Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Mahdi Army Sees Divine Hand at Work
During the siege of Fallujah last April, Sunni insurgents told of giant spiders and ghost riders, which they claimed had been sent from heaven to aid them in their jihad or holy war against Coalition forces.
Today, volunteers for the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia following of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, returned to Baghdad from three weeks of fighting in Najaf with their own stories of divine intervention, ranging from ghostly machine-gunners to great birds that deflected falling bombs.
Volunteer Sayf Adnan, 25, told how he was fighting with a group of comrades near to Najaf's Imam Ali shrine, the tomb of one of the most venerated figures in Shia Islam and the centre-piece of the Mahdi Army's defence, when United States warplanes began bombing them.
"It went on for half an hour,” he said. “Bombs struck every metre, but 80 per cent of them did not blow up. Not one of us was hurt. We knew we were under the protection of the Imam Ali... and that nothing would happen to us.”
Adnan did not see the agent of his deliverance, but other fighters claimed they did.
"My brother returned from Najaf and told us there was a huge bird which cried out in a loud voice. It appeared when the Americans began bombing Mahdi Army positions," said a teenager.
The bird would reportedly brush the bombs with its wings, so that they did not explode.
"It’s a sign from God – that He has soldiers of all kinds,” claimed the youth. “That bird was a soldier of God.”
Others spoke of mysterious shadows flitting around US tanks, which they believed to be angels stepping in to disable the cannon or tracks of the vehicles.
"Those tanks could not move - something had fixed them to the ground," said a Mahdi Army fighter who did not give his name.
Khaled al-Dulaimi, a volunteer from Fallujah who ran rocket-propelled grenade launchers, RPGs, and other weapons to the Mahdi Army, claimed to have been saved by a miracle.
"I was stopped at a checkpoint run by the National Guard and the Americans. They asked me where I was going and for my ID," said Dulaimi.
He told the military he was going to Najaf, but on a humanitarian mission to help the besieged city.
"I told them I was carrying fish to give to the people of Najaf,” he said. “Then they asked me to open the car.
"I prayed to God and asked for help to get through this tribulation. And when they went to the back seat, pulled back the cover and opened the boxes, what I saw in the boxes of weapons was fish. I couldn’t believe my eyes."
When he got into Najaf, the fish had turned back into RPGs.
"Don't laugh," he snapped at a sceptical interviewer. "You need faith. This is what faith does."
Zainab Naji is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.
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