Military


Najaf

An Islamic holy city, Najaf is home to the shrine of Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Mohammad's cousin and son-in-law and fourth caliph (656-661). Najaf also contains one of the largest cemeteries in the world. According to Imam Ali, any Muslim buried here will enter paradise; as a result, the tombs of several prophets are found in Najaf. Shia Muslims especially consider it a privilege to be buried here. Like Karbala, Najaf became an important center of Islamic scholarship and theology. During his exile from Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini lived here for 12 years prior to the 1979 revolution in Iran. In 1999, the Iraqi Shia leader Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr was assassinated in Najaf, sparking clashes between Shia and the Iraqi government.

In the nineteenth century, the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala in Ottoman Iraq emerged as the most important Shi'i centers of learning. Najaf is known for being an Islamic center for scientific, literary and theological studies for the whole Islamic world and mainly for the Shiites, therefore Najaf is attractive for a large number of people, poets, authors and other visitors from China/India, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iran which is estimated annually over half a million.

Najaf has a population of 560,000, and Muhammad's son-in-law, Imam Ali bin Ali Talib, is buried in the Imam Ali mosque. Iran's Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini spent 1964-78 in exile in Najaf. The holy city of Najaf is located 160 kilometers South of Baghdad and 60 km to the south of Hilla. Najaf in arabic means a high land where water cannot be reached. It is a city situated on high plateau over a sandy ground looking down from northern and eastern sides on wide scope camp of domes and tombs called valley of the peace. Najaf is a city of low-level sprawl, with boulevards lined by trees, arched brick buildings, and streets filled with bearded clerics wearing white or black turbans. Najaf is the spiritual center of Shiite Islam, site of the shrine of the Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad and first leader of the Shias.

Four senior Grand Ayatollahs constitute the Religious Institution (al-Hawzah al-`Ilmiyyah) in Najaf, the preeminent seminary center for the training of Shiite clergymen. Before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Najaf was the most important center of study for Shia religious leaders. However, Saddam Hussein ordered mass arrests and the expulsion of senior clerics, giving the Iranian seminary in the city of Qom the opportunity to take over the religious leadership of the Shias. Qom was the pre-eminent religious center for Shia Muslims for 25 years. But Najaf has a history of more than a millenium of leadership, and the Iranian clerics who run the holy city of Qom, are facing a revived rival. As of mid-2003 the seminary in Qom hosted between 40,000 and 50,000 clergy, while the number in Najaf stould at about 2,000, down from about 10,000 before the Ba'ath regime took. The first exodus from Qom to Najaf is expected to be by exiled Iraqi clerics, estimated to number between 3,000, and 5,000.

Qom may face a challenge over the concept of the Velayat-e-Faqih - the God-given authority for a top religious leader to oversee secular in the absence of the Prophet Mohammad and infallible imams. The Najaf school does not interpret the Velayat-e-Faqih as meaning the direct intevention of religion in politics. The Najaf seminary's view of the Velayat-e-Faqih is that of a supervisor and adviser. The Qom school believes the opposite, with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, officially considered as the highest religious authority of the world's Shias. Qom sees the direct involvement of clerics in state ruling and executive affairs as their legitimate right and moral obligation.


Najaf Under Sadam

On September 5, 1965, Imam Khomeini left Turkey for Najaf in Iraq, where he was destined to spend thirteen years. Once settled in Najaf, Imam Khomeini began teaching fiqh at the Shaykh Murtaz‚ Ans‚rÓ madrasa. He also delivered, between January 21 and February 8, 1970, his celebrated lectures on vil‚yat-i faqÓh, the theory of governance that was to be implemented after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution.

The text of the lectures on vil‚yat-i faqÓh was smuggled back to Iran by visitors who came to see the Imam in Najaf. The same channels were used to convey to Iran the numerous letters and proclamations in which the Imam commented on the events that took place in his homeland during the long years of exile. The first such document, a letter to the Iranian 'ulam‚' assuring them of the ultimate downfall of the Shah's regime.

