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US Bombs Iraqis, Joining Sectarian Battle

Who did the United States bomb from 5:30am Sunday until well after sunrise Monday morning in Iraq? Is it “Sunni insurgents?” A Shi’ite group formed by Saddam Hussein? Or an apocalyptic death cult?

But political and security sources said they were followers of Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni and described him as an apocalyptic cult leader claiming to be the vanguard of the Mahdi — a messiah-like figure in Islam whose coming heralds the start of perfect world justice. He had been operating from an office in Najaf until it was raided and closed down earlier this month.

The sources said captured gunmen declared loyalty to Yemeni.

The official story, so far, is that the gunmen killed were assassins on the way to kill Shia pilgrims in Najaf. But the New York Times story says:

But two senior Shiite clerics said the gunmen were part of a Shiite splinter group that Saddam Hussein helped build in the 1990s to compete with followers of the venerated Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They said the group, calling itself the Mehwadiya, was loyal to Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri, an Iraqi cleric who had a falling out with Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr — father-in-law of the Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr — in Hawza, a revered Shiite seminary in Najaf.

The clerics spoke on condition of anonymity because they said they had been ordered not to discuss Shiite divisions.

Either way, these people killed do not appear at all to be a force sent to kill Americans.

UPDATE: Juan Cole points out that the US was joining a group that is more pro-Iran, to kill a group that was fiercely anti-Iranian. And Reuters has the rundown for the rest of the country on Sunday. 29 bodies found, 20 more killed in Baghdad by bombings, three American soldiers dead.

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