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January 29, 2007
Insurgents Lose Battle, Badly

Iraqi forces, backed by American troops, killed 250 insurgents in a bloody battle near Najaf yesterday. The fifteen-hour battle prevented the terrorists from attacking Shi'ite pilgrims on their way to celebrate Ashura, a flashpoint for violence in the past. However, some reports indicate that Shi'ite splinter groups may have been among the forces attacking the Iraqis:

At least 250 militants were killed and an American helicopter was shot down in violent clashes near the southern city of Najaf on Sunday, Iraqi officials said.

For 15 hours, Iraqi forces backed by American helicopters and tanks battled hundreds of gunmen hiding in a date palm orchard near the village of Zarqaa, about 120 miles south of Baghdad, by a river and a large grain silo that is surrounded by orchards, the officials said.

It appeared to be one of the deadliest battles in Iraq since the American-led invasion four years ago, and was the first major fight for Iraqi forces in Najaf Province since they took over control of security there from the Americans in December.

That handover was trumpeted by the Iraqi government at the time as a sign of its progress in regaining more control of Iraqi territory.

Casualty figures will almost certainly rise; the battle had finished just hours before the initial reports came out, and dawn will bring more clarity to the assessments. It seems clear that the Iraqis won a major victory against perhaps the most well-organized and resourced attack by insurgents in almost four years of fighting. That may answer critics who have questioned the fighting character of the new Iraqi army, who took the lead in winning the battle.

Reports differ on the composition of the insurgents. Initially, it was thought that the attack was a Sunni plot against Shi'ite civilians, which has happened before on Ashura. The late Stephen Vincent wrote about such an attack in his book In The Red Zone, which happened almost literally in front of him. Ashura is a paroxysm of martyred religious frenzy, with violent and bloody imagery that defines the Shi'a and disgusts the Sunnis. Sunni terrorists usually plan some sort of mischief on Ashura for that reason.

However, Shi'ite clerics in the area claimed that the gunmen came from a Shi'ite splinter group started by Saddam Hussein to counter the popularity of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They called themselves the Mehwadiya in Saddam's time and followed a cleric who had at one time followed Moqtada al-Sadr's father-in-law, but later broke off relations with Sadr. The New York Times reports that the clerics are under pressure not to reveal the divisions within the Shi'ites, but those have been known ever since Moqtada al-Sadr started free-lancing with the Iranians and moved outside of Sistani's control. What may be new is the notion that the various Shi'ite factions might go to war with each other, especially while the Sunnis remain a threat.

Some evidence exists that at least part of the forces were Sunnis. Some of the dead wore clothing that indicated they came from Afghanistan and Pakistan, primarily Sunni nations. That sounds suspiciously like al-Qaeda rather than Shi'ite splinter groups, although it is possible that AQ would align itself with Shi'ite splinter groups if it thought it would help kill more people to make a point.

The post-battle assessments should be interesting. Intelligence forces must be wondering why insurgents would attempt a straight-up fight against the Iraqis, and whether that indicates overconfidence or desperation.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 29, 2007 5:28 AM

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» What Happened in Najaf Over the Weekend? from The Political Pit Bull
As you might have already heard, a fierce battle took place yesterday between Iraqi soldiers backed by US helicopters and a group of insurgents just outside of the Shiite holy city of Najaf. In all, the battle claimed the lives... [Read More]

Tracked on January 29, 2007 11:51 AM

» 250 militants slain in fight near Najaf from SpeckBlog
The Washington Times Our hearts go out to the families of our fallen and congratulations to the Iraqis who are taking point in fighting off these terrorists. U.S.-backed Iraqi troops yesterday attacked insurgents reportedly plotting to kill pilgrim... [Read More]

Tracked on January 29, 2007 2:54 PM

» Now can we bomb their asses? (Multiple updates) from Bill's Bites
[I'm backdating this to keep it at the top of my site for the day. Scroll down for newer posts. Original timestamp 2007.01.29.02:39]Qods Force, Karbala and the Language of War Details Indicate Iran's Qods Force Executed US Soldiers After Karbala [Read More]

Tracked on January 29, 2007 4:44 PM


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