THE BLOG
01/30/2007 04:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Najaf Battle Not Sunni, Shia But Shia, Shia

The recent bloody battle in Najaf was a Shiite uprising against Iranian (Safawid) infiltration, control, and hegemony in Iraq and was not initiated by Sunnis as western media has led us to believe, according to Iraqi Parliament Member Mohammed Al-Daini and the Iraqi information center in Europe, AlMalaf (use Google's translate function if you don't read Arabic), who talked by phone with leaders of the uprising.

The fighting highlights the rivalry between the Arab religious Shiite leaders in Najaf, and the Persian religious leaders in Qum, a sacred city in Iran.

According to reports by Al-Daini and AlMalaf, the Iraqi/Arab Shiite cleric Mahmoud Al-Sarkhi Al-Hasani initiated the fighting.

Al-Hasani is an important Iraqi Arab ayatollah whose forces now control the police in Najaf, which is home to another important Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, an Iranian Shiite.

Al-Hasani then issued a warning to all non-Iraqi ayatollahs -- including Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, an Iranian Shiite from Najaf-- and all Iraqi officials of Iranian blood and origin who had entered Iraq after 2003, to leave Iraq, especially Najaf within hours. Only Iraqi ayatollahs would be permitted to stay in Najaf.

Sources say that Al-Hasani's followers have eradicated many Iranians in the Najaf police force. In addition, they are now in control of 19 police vehicles and have burned 11 of them. Apparently, the governor of Najaf, Asaad Abu Gilel who is suspected by some of being an Iranian intelligence officer, has called upon the U.S. for assistance.

Recent reports in the western media have been confusing and have said that initiation of the fighting in the Shiite Holy City of Najaf was attributed to an unknown small apocalyptic cult called the Soldiers of Heaven in an attempt to kill Shiite religious leaders in Najaf as part of a wider Sunni effort to disrupt Ashura. The Washington Post reported that scores of the insurgents were killed by Iraqi soldiers, backed by U.S. helicopters. And later, the New York Times stated that Iraqi and American officials said that more American forces were involved in the fighting that had been initially reported, and that ground troop were involved as well as air support. Today, it was reported that the instigators were part of an extremist, "messianic cult," and that the fighting may have been among extremist Shiite groups.

This burgeoning confusion appears to stem from the western media's reliance on Iraqi and American government sources for their stories, often to the point of ignoring that there are huge and real divisions among the Shiites in Iraq that deal with rivalry rather than extremism.

Several months ago, there was a little-written story about the followers of Ayatollah Al-Hasani who burned two buildings at the Iranian consulate in Basra (see Professor Juan Cole's articles), indicating that this is not the first time the Shia have incited violence in reaction to increasing Iranian influence over their country.

The rivalry between the Arab Shiite and Persian Shiite is affecting the war in Iraq and indications appear that conflict will increase if the Iraqi government continues to be comprised of those with Iranian ties.

Written in collaboration with Dal LaMagna and Jennifer Hicks