The battle in Najaf involved an Iraqi Shi'a movement attempting to depose the Shi'a hierarchy currently in power with American support. In other words, when Americans were shot down in their Apache helicopter yesterday, they were intervening in the midst of a rarely-reported civil war between Shi'a, a combat mission well beyond their official authorization.
The Western media were taken aback, comparing the uprising to a suicide cult like that of Jonestown a decade ago. But information from a Sunni parliamentarian in Baghdad presented a picture of a Shi'a revolt against the growing hegemony of Iran within the US-backed Shi'a hierarchy. According to this source,
The Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Sarkhi al-Hasani called on his followers in Najaf, Karbala, Hilla, Kufa, and Diwaniya to take over Najaf, warning Ayatollah al-Sistani and all Iranian officials to leave the city. Al-Hasani's forces allegedly control the Najaf police and have liquidated all Badr militia within the security forces.
The uprising is a signal that many Iraqi Shi'a oppose what they consider the Iranian occupation of Iraq as exemplified by Prime Minister al-Maliki of the al-Dawa Party, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Command of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and their militias.
While Iraq's majority Shi'a population supported the 2003 US invasion against the Saddam Hussein regime, deep divisions have developed between those Shi'a whose political loyalties are to an Arab Iraq and those in leadership who are associated with Teheran's government, clergy and republican guards.
American troops are victims of a violent contradiction. While escalating tensions with Iran on the one hand, US commanders are battling on the side of Iran's allies in the Baghdad government and security forces on the other.
Increasingly, the US is promoting an alternative to Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi vice-president Adel Abdul Mahdi. While Iraq was plunging into chaos, Mahdi was being presented as a future leader at the World Economic Forum in Davos, promoting more troops for Baghdad while being profiled for the Washington Post's Sunday Style section.
Background for this article came from Iraqi sources through Dal Lamagna's Iraqi Voices Project in Washington DC.