$10 million seized from cult ruins

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram/January 31, 2007
By Richard Mauer

Baghdad -- The ruins of the Soldiers of Heaven compound in Najaf yielded new evidence Tuesday that the religious cult had amassed huge wealth and weapons storehouses virtually under the noses of the Iraqi and U.S. militaries.

American soldiers confiscated perhaps as much as $10 million in U.S. currency from the compound, where the bodies of dead cultists still littered the ground.

The violent cult was largely wiped out Sunday in a fierce battle on its land a few miles north of Najaf after authorities learned that it planned to attack worshippers and Iraq's leading Shiite Muslim clerics during religious celebrations Tuesday. Security forces and provincial authorities said 150 to 400 fighters had been killed, including the cult's leader, who claimed to be the "Hidden Imam" of Shiite theology.

The cult had no known connections to Iraq's many militias and insurgent groups. But its growth revealed something about the country's political landscape nonetheless: An Iraqi police colonel said authorities hadn't attacked the cult earlier because they thought it was affiliated with anti-American rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Col. Ahmad Hussain, of the criminal intelligence bureau in Najaf, said officials hadn't wanted to "create any problem" because of the "sensitivity of the situation between the security forces and the Sadr stream." Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia is known to have sympathizers throughout Iraq's police and army.

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