"The group's bloody aims are seen as a bid to bring the return of the 'Hidden Imam'" -- because, according to Twelver Shi'ite tradition, the Hidden Imam will only come at a time of great upheaval and bloodshed, when the Muslims are being persecuted as never before.
"Shiite holiday marred by violence in Iraq: Death toll from fighting in two mainly Shiite cities at least 68," from AP (thanks to all who sent this in):
BAGHDAD - Hundreds of thousands of frenzied Shiites beat their heads and chests in unison and whipped themselves with chains Saturday across Iraq to honor the martyrdom of one of their most revered saints. The processions were marred by violence with a deadly bombing in northern Iraq and clashes south of Baghdad.
The street battles between members of a messianic cult and Iraqi troops raged for a second day as the death toll from the fighting in two predominantly Shiite southern cities rose from 50 to at least 68.
Iraqi authorities said at least 36 people were reported killed in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, and at least 32 in Nasiriyah, including Iraqi security forces, civilians and gunmen. At least 10 people were reported slain in Nasiriyah Friday.
Video footage broadcast on Iraqi state TV showed several dead or wounded men lying on bloodstained streets in Basra, where officials said the situation was under control. An Iraqi soldier held the yellow bandanna of one man, apparently signifying that he was a member of the Soldiers of Heaven cult.
Nine blindfolded detainees sat hunched over on a curb as men held a sign behind them that said "criminal investigation department in Basra."
There were conflicting accounts about how the clashes erupted, but all signs pointed to the radical Shiite group, which last year mounted a ferocious attack after Iraqi security forces raided its stronghold near the holy city of Najaf to foil an alleged plot to slaughter pilgrims and leading clerics during Ashoura.
'Hidden Iman' [sic]
The group's bloody aims are seen as a bid to bring the return of the "Hidden Imam" -- also known as the Mahdi -- a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who disappeared as a child in the ninth century. Shiites believe he will return one day to bring justice to Earth....