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Days after clashes left some 80 people dead, the Iraqi government has sent a specially trained police unit to a southern Iraqi city to “re-establish security and conduct follow-on security operations,” officials said Wednesday.

An Iraqi Emergency Response Unit has arrived in Nasiriyah on the orders of the Iraqi prime minister following repeated clashes and insurgent attacks that killed several Iraqi police, including the city’s Special Weapons and Tactics commander.

The fighting was between Iraqi security forces and members of a “doomsday” cult of Shiites. Reportedly wearing yellow headbands and the Star of David, members of the cult attacked police positions in the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriyah on Friday. By the end of Saturday, Iraqi police had overrun a mosque that was believed to be the cult’s stronghold.

According to Iraqi police officials, the fighters had booby-trapped the mosque, which was later destroyed by security forces.

Members of the cult, led by Ahmed Hassan Yamani and called the “Supporters of Mahdi,” believe they can hasten the return of the Imam Mahdi, who went into hiding in the year 878 and, Shiites believe, will return to Earth in the final days of humanity.

Yamani is believed to have been killed in the fighting on Saturday.

Iraqi officials said the cult involved in the recent fighting is different from a cult that attacked U.S. and Iraqi forces outside of Karbala and Najaf last year.

Known as the “Soldiers of Heaven,” that cult had similar beliefs. The fighting it was involved in last year killed nearly 300 people.


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