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  • 4/20/2005


Najafis a city inIraq, about 160 km south of Baghdad, located at 31.99°N 44.33°E. Its estimated population in 2003 was 585,600 people. It is the capital of Najaf province. It is one of the holiest cities of Shi'a Islam and the center of Shi'a political power in Iraq. Najaf's main reason for fame is the shrine of Ali ibn abi Talib, fourth Caliph of Islam, and first Imam of Shi'is. The shrine is a grand complex. The dome is on top of a huge structure with one great gate, with two minarets on either side. Around the structure a huge courtyard, then another square structure with several smaller gates towards the rest of the city. Over the centuries, numerous hospices, schools, libraries and Sufi convents were built around the shrine to make the city the centre of Shi'a learning and theology.

The city is now a great center of pilgrimage from throughout the Islamic world. OnlyMecca andMedina receive more Muslim pilgrims.

HistoryThe city itself was reputedly founded in 791 (178 A.H.) by the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid. Under the rule of theOttoman Empire, Najaf experienced severe difficulties as the result of repeated raids by Arab desert tribes and acute water shortages caused by the lack of a reliable water supply.
The city was besieged by the Wahhabis in the late 18th century. The water shortages were finally resolved in 1803 with the construction of the Hindiyya canal.
Even so, Najaf lost its religious primacy to the Iranian city of Qom in the 19th century and was not to regain it until the late 20th century.
In 1915 people of Najaf revolt against their Ottoman lords, allowing the city to come under British control.
In 1918 a new revolt and this time against the British, is suppressed after that the British cut off the water supplies to Najaf.
In 1991 a mass revolt broke out at the end of the Gulf War, which was put down by the Iraqi military with considerable brutality and damage to the city. Much of the damage was repaired fairly quickly but great resentment against Saddam's regime lingered for a long timeafterwards. In 1999 February the religious leader in Najaf, Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr, and two of his sons are killed by government troops.
During the 2003 invasion ofIraq, Najaf was a key target of the invadingUnited States forces. The city was encircled during heavy fighting onMarch 26, 2003 but the Americans declined to storm it, apparently fearing the political consequences of damage to Najaf's shrines. In the event, it surrendered peacefully about ten days later around the time of the fall ofBaghdad.
On August 29 2003 a car bomb exploded during prayers outside the Imam Ali Mosque, just as weekly prayers were ending. More than 80 people were killed, including the influential cleric Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the Shiite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). During April-May 2004, fighting broke out in Najaf between U.S. forces and the al-Mahdi Army of al-Sadr, which launched a coordinated uprising across central and southern Iraq in an apparent attempt to seize control of the country ahead of the June 30, 2004 handover of power to a new Iraqi government. In August 2004, fighting broke out again between American troops and al-Sadr supporters. The battle, which was mostly centered around Wadi al-Salam cemetery, lasted three weeks and ended when senior Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani negotiated an end to the fighting. Hundreds of Mahdi Army guerrillas were killed and considerable damage was inflected on the old town and cemetery. The main shrines again suffered only superficial damage.

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