Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More questions about the official Najaf story

Zeyad at his Healing Iraq website has new information on circumstances surrounding the Najaf fighting, including this:
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.
Note that this describes events in the Zarka (or Zarga I guess is better) area just outside Najaf. This is where the messianic followers of Ahmad al-Hassan had their colony, according to Azzaman and others, but according to this account the trigger-event had nothing to do with them, rather with a group from the Hawatim tribe, passing through the area, or trying to, in order to participate in the Ashura processions in Najaf. Trigger-happy persons initiated an exchange of fire at an Iraqi army checkpoint, which was then joined in by another tribe, the Khazail, which lives in the area. American helicopters appeared, dropping leaflets warning the "terrorists" they were about to bomb the area.

Zeyad tells us that both the Hawatim and the Khazail tribes are non-SCIRI, non-Dawa Shiite. He writes:
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.
This provides an interesting explanation of the Azzaman statement this morning, to the effect that the Ahmad al-Hasan's messianic group had settled in an area that was not submissive to either the SCIRI or the Dawa parties. Thus there were three groups involved, all of them no doubt regarded by the SCIRI/Dawa Najaf authorities as enemies: A tribe passing through and challenged at a checkpoint, a resident tribe, and the messianic group itself. And since SCIRI/Dawa are the core of the Baghdad government, it is easy to imagine all of these groups being targets of the central government forces too.

Which only adds to the urgency of the question: Where is the actual evidence that any of these groups posed any actual danger, apart from self-serving statements by the Najaf and Baghdad authorities. Or was this more like a massacre, premeditated or accidental?


Anonymous GJ said...

A couple of local Shiite tribes are so well armed trained and motivated they can hold off the Iraqi army and US aerial attacks for 12 hours? They put the Baath insurgency to shame.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The motivation is basic: kill or be killed. Especially given the confusion and the fact that many involved were defending their homes/abodes.

As for "well armed," yeah, many if not most Shiite groups traveling/residing in the South will probably opt for the "well armed" approach in light of all the armed groups that might want to do them harm. From Sunni insurgents, to Shiite rivals to highway bandits. It's Hobbesian.

Given those factors, and the relativey high body count on the "militia" side of the affair, 12 hours is not particularly remarkable.

I think US forces would gladly trade a handful of 12 hour workdays to kill that many Baathist insurgents per diem.

-Eric Martin

12:24 PM  
Blogger glue m said...

This is one of few cases where I don't know whether to agree with Juan Cole or you. Usually I side with you.

Juan points out that these Shiite men were traveling at night, which is itself rather odd and suspicious given that Iraq is in a state of total disaster and this is clearly a huge risk. But I don't agree with him when, in his most recent post, he goes off from this observation to all kinds of hypotheticals where these nomads are "highly armed" and such. It might be true, but we know so little.

More importantly, if this WAS a massacre it would not be out of line with current US policy. Consider Somalia, for instance, where Oxfam told us that over a hundred nomadic tribesmen lighting a fire at night were bombed to death, with bodies and dead animals lying everywhere.

So my point is that such a thing would not be unprecendented for the Bush administration, or its proxies.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

glue m:

Actually to be fair traveling at night isn't suspicious as the word traveling implies they had a distance to cross and they probably wanted to get there before dawn prayer so that would constitute night or early dawn and that routine of travel is very common in the middle east as it relieves them of traveling in the day when it is usually hot in any desert area even in the Winter. Even though it might not make sense it actually is a habit.

2:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

another insightful article :

shia on shia fighting

5:08 AM  

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