New videos have surfaced on Iraqi online forums showing self-described Mahdi Army militiamen burning and blowing up several Sunni mosques in southern Baghdad weeks before suspected Al-Qaeda militants blew up the two minarets of the revered Shi'ite Askari shrine in Samarra on June 13, 2007.
The first video shows the blowing up of the Fattah Pasha mosque and its minaret in the Bayya' district in southern Baghdad on June 8, 2007. Residents said Mahdi Army militiamen broke into the Sunni mosque and rigged it with explosives under the watch of Interior Ministry commandos in the district. They reportedly hanged one of the mosque's guards on the minaret and filmed it from a distance as it crumbled to the ground from the blast. Gunfire can be heard in the area following the explosion.
The district, which continues to witness gruesome tit-for-tat sectarian murders, was under the control of Kurdish Iraqi army units until early June. They had prevented Mahdi Army members from attacking the mosque several times, residents said, including a time when militiamen were caught drilling holes for explosives into the mosque's minaret. The militiamen succeeded in finally destroying the mosque after the Kurdish units were replaced with Interior Ministry commandos, despite objections of the Sunni community in the area, who said the Kurdish units were much more professional and impartial.
Shi'ite residents had charged that the mosque was used by Sunni insurgents and that snipers perched on its minaret attacked Shi'ite civilians in the area.
The following cell phone video found on a Sadrist website, and recently making the rounds on Iraqi Web forums, shows armed Mahdi Army militiamen attacking a Sunni mosque in the religiously mixed Muwasalat district in southern Baghdad and setting it on fire. The blurry video, dated March 24, 2007, and filmed by a member of the group, shows the militiamen, one of them donning an Iraqi Army helmet, armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, creeping upon the abandoned mosque and then setting it on fire. The militiamen then wave their rifles and dance outside in celebration as black plumes of smoke engulf the mosque.
The attack depicted in the video, which is titled "The Heroes of Muwasalat," was during a joint U.S.-Iraqi military cordon against the Muwasalat district, in southwestern Baghdad near the Baghdad International Airport highway, which is a hotbed of sectarian violence between Sunni insurgents and the Shi’ite Mahdi Army militia. The security sweep was part of the Baghdad security operation.
Sunni insurgent groups based in Amiriya, Jihad and the rural Duwanim and Girtan districts often stage attacks at what they claim are Mahdi Army groups in the districts of Muwasalat, Suwaib, Shurta Al-Khamsa, Ma’alif and Turath districts. Sectarian violence is also rampant in the Amil, Bayya’ and Saidiya districts further north, which are often targeted by car bombs and mortar fire.
Posters on Iraqi message boards claimed to identify the group’s bearded leader in the blue tracksuit, who they named as Mohammed Herqil (Hercules), at the end of the video. A resident of the Muwasalat district alleged that the militiamen in the video were well known and active in targeting members of the Sunni community in the Muwasalat, Shurta Al-Khamsa and I’lam districts, often with the aid of Iraqi security forces, he said.
This video shows Mahdi Army militiamen burning an unidentified Sunni mosque in the Shurta Al-Khamsa district of southern Baghdad. It shows AK-47-toting Mahdi Army gunmen celebrating in the aftermath and chanting, "We are the soldiers of the Sayyid's son." The video is accompanied by a religious Sadrist soundtrack, and the title says:
"We dedicate to the leader Sayyid Muqtada Al-Sadr the action of a group of believers, writing the purest pages of history with luminous letters. We dedicate to you the true victory, a day like Ashurra, when the wronged people achieved victory over the camp of Yazid, over the trinity of occupiers, Ba'athists and Nawasib. This is in response to the American targeting of the Imam's army and to the treacherous Arabs. We dedicate to you a new victory, where the members of the Imam's army burn a mosque of the Nawasib in the Shurta Al-Khamsa district."