The continued growth of the Islamic movement during Imam Khomeini's exile should not be attributed exclusively to his abiding influence or to the activity of 'ulam‚' associated with him. Important, too, were the lectures and books of 'AlÓ SharÓ'atÓ (d. 1977), a university-educated intellectual whose understanding and presentation of Islam were influenced by Western ideologies, including Marxism, to a degree that many 'ulam‚' regarded as dangerously syncretistic. When the Imam was asked to comment on the theories of SharÓ'atÓ, both by those who supported them and by those who opposed them, he discreetly refrained from doing so, in order not to create a division within the Islamic movement that would have benefited the Shah's regime.

The chain of events that ended in February 1979 with the overthrow of the Pahlavi regime and the foundation of the Islamic Republic began with the death of his son Mustafa Khomeini in Najaf on October 23, 1977 under mysterious circumstances. This death was widely attributed to the Iranian security police, SAVAK, and protest meetings took place in Qum, Tehran, Yazd, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Tabriz. Imam Khomeini himself, with the equanimity he customarily displayed in the face of personal loss, described the death of his son as one of the "hidden favors" (alt‚f-i khafiya) of God, and advised the Muslims of Iran to show fortitude and hope.

In one of the numerous miscalculations that marked his attempts to destroy the revolution, the Shah decided to seek the deportation of Imam Khomeini from Iraq, on the assumption, no doubt, that once removed from the prestigious location of Najaf and its proximity to Iran, his voice would somehow be silenced. The agreement of the Iraqi government was obtained at a meeting between the Iraqi and Iranian foreign ministers in New York, and on September 24, 1978, the Imam's house in Najaf was surrounded by troops. He was informed that his continued residence in Iraq was contingent on his abandoning political activity, a condition he was sure to reject. On October 3, he left Iraq and arrived in Paris.

The al-Khathra mosque, which was closed in 1994, had remained closed until Saddam's fall. The closure coincided with the death of Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Taqi al-Khoei, who was killed in what observers believe was a staged car accident; before his death, Ayatollah al-Khoei led prayers in the al-Khathra mosque.

Shi'a groups reported numerous instances of religious scholars -- particularly in the internationally renowned Shi'a academic center of Najaf -- being subjected to arrest, assault, and harassment during the period of Baath rule. This included years of government manipulation of the Najaf theological schools. As reported by Amnesty International in the late 1970's and early 1980's, the Baath Government systematically deported tens of thousands of Shi'a (both Arabs and Kurds) to Iran, claiming falsely that they were of Persian descent. According to Shi'a sources, religious scholars and Shi'a merchants who supported the schools financially were prime targets for deportation. In the 1980's, during the Iran-Iraq war, it was reported widely that the Baath Government expelled and denied visas to thousands of foreign scholars who wished to study at Najaf. After the 1991 popular uprising, the Baath Government relaxed some restrictions on Shi'a attending the schools; however, this easing of restrictions was followed by an increased government repression of the Shi'a religious establishment, including the requirement that speeches by imams in mosques be based upon government-provided material that attacked fundamentalist trends.

Occupation Activities

The Iraqi forces within Najaf were under intense bombing and shelling for about four days, Chelkonas said, and quickly surrendered when U.S. forces assaulted the town. As Saddam Hussein's regime crumbled before the coalition forces' attack, the local people were quick to show their gratitude to the soldiers who'd freed them. On April 3, in a public move to declare the city's liberation, the division blew up a 30-foot-tall statue of Saddam Hussein. For days, as the wreckage of the statue lay broken around its prominent base, Iraqis drove by and honked their horns at the soldiers.

On 10 April 2003 senior Iraqi Sh'ite leader Abdul Majid al-Khoei was assassinated at a mosque in the holy city of Najaf. The clergy in Najaf asked the US administration for more security. The Najaf ayatollahs are among the more respected in the entire Shiite world, and to have them blown up while supposedly under US protection makes the US look very bad in the Shiite world.

After the attack on al-Khoi and the siege at Sistani's house, religious leaders in Al-Najaf sought to smooth relations between all parties to prevent further unrest. The Shi'a leaders in Al-Najaf tried to calm down the situation and tried to fix the relations between the different parties in order not to go further with the disagreements and differences between the al-Sadr followers and those of al-Hakim and Sistani. They tried to bring them together and al-Sadr condemned the attack on Abd Majid al-Khoi and said that it is ridiculous to say that our followers are the people who did it.

