This is the tale of two Shiite fighters buried in the same cemetery in the holy city of Najaf. In the Valley of Peace, the largest Muslim cemetery in the world, these men’s bodies were buried, blessed and mourned. One was an Iraqi soldier. The other was a Mahdi Army fighter from Muqtada al Sadr's army.
Mohammed Sami was a father of three little girls and a boy. His wife will now raise them alone. Iraqi Security Forces descended on Basra last week to wrest control of the city from Shiite militants. The Mahdi Army fought back and the battle spread to Baghdad and neighboring provinces. Sami, a militia member, was killed in battles in Karbala with the Iraqi Security Forces.
His cousin, Ahmed Moussa Hassan, buried him in one of the 100 graves dug for dead fighters by their Mahdi Army peers.
"Mohammed was defending himself when they came to detain him, and the Sayed (the honorofic title for Muqtada al Sadr) told us that to defend one's self is a duty," Hassan said. "All the blood that has been shed is upon the conscience of Maliki and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, because it is them who caused this strife."
He refers to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the most powerful Shiite party in Iraq, ISCI. But ISCI is a party of mostly exiles who are much less popular than Sadr's national movement.
"Our martyrs will gain the afterlife; God will defeat injustice and render us victorious," he said.
Across the cemetery a poor Shiite family from Najaf laid their son to rest. The 28-year-old's job as an Iraqi soldier supported his sisters, brothers and his parents. His father, Malik al Shimmeri, paid a $500 bribe to get his son, Zuhair, his job. Now he is riddled with the guilt that the job ultimately killed his son.
"He never wanted the job, he hated the violence," said Al-Shimmeri. "I wanted him to help with money. I made him do it and now he is dead."
His son’s death filled him with both guilt and anger at the Shiite Mahdi Army that many people now support more out of fear than love.
"My son, Zuhair, was martyred at the hands of the criminal terrorists in Kut," he said. "Maliki must pursue the criminals and execute them."
Both of their families call their dead martyrs.