Iraq: Samarra’s al-Askari dome destroyed

From a late-breaking AP account, Feb. 22. A day after the bombing of a Shiite market in Baghdad’s Dora district, killing 22, comes the destruction of one of Shia’s most sacred shrines in Samarra. Somebody is apparently hell-bent on plunging Iraq into civil war at any cost…and perhaps igniting sectarian warfare throughout the Islamic world.

On Wednesday, a large explosion destroyed the golden dome of one of Iraq’s most famous Shiite religious shrines in Samarra, the U.S. military said, sending protesters pouring into the streets.

Police believed there were victims buried under the debris of the Askariya Shrine but had no immediate casualty figures. The attack on a major Shiite religious symbol raised fears of an escalation in sectarian violence.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered near the shrine, waving Iraqi flags, Shiite religious flags and copies of the Quran.

“This criminal act aims at igniting civil strife,” said Mahmoud al-Samarie, 28-year-old builder who was among the crowd. “We demand an investigation so that the criminals who did this be punished. If the government fails to do so, then we will take up arms and chase the people behind this attack.”

Religious leaders at other mosques and shrines throughout Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, denounced the attack.


The car bombing…in…Dora…was the deadliest bombing in Baghdad since Jan. 19, when a suicide attacker blew himself up in a coffee shop, killing 22 people and injuring 23.

The Dora bombing was the second major attack in as many days against a Shiite target in the capital. Twelve people died Monday when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt on a bus in the heavily Shiite district of Kazimiyah.

At least 969 Iraqis have been killed in war-related violence this year and at least 986 have been wounded, according to an Associated Press count.

However, large-scale attacks against civilians have declined in recent weeks amid widespread public criticism, including from Sunnis clerics and others sympathetic to the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

A roadside bomb exploded Wednesday near a primary school in a mostly Shiite area in southern Iraq, killing two boys and injuring four others, police said. The incident happened at about 7:45 a.m. in the Bashrogiya area near Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, police Lt. Othman al-Rawi said.

Some Sunni insurgent groups are believed to be holding back to give Sunni Arab politicians a chance to negotiate concessions from Shiites and Kurds during talks on a new government.

However, talks among parties that won parliamentary seats in the Dec. 15 elections have bogged down…

The Interior Ministry has denied running or sanctioning death squads. On Thursday, however, the ministry announced an investigation into alleged death squads after U.S. military officials announced the arrest last month of 22 policemen who were about to kill a Sunni Arab north of Baghdad…

A coalition of Shiite Muslim religious parties won 130 of the 275 seats in the new parliament, and Shiite leaders insist their strong showing in the election gives them the right to control key ministries.

A Kurdish alliance won 53 seats and two Sunni Arab blocs together took 55 seats – a major increase over Sunni representation in the outgoing parliament.

Sunni Arabs have accused the Shiite-run Interior Ministry of kidnapping and murdering Sunni civilians, a charge the ministry denies. Shiites and Kurds dominate the army and police, while most of the insurgents are Sunni Arabs.

As we noted in WW4 REPORT #94, Samarra was the scene of a November 2003 bloody firefight between US forces and Shiite guerillas, the details of which were hotly contested. The al-Askari mosque suffered minor damage in this battle. As we wrote in WW4 REPORT #93:

Samarra’s gold-domed sanctuary holds the tomb of two of Shia’s 12 imams, the 10th, Ali al-Hadi, and the 11th, Hadi al-Askari. A second shrine in Samarra indicates where the 12th imam, Muhammed al-Mahdi, went into “concealment” or “occultation” according to Shiite tradition. Below the blue-tiled dome there is a cellar, said to be the last place the 12th imam dwelled. Samarra was also the seat of the Abbasid caliphate for 56 years after it relocated from Baghdad in the 9th century, and still holds Abbasid-era relics, such as the Great Friday Mosque, with its distinctive spiral minaret. (Encyclopedia of the Orient)

This attack has implications far beyond Iraq, and could have devastating impacts throughout the Islamic world. As we noted in regard to the recent violence around the Ashura holy day in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

There is really a three-way civil war underway throughout the Islamic world. The three inter-related conflicts are: 1.) Sunni v. Shia, 2.) fundamentalism v. secularism, and 3.) national liberation v. imperialism. The sad irony is that it is the social iniquities that underly this last contradiction that provide the raw material of endemic rage—which is increasingly exploited, siphoned off as it were, into the prior two. Fundamentalists conflate secularism and imperialism (given a propaganda boost by their neocon enemies, who do likewise), and pose the only alternative as a purified, hegemonic Islam which must, of course, crush internal heresy.

See our last post on Iraq, and on the struggle within Islam.

  1. Shia’s sacred mosques as political pawns
    More details from Reuters:

    No one was killed in the attack on the mosque in Samarra. However a Sunni cleric was killed, police said, at one of 17 Sunni mosques in Baghdad fired on by militants. One mosque was damaged by fire, though most damage appeared relatively minor.

    Is this Sunni insurgents attacking moderates and non-collaborators, or Shiite revenge violence?

    A powerful Shi’ite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, also called for calm and unity among Iraqis but said recent U.S. pressure on Shi’ite leaders had encouraged the attackers, whom the government suspects are Sunni followers of al Qaeda.

    The Shi’ites’ reclusive and ageing senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani made a rare, if silent, television appearance that underlined the gravity of the crisis; he appealed in a statement for protests but restraint as protesters