Southern Iraq, which is overwhelmingly Shiite, is home to a number of small doomsday-style cults whose leaders either claim to be the Mahdi, or who believe they can hasten his return by spreading chaos. One is the Soldiers of Heaven or Jund As-Samaa (Arabic: جند السماء), also called Supporters of the Mahdi.
BAGHDAD — Members of an obscure messianic cult fought Iraqi security forces Friday in two southern cities, leaving at least 80 people dead and scores injured, while spreading panic among worshipers marking Shiite Islam's most important holiday.
Members of the cult, which calls itself the Supporters of the Mahdi, mingled with the crowds in at least three sections of Basra and in Nasiriya, then fired shots at worshipers and the security forces, police and witnesses said.
The Supporters of the Mahdi is named after a figure most Muslims believe will appear with Jesus and establish peace and justice worldwide. Most Shiites believe the Mahdi is their 12th imam, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad who they say went into hiding in 878 and is still alive and will return.1