Last month, Iraqi forces defeated an attempt by a radical Shi'ite group and al Qaida operatives to kill pilgrims celebrating Ashura and assassinating Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. And while the forces of the Soldiers of Heaven (Jund Al Samaa) took heavy losses and were defeated on the battlefield, they remained a strong presence.
As a result, US and Iraqi forces continue to hunt the remaining members
...police in Diwaniya, south of Baghdad, announced the arrests of 157 more suspected members of a Shiite cult. Its followers had allegedly planned to attack the country's leading Shiite clergymen last month in the belief it would hasten the dawn of a new age.
According to authorities, at least 263 members of the group, known as Heaven's Army or the Soldiers of Heaven, were killed in a fierce firefight with U.S. and Iraqi forces, who got wind of the plot to attack religious leaders on Ashura, one of the holiest days on the Shiite calendar.
This year, Ashura fell on Jan. 29, and the battle occurred over a period of about 24 hours in the militia's well-fortified camp between the holy city of Najaf and Diwaniya.
Iraqi officials say the group's leader claimed to be a revered Shiite saint who would usher in a better world once they got rid of Iraq's other Shiite leaders. He was killed in the fighting.
Since then, police have continued to round up dozens of his alleged followers as they try to determine the extent of the group's membership and military capabilities.
The latest arrests occurred in Ghamas, between Najaf and Diwaniya, said Brig. Gen. Abdal Khaleq Badrani, the Diwaniya police chief.
In the southern town of Ghamas, in Diwaniya Province, the authorities arrested more than 100 people suspected of belonging to a messianic Shiite splinter group that tried to overthrow the Shiite clerical leadership in Najaf last month, according to Ahmed Suaibel, a spokesman for the provincial government.