At least one mass grave was uncovered some 20 kilometers northwest of the holy city of Al-Najaf in May 2003. Iraqis began digging at a site on 3 May, and had reportedly uncovered 72 bodies from the shallow grave within a few days. Bullet casings were found in and near the graves. Iraqis at the site told reporters that the grave was filled with men and women executed following a failed Shi'ite uprising after the 1991 Gulf War. "Everybody knew and could see, but they kept quiet," local farmer Kamal al-Tamimi told AP, adding, "We were told [by Iraqi officials] to stay away from this area, not to go near it, that it was a security zone." Another farmer said that he had seen blindfolded people with their hands tied behind their backs, shot in the back of the head in 1991. US Marines had been controlling the site but transferred control to the Iraqi Unity Association, headed by US-appointed Governor Abd al-Munim Aboud.

By 18 April 2004 about 2,500 U.S. combat troops were poised on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city of Al-Najaf. Radical militia leader and Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and thousands of his militia fighters were sheltering in the city, and tensions were high. An Al-Sadr spokesman, Qays al-Khazali, said any assault by U.S. forces in Al-Najaf will signal the start of "revolution all over Iraq."

On 08 August 2004 Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i said the Iraqi Army "will surely intervene" and join the U.S.-backed military operations in Al-Najaf if the crisis continues to grow. Sha'lan al-Khuza'i claimed al-Sadr's militia was receiving weapons from Iran. He said Shi'a fighters from the southern Iraqi cities of Al-Basrah, Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Diwaniyah and Hilla had moved to Al-Najaf to support al-Sadr's fighters.

Camp Bushmaster

In April 2003 US Army V Corps combat support units were stationed at Camp Bushmaster near Najaf. US Army Chaplain Josh Llano was giving water to American soldiers who agreed to listen to one of his hour-and-a-half- religious sermons inside a hot tent with a dirt floor, then be "baptized." Since the story ran, several organizations alleged that Llano was coercing baptisms and crossing church-state lines. The backlash led to an investigation by Army Chief of Chaplains Gaylord Gunhus, who concluded that Llano was probably just joking with soldiers.

Camp Eagle III

With the entire 101st Airborne Division deployed to Southwest Asia supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003, every soldier wearing the "Screaming Eagle" patch played a part in making the mission successful. The division's band, a unit known for entertaining fellow soldiers at home in Fort Campbell, Ky., now was protecting them. The band's mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom is to provide security and protect the access to the division's command post. The 40-member band also manned security checkpoints, a mission the musicians normally don't perform during training in Kentucky. And when division commander MG David H. Petreaus and his staff needed tents set up, it was the band members who answered the call. Petreaus complemented the band and gave several soldiers division coins. The band members regularly train on their common soldier tasks and did not deploy to the Middle East unprepared for their current missions.

As the fighting began to subside across Iraq, Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams were beginning the work of ridding the country of devices such as grenades, rockets, missiles and mortars that remain buried in fields, streets and front yards. After a two-day drive earlier this month from Kuwait to Camp Eagle III, several miles from An Najaf, soldiers of the 725th EOD Company had just enough time to unload some gear and take a quick stretch before they were told to proceed into the city.

Camp Hotel / FOB Hotel

FOB Hotel was transferred to Iraqi control on September 6, 2005. Members of 1st Battalion, 198th Armor, 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) transferred this authority to the 1st Brigade, 8th Division of the Iraqi Army.

Camp Hotel is located in the Northern outskirts of Najaf. The facility was previously used by Spanish troops prior to their departure in late-April 2004. During offensive operations in Najaf in August 2004, the camp relies on ice supplied at Camp Duke to help curb the number of dehydration casualties for Soldiers and Marines pulling twelve hour shifts in armored vehicles, during the hottest months in Iraq.

As of mid-June 2004, soldiers at Camp Hotel were reported by the Army Times publication to have access to the Internet, using a former latrine building converted into an Intenet Cafe, with its computer stations stationed along the walls and the building's old toilet stalls locations.

Camp Baker / Camp Golf

Camp Baker is the main coalition facility in Najaf. The facilities are consequently better than those facilities located outside the city. Internet and teleophone services are said to be better than average, and the food is reportedly fresher than what is recieved in Bushmaster and Golf.





NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list