January 29, 2007 – The Battle of Najaf took place on 28 January 2007 at Zarqa (alt. Zarga) near Najaf, Iraq, between Iraqi Security Forces (later assisted by U.S. and UK forces) and fighters, initially thought to be Iraqi insurgents but later reported to be members of the Shia Islam cult Soldiers of Heaven, who had joined a gathering of worshippers — or, by other accounts, a conflict, originally between an Iraqi government forces checkpoint and 200 armed pilgrims, which then expanded to include local residents, the Soldiers of Heaven group, and UK and U.S. forces. In the lead-up to the Day of Ashura, which involves large numbers of pilgrims travelling, some to Najaf, for Shiite festivals, the Iraqi officials were said to discovered a plot to assassinate the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Shia religious leaders by the insurgents. Alleged plans called for the insurgents to disguise themselves as pilgrims and suddenly open fire, in attempts to assassinate as many leading Shiite clerics as possible and cause overall disruption of the holiday. Violent attacks have occurred in Najaf during previous Ashura festivals (see Ashura massacre). The initial raid by the Iraqi security forces against suspected insurgent hideout turned into heavy fighting, with the Iraqi Army almost being overwhelmed. The government forces began to retreat but were soon surrounded and pinned down. During the hours-long battle, rebel fighters captured one wounded Iraqi soldier; they treated him at the compound and sent him back to his comrades with a message saying “the imam is coming back.” At one point the Iraqi forces called on the radio to say that they were running low on ammunition. The fighting became so intense that support from U.S. and British attack helicopters and F-16 fighter jets was called in. The airstrikes carried out by Special Forces operators partnered with the Iraqi Army helped break the stalemate, but not before one American AH-64 attack helicopter was shot down, killing two U.S. soldiers. Military Transition Team (MiTT) 0810 partnered the Iraqi Army was first to respond to the Apache helicopter crash as the Soldiers of Heaven cult was attempting to seize the crash site. Once the crash site was secured by U.S. forces and the enemy disposition was ascertained, further support was requested. The Iraqi Army was still unable to advance, and they called in support from both an elite Iraqi unit known as HIllah SWAT, which is based to the north in Hilla, and U.S motorized infantry troops. Around 1pm, elements of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, part of 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division were dispatched from near Baghdad. Some of the gunmen managed to break out toward Karbala. On 1 February, the city of Najaf was cordoned off, and subsequently Iraqi Government and U.S. forces appeared to be involved in heavy fighting, including helicopter gunship support. The opposing forces seem to be militants inside the city limits. This seemingly contradicted initial assessment that the hostile group was effectively destroyed after the battle of 28 January, but independently verified information was not available at the time.