The Crimes of Saddam Hussein

By Dave Johns

1999 Al–Sadr Killings

Post-bombing street scene

On February 18, 1999, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al–Sadr, then the popular leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq, was killed in Najaf in his car, along with his two sons. The car had entered a roundabout when it was fired upon by machine guns from several positions. Iraqi security forces quickly sealed off the area, and the government insisted that al–Sadr be buried immediately.

The assassination set off uprisings on a scale not seen since 1991 in Shiite areas of the south and in the slums of Saddam City, a neighborhood in Baghdad. Al–Sadr had gained a broad following among Shiite youth, townspeople and tribal leaders, and people were angry over his death. Around a mosque in Saddam City, demonstrators gathered as word spread that the ayatollah had been injured in an attack. Worshippers prayed for his recovery, unaware that he was already dead. Security forces later arrived and asked them to disperse. When protesters began to chant anti–Saddam slogans and throw stones, security forces opened fire with machine guns and shot as many as 80 people dead.

Elsewhere there was more gunfire. At a Shiite shrine 20 miles from Nassariya, security forces opened fire on demonstrators and killed at least five, including two 14–year–olds. Iraqi security forces arrested representatives of al–Sadr in Baghdad and throughout the south.

Charges and evidence

The purge following the al–Sadr assassination was a well–planned strike to quell growing Shi’iah strength and hostility toward the Baghdad regime. The U.S. State Department has said that hundreds of Shi’iah were killed in Baghdad and in cities throughout southern Iraq.

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