According to a young Iraqi who was unsuccessfully recruited by the group, the organization started amongst young religious men in their 20s who felt that Iraqi society was becoming corrupted. They condemn drinking, prostitution, corruption, premarital sex, listening to loud music, and using the internet. The group began patrolling Nasiriyah at night during the summer and attacked people they felt were acting immorally. Some locals claimed that the organization has killed, although that’s disputed.
This eventually caught the attention of the authorities. On July 24, 10 members were arrested in Nasiriyah, and charged with terrorism. On August 1, the local police conducted a raid against the group that netted 20 more. That same day, a source in the Interior Ministry said that they received intelligence that the Swords of Righteousness may be spreading to Baghdad and Diyala provinces, and that they had already established themselves in Maysan.
A cleric and professor interviewed by The National paper said that Iraq was ripe for these types of groups. High unemployment, poor services, political instability, on going violence, etc. provided ample reasons for young men to become radicalized. That’s been seen before in the various Shiite militias that rose up after the 2003 invasion, as well as a series of messianic cults in southern Iraq such as the Soldiers of Heaven. Whether Swords of Righteousness will rise to the popularity and stature of these groups, or just be a passing fad is yet to be seen, but it’s probably not the last radical religious group that will spring up in Iraq.
AK News, “Feared group may move closer to Baghdad, says security source,” 8/1/10
Aswat al-Iraq, “10 swordsmen admitted to judiciary in Thi-Qar,” 7/24/10
- “20 swordsmen nabbed in Nassiriya,” 8/1/10
Latif, Nizar, “Deadly morality squad patrols Iraqi city,” The National, 7/31/10
Reuters, “Iraqi forces battle cult gunman,” 1/18/08
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