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Soldiers of Heaven

With the aid of U.S. air strikes, the leader of the messianic Soldiers of Heaven, Dhia Abdul Zahra was killed along with hundreds of heavily armed followers, including some of their families, in a battle with government forces near Najef, Iraq, in late January. The millenarian cult, said to have included Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as non-Iraqis, was allegedly planning to attack the Shiite clerical establishment in the nearby holy city. Authorities found $10 million on the group’s farm outside the city. The leader claimed to be the Mahdi, the earthly representative of the “Hidden Imam,” the last of 12 Shiite saints who disappeared in the ninth century, according to Shiite theology, and who will return on Judgment Day. The Mahdi taught that the Day could be hastened by killing the religious leadership, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The Soldiers of Heaven are only one among dozens of warring Shiite factions, including other millenarian groups, which have arisen in poverty stricken southern Iraq. Observers say people are looking for a miracle to save them from the general social collapse.[csr 6.1 2007]