Soldiers of Heaven
The Soldiers of Heaven or Jund As-Samaa (Arabic: جند السماء), were an armed Iraqi Shi'a messianic sect which was led by Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, who reportedly died in fighting in Basra, Iraq on 29 January 2007.
The members of the group, which numbered around 1,000, appeared to be mostly poor Shi'a farmers from an agricultural area 19 kilometres northeast of Najaf, but they also seemed to have been heavily armed. In spite of their poverty, the group appeared to have amassed a great deal of wealth.
On January 28, 2007, the group apparently fought a bizarre battle with Iraqi and U.S. forces near Najaf where it is alleged about 200-300 of their members were killed, including its leader, and 300-400 were captured. Asaad Abu Gilel, the governor of Najaf has claimed that members of the group, including women and children, planned to disguise themselves as pilgrims and kill leading Shi'a clerics during the Ashoura holiday.
Significant questions remain regarding the group and the combat effectiveness it displayed, including shooting down an American AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship. Virtually all information about the group and the battle has come from Iraqi officials, who have released incomplete and sometimes contradictory accounts. Iraqi officials, including Najaf deputy governor Abdel Hussein Attan, had claimed that the group had links with al-Qaeda, but given that Sunni jihadists are fiercely anti-Shia, this seemed unlikely.
After the battle, Iraqi police rounded up hundreds of sect members and put them on trial. On September 2, 2007, the criminal court passed judgement on 458 accused. Ten leaders of the Soldiers of Heaven were sentenced to death, 54 members were released, and the rest were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 15 years to life, Najaf police chief Brigadier General Abdel Karim Mustapha said.
The Soldiers of Heaven held the following beliefs:
- Their former leader Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim was the Mahdi and he was the reincarnation of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib.
- Spreading chaos will hasten the return of the Hidden Imam.
- They regarded the religious leadership in Najaf as illegitimate.
- Zavis, Alexandra (2008-01-19). "80 killed in clashes in Iraq". Los Angeles Times.
- Paley, Amit R. (2008-01-19). "Dozens Killed in Clashes In S. Iraq: Obscure Sect Presents First Major Challenge For Area's Iraqi Forces". Washington Post.
- Fighters for Shiite Messiah Clash with Najaf Security, 250 Dead Over 60 Dead in Baghdad, Kirkuk Violence, Informed Comment, Juan Cole
- DePillis, Lydia (2008-01-19). "Today's Papers: Kick in the Pants". Slate.
- ."US-Iraqi Forces Kill 250 Militants in Najaf", The Age, 29 January 2007
- Cult plotted attack on Shiite clerics, Iraqis say - CNN January 29, 2007
- Iraqi cult and its 'messiah' destroyed near Najaf, Times Online UK, 29 January 2007
- "Using that self aggrandizing, self appointed title, al Hassan built up a force of a thousand men" The Hidden Imam's Dream - Sky News, January 30, 2007
- "Earthly luxuries for Soldiers of Heaven", The Australian, February 1, 2007
- Cult Leader is Killed - Sky News, January 29, 2007
- Page 2, US, Iraqi forces kill 250 militants in Najaf, The Age, January 29, 2007
- Analysis: Najaf battle raises questions - Yahoo! News, January 30, 2007
- Bizarre tale of Shia messianic cult plot, BBC, 30 January 2007
- 10 Iraqi cult members sentenced to death, Middle East Times, September 2, 2007
- Troops clash with Shia cult in southern Iraq, Kim Game, Associated Press, reported in The Guardian, January 19, 2008
- Violence on Ashura, reported in the BBC, January 19, 2008