men raid shops for supplies, confiscate mobile telephones and arrest people on suspicion of spying. A pro-al-Sadr newspaper ran a picture last week of a man hanged by al-Sadr followers for "spying." Waving the photo, Muntadhar al-Khazali, 18, an al-Sadr loyalist, issued a threat to others: "Anyone who works against us, this will be their fate. We will never let Muqtada al-Sadr die. If America is such a great country, why doesn't it come and get him?" Perhaps because there's a reasonable chance that someone else will first.

— Reported by Hassan Fattah/Dubai and Meitham Jasim/Najaf

From the May. 10, 2004 issue of TIME magazine



Mystery group wage war on Sadr's militia


FOR the past month they have been the rude young pretenders, a rag-tag slum army ruffling the quiet dignity of Iraq’s holiest city.

For every day that the United States army fails to act on its threat to crush them, the Shiite militiamen of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have grown in confidence in their stronghold in Najaf.

Now, however, a shadowy resistance movement within might be about to succeed where the 2,500 US marines outside the city have failed.

In a deadly expression of feelings that until now were kept quiet, a group representing local residents is said to have killed at least five militiamen in the last four days.

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadr’s presence and come amid simmering discontent at the havoc their lawless presence has wreaked.

The group calls itself the Thulfiqar Army, after a twin-bladed sword said to be used by the Shiite martyr Imam Ali, to whom Najaf’s vast central mosque is dedicated.

Residents say leaflets bearing that name have been circulated in the city in the last week, urging Sadr’s al-Mahdi army to leave immediately or face imminent death.

"I haven’t seen the leaflets myself, but I heard about it when I was down there two days ago," said Ahmed Abbas, a carpenter from Najaf who visited Baghdad yesterday.

"It has got some of the Mahdi guys quite worried, I tell you. They are banding together more, when normally you would see them happily walking on the streets alone. I think their commanders have ordered them to do that."

As is the case with most fledgling resistance groups, further details are sketchy. Nobody knows yet who is really behind the group, if the deaths of Mahdi men are its handiwork or, indeed, if it really exists.

Questioned about it at a Baghdad press conference on Tuesday, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt would say only: "I am not aware of its existence, although we have had some reports of that nature from the city."

However, with the outcome of the stand-off in Najaf likely to prove a crucial, and possibly final, test of Sadr’s power, the manpower and willpower to start such a resistance movement are not in short supply.

Sadr and his militia have gambled that any attempt by US troops to use force in a sacred city such as Najaf would outrage even non-militant Shiites.

US troops began yesterday to expand operations, setting up checkpoints on the road outside their Najaf base, but are still treading carefully, promising to stay away from sacred Shiite sites at the heart of the city.

But while Iraq’s leading Shiite moderate cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has warned the US that the city border was an uncrossable "red line", he is known to share the anger of many Shiites about Sadr’s use of a holy place as a sanctuary.

Local residents, moreover, are deeply angry at how his revolt has robbed them of their livelihoods in recent weeks.

Since Sadr’s forces drove out Spanish troops this month, the tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims who keep the city’s hoteliers, taxi drivers and restaurateurs in business have become a mere trickle.

During a visit to the city by The Scotsman last week, some residents branded Sadr "the second Saddam", claiming his followers regularly intimidate locals who speak against him.

Yet others point the finger - albeit indirectly - at Ayatollah Sistani, who is understood to be increasingly anxious at the power that Sadr wields with the young and unemployed among Iraq’s 13 million Shiites.

Backing and protecting Ayatollah Sistani is the Badr Organisation, a well organised and disciplined anti-Saddam militia that put down its guns after the collapse of the old regime and has worked alongside the coalition in Najaf and elsewhere.

In recent weeks, it has been trying to mediate in negotiations between Sadr’s forces and the marines. Having agreed to give up its weapons, it has no interest in seeing another armed group take its place.

"I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that they may be backing this group either with men or advice," one coalition official said. "Sistani does not like people abusing the sanctuary of the holy shrines in this way, and if talks aren’t working, force can be used to make the point."

Either way, the realisation that not every fellow Iraqi in Najaf may be a friendly face seems to have had a notable effect on Mahdi morale.

According to the Najaf carpenter Mr Abbass, many of the militiamen are shedding their trademark black headbands and jumpsuits.

"Many of them, I am sure, only joined because they like posing about in that clothing," he said. "Now, hopefully, they will go home."
Link Posted: 5/3/2004 8:25:11 PM EST

Link Posted: 5/3/2004 8:42:26 PM EST
so... "the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy.....?"
Link Posted: 5/3/2004 8:42:27 PM EST
How can that be? Michael Moore told me the insurgents and al-Sadr are patriots beloved by the Iraqis, who are fighting the evil oppressor, America.
Link Posted: 5/3/2004 11:26:40 PM EST
Tagged for reading, Thanks Lumpy
Link Posted: 5/4/2004 3:30:55 AM EST
all of our enemies are our enemies
Link Posted: 5/4/2004 3:47:39 AM EST
CIA hit squads doing their thing............................
Link Posted: 5/4/2004 3:52:13 AM EST
CIA: Money can be a wonderful motivator.
Link Posted: 5/4/2004 4:04:57 AM EST

Originally Posted By avengeusa:
all of our enemies are our enemies

Yes indeed.
Link Posted: 5/4/2004 4:49:18 AM EST
Looks like someone is tired of Al Sadr taking a dump in their neighborhood.
Link Posted: 5/4/2004 4:56:37 AM EST
*sigh* Now that they have Arty pieces there...

Why not get a couple batteries set up, and do some TOT practice on wherever those fucks are...

They want to comprehend God? They'll comprehend the power, after a couple of salvos of 155mm HE walking over their positions...

Link Posted: 5/4/2004 5:15:11 AM EST
Great article, thanks Lumpy.
Top Top