On February 18, 1999, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq alSadr, 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 alSadr 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. AlSadr 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 antiSaddam 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 14yearolds. Iraqi security forces arrested representatives of alSadr in Baghdad and throughout the south.
Charges and evidence
The purge following the alSadr assassination was a wellplanned strike to quell growing Shiiah strength and hostility toward the Baghdad regime. The U.S. State Department has said that hundreds of Shiiah were killed in Baghdad and in cities throughout southern Iraq.Back to top