The battle ground of the cult

LA Times:

The dead wore the same footwear, imitation leather dress shoes with Velcro flaps. Their mangled bodies filled the trenches. Bags of ammunition, with the names of fighters written on them, sat by their sides.

A pulpit made of bamboo stood next to a grassy field, a newspaper filled with rambling and enigmatic religious writing strewn nearby.

An unauthorized hourlong walk Tuesday through the bombed compound of a religious cult called Heaven's Army revealed provocative clues about the group, which was decimated Sunday in a 24-hour U.S. and Iraqi offensive that authorities say left 263 alleged members dead and 210 injured. Nearly 400 members were arrested, an Iraqi defense official said.

Iraqi officials said the obscure messianic group was poised to launch an attack on Shiite clergy and holy sites in Najaf in the belief that it would hasten the dawn of a new age. Iraqi officials said they got wind of the plan and attempted to investigate but were attacked by the group's gunmen in a battle that also killed five Iraqi troops and two U.S. soldiers, who died when their helicopter crashed.

The bulk of the damage to the group's base was inflicted by U.S. airstrikes, which turned the tide of a fierce ground battle that pitted the fighters against Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces.


the camp itself, amid lush groves of eucalyptus and palm trees, offered a trove of details about the members of Heaven's Army.

They had plenty of food. Each fighter had his own supply of chocolate and biscuits. They were prepared: A 6-foot dirt berm and an equally deep trench surrounded the 50-acre compound.

They were well organized. Living in at least 30 concrete-block buildings, all the fighters had identification badges. The group published its own books and a newspaper. The members apparently were enamored with their leader, a charismatic man in his 30s named Dhyaa Abdul-Zahra, whose likeness adorned the newspaper.

And they were well armed and ready for battle. High-powered machine guns, antiaircraft rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and late-model pickup trucks with mounted guns were scattered around the eight farms that make up the compound, about 10 miles north of Najaf.

A wooden platform on a tree served as a sniper's perch. The would-be shooter lay dead on the ground by the tree trunk.

"Without the bombings of the Americans we would have remained for two weeks unable to penetrate," said an Iraqi soldier, who led a Times correspondent and other Iraqi journalists through the compound.

None of the fighters wore uniforms. They wrapped black-checkered scarves around their necks and wore running suits or flowing dishdasha robes. Their bodies were contorted and burned from the bombing campaign. A few were blown to pieces. The fighters included young boys as well as middle-aged men. Some apparently held ordinary day jobs — one slain fighter, Ahmad Mohsen Kadhem, 31, had an identification card in his wallet showing he was authorized to carry weapons as a guard for a nearby company, the government-owned State Organization for Cereals.

Compare this on the scene report to the left wing anti American paranoia exhibited in this report from the UK's Independent which calls the victory over the cult an "unpremeditated massacre." The Independent relied on "independent Iraqi websites and in Arabic newspapers." It is apparent that the LA Times has a much more credible report. In fact, the LA Times report suggest that the report by the Iraqis and the US understated the battle preparation and armament of the enemy. While the enemy in this case did not wear a uniform as such it did have certain distinguishing features that identified its forces. That is something of a first for the enemy in Iraq.


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