TSR: More on Najaf
WOLF BLITZER: Police imposed a strict curfew tonight in the southern province of Najaf, where a bloody battle this week pitted Iraqi and U.S. forces against hundreds of gunmen from what Iraqi officials described as a Messianic killer cult. We're now learning new details of that clash.
And joining us now in Baghdad, our correspondent, Michael Ware. You know, we've seen this phone video now of these bodies from that battle in Najaf the other day. I know you're investigating, Michael. What went on?
It's very confusing. The only thing we know for sure, there are a lot of dead people there.
What are you picking up?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we definitely know is that on Sunday just gone, there was a major engagement, a major battle just north of the holy city of Najaf, south of the capital, Baghdad.
Now, according to the Iraqi government, at the center of this battle was this apocalyptic death cult. I mean, this group who believe that a messiah was among them and had returned.
The government claims that part of their plan, that this sect's intention was to enter the holy city and assassinate the Shia religious sect leadership. They believed that this was part of a prophecy.
Now, this is what the government says, and they say that this group of about 600 or 700 strong had taken land north of the holy city, dug entrenchments, gun positions, they had heavy weapons and that essentially they were approaching zero hour in their deadly plan and government forces intervened.
Beyond that, what we actually do know is that a battle did take place, that government forces did engage irregular forces north of the city. We also know that Iraqi Army units with American advisers attached became involved. They were quickly enveloped. The American advisers called in two Apache helicopter gunships, one of which went down during the fight. As the battle raged throughout the evening, F- 16s were called in. A-10 and AC-130 gunships and aircraft were also called in. A Stryker unit and some infantry from the American forces, several hundred troops in total, were also brought in.
Now, according to U.S. officials, at the end of this blazing battle, there was at least 250 dead and they've hauled in 400 detainees or more so far.
Now, the Americans, however, are a little bit more cautious about just who they were fighting. Military intelligence -- military spokesmen describe them as a Shia breakaway group.
Now, they're saying the jury is still out on whether it was actually this apocalyptic cult, although some officers refer to it as a David Koresh-like organization, the American cult leader in Waco, Texas some years ago.
However, there's other stories, that this is a faction upon faction among the Shia militias; that this was a massacre of anti-Iranian forces; that this was a tribal dispute.
Basically, at the end of the day, Wolf, no one saw this battle. No one really knows how it began. And the facts are still emerging from the ruins of this engagement.
BLITZER: I know you'll stay on top of the story for us, as you always do.
Michael, thanks very much.