Soldiers of Heaven

An enigmatic Iraqi Shi’a messianic sect known for its armed insurrection in Najaf and mysterious connections.

The Soldiers of Heaven, also known as Jund As-Samāʾ in Arabic, were an armed Iraqi Shi’a messianic sect. They came into the spotlight in late January 2007 during the Battle of Najaf, where they attempted to instigate a “messianic insurrection” against the holy city of Najaf and the grand ayatollahs residing there.

Background and Beliefs

The sect was shrouded in mystery, with much of the information about them coming from Iraqi officials who provided incomplete and sometimes contradictory accounts. The group’s beliefs centered around the imminent return of the “Hidden Imam,” a messianic figure in Shi’a Islam. Some reports suggested that the group’s leader, Diya Abdul-Zahra Kadim, considered himself the Hidden Imam.

The Battle of Najaf

In January 2007, the Soldiers of Heaven engaged in severe clashes with Iraqi government forces and U.S. troops during the Ashura festival. The group reportedly planned to attack pilgrims and leading Shi’a clerics during the festival. The battle resulted in significant casualties, with estimates of around 200-300 sect members killed, including the leader, and 300-400 captured.

Aftermath and Speculations

The aftermath of the battle saw Iraqi police rounding up hundreds of sect members. In September 2007, ten leaders of the Soldiers of Heaven were sentenced to death, and others received various jail terms. In January 2008, the group was involved in fighting in Basra and Nassiriya.

Questions remain regarding the group’s origins, connections, and combat effectiveness, including their capability to shoot down an American AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship. Speculations have hinted at potential financial backing from Iran and affiliations with al-Qaeda or Baathists, though these claims remain unconfirmed.

The Sect’s Composition and Activities

The members, numbering around 1,000, appeared to be mostly poor Shi’a farmers from an agricultural area near Najaf. Despite their poverty, they amassed significant wealth and were heavily armed. The group’s compound included facilities for car-bomb production and a chop shop for dismantling cars.

Theoretical Implications

The existence and activities of the Soldiers of Heaven raised questions about other potential fringe groups operating under the radar in Iraq, particularly within the politically factious Shiite community of southern Iraq. The group’s battle tactics and resistance against Iraqi and U.S. forces indicated a significant level of organization and military capability.