U.S.-backed Iraqi troops killed more than 200 insurgents from a religious cult in a weekend battle near the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraqi officials said Monday. A Los Angeles Times reporter in Baghdad discusses the fighting and its implications.
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Borzou Daragahi, welcome. There was a major battle in Najaf yesterday, some 200 people killed, we hear, and an American helicopter shot down. What happened?
BORZOU DARAGAHI, Los Angeles Times:
Well, I should caution that accounts are somewhat contradictory. And in addition to that, rather fantastic, in terms of what happened in Najaf yesterday.
Apparently, there was a Shiite cult holed up in one of the villages in that area. They had stored weapons; they had ammunition; they had food. They even had a makeshift hospital on the premises there, and they had planned an all-out assault on the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
They wanted to take the city, attack the shrine, kill some of the senior clergy, in the belief that this would hasten the coming of the last Shiite sheik that disappeared over a thousand years ago and whose return is to herald a new age of justice.
And this was to occur right on this very holy day that begins this evening?
It was timed to occur on the 10th of the Muslim lunar month of Muharram, which is the most important time in the Shiite calendar. It is the commemoration of the Imam Hussein, whose death on the field of Karbala created the rift that created the split between the Shiite and Sunni sects.