Cult leader behind Najaf fight

Reuters:

The leader of an Iraqi cult who claimed to be the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam, was killed in a battle on Sunday near Najaf with hundreds of his followers, Iraq's national security minister said on Monday.

Women and children who joined 600-700 of his "Soldiers of Heaven" on the outskirts of the Shi'ite holy city may be among the casualties, Shirwan al-Waeli told Reuters. All those people not killed were in detention, many of them wounded.

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"He claimed to be the Mahdi," Waeli said of the cult's leader, adding that he had used the full name Mahdi bin Ali bin Ali bin Abi Taleb, claiming descent from the Prophet Mohammad.

He was believed to be a 40-year-old from the nearby Shi'ite city of Diwaniya: "He was killed," Waeli said.

The group, which other Iraqi officials said included both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims as well as foreigners, had planned an attack on the Shi'ite clerical establishment in Najaf on Monday, the climax of Ashura.

"One of the signs of the coming of the Mahdi was to be the killing of the Ulema (hierarchy) in Najaf," Waeli said. "This was a perverse claim. No sane person could believe it."

Though Sunnis and Shi'ites are engaged in an embryonic sectarian civil war in Iraq, there have been instances in Islamic history where groups have drawn from both communities to challenge the authority of the existing clerical leadership.

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There is more on the bazaar beliefs of the cult. For more on the latest news about the battle see this post. While this story explains some of the "reasons" behind the attacks, it suggest that it has little to do with the insurgency. At a minimum, though these guys wanted to take advantage of what they perceived as a chaotic situation. Fortunately, their contribution to the chaos was unsuccessful.

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