a city in southern Iraq on the right bank of the Euphrates River, in the muhafaza (province) of Karbala. Population, 134,000 (1965). It is a trade and transportation center on the route to Mecca and Medina (Saudi Arabia).
Al-Najaf was founded in the second half of the eighth century; at the turn of the 11th century, it was surrounded by a wall. It is one of the holy cities of the Muslim Shiites, who make pilgrimages there to the tomb of Ali, a caliph and the first Shiite imam (died 661). The main architectural landmark in al-Najaf is the mausoleum-mosque of Imam Ali (dates back to the Abbasid period; it acquired its present appearance under the Safawids).