By Robert Fisk in the Baghdad suburb of Shu'ale
Sergeant Ali Jaffar Moussa Hamadi al-Nomani was the first Iraqi combatant known to stage a suicide attack. Not even during the uprising against British rule did an Iraqi kill himself to destroy his enemies.
Nomani was also a Shia Muslim – a member of the same sect the Americans faithfully believed to be their secret ally in their invasion of Iraq. Even the Iraqi government initially wondered how to deal with his extraordinary action, caught between its desire to dissociate themselves from an event that might remind the world of Osama bin Laden and its determination to threaten the Americans with more such attacks.
The details of the 50-year-old sergeant's life are few but intriguing. He was a soldier in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and volunteered to fight in the 1991 Gulf War, called the "Mother of All Battles" by President Saddam Hussein, who believes he was the victor. Then, though he was overage for further fighting, Nomani volunteered to fight the Anglo-American invasion. And so it was, without telling his commander and in his own car, he drove into the US Marine checkpoint outside Najaf.
President Saddam awarded him the Military Medal (1st Class) and the "Mother of All Battles" medal. The dead man left five children, a widow and a place in the 2,000-year history of Iraqi resistance to invasions. A US spokesman said that the attack "looks and feels like terrorism", although, since Nomani was attacking an occupation army and his target was a military one, no Arab would ever believe this.
Within hours of his death, Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi Vice-President, was talking like a Palestinian or Hizbollah leader, emphasising the inequality of arms between the Iraqis and the Americans.