Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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April 11, 2003

Leading Iraqi Hojjat ol-Islam Hacked to Death in Najaf, Reportedly by Iranian Agents

Analysis. From GIS sources in Tehran and elsewhere. GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs sources in Tehran said on April 10, 2003, that there was “no doubt” that the intelligence service of the Iranian clerical Administration was responsible for the symbolic and graphic murder in an-Najaf, Iraq, of one of the most important Shi’a clerics in the city, Hojjat ol-Islam Abdul Majid al-Khoei, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei.

The murder, which involved the hacking to death of the Hojjat ol-Islam and the disfigurement of his body in a way which was particularly offensive, Islamically, came only days after Government-controlled newspapers in Tehran strongly criticized the Iraqi cleric, who had called for support for secular government in Iraq and who had urged Iraqis to help the Coalition forces to remove Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein. the Hojjat ol-Islam was attacked inside the venerated Imam Ali Mosque in an-Najaf, an act which was by its method and location an act of deliberate religious despoiling, possibly intended to stir local Shi’as against the Coalition forces.

Hojjat ol-Islam Khoei [sometimes transliterated as Khoi, from the Iranian region of Khoi, near Azerbaijan] had been in the mosque with four friends when he noticed another cleric, Haydar Kilidar, under attack. Hojjat ol-Islam Khoei attempted to protect Imam Kilidar but was himself attacked by the crowd. Both men were killed. Hojjat ol-Islam Kho had left Iraq 12 years ago, but had returned to an-Najaf from London two weeks before his murder. The cleric was accompanied by at least one US bodyguard at the time of the attack, and that guard was also wounded in the attack by the assailants.

As noted earlier by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, Iranian officials had developed a series of contingency plans for the collapse of the Saddam Government in Iraq, with the base line plan being to ensure that the Shi’ite swathe of Iraq across the country’s center would be kept in a state of chaos, to enable Iran to maintain an uninhibited communication line across to Syria and to Iranian forces and surrogates in Lebanon. Some Iranian opposition leaders, such as Azadegan’s Dr Assad Homayoun, saw in the assassination of Hojjat ol-Islam Khoi signs of desperation among the Iranian clerical leadership, noting: “Their only hope now is to minimize the perception of the Coalition’s success in Iraq, and to stir as much trouble as possible in the Shi’a areas of Iraq. But the clarity of the Coalition triumph against Saddam has not been gone unnoticed by the people of Iran. This makes the clerical leaders’ position even more shaky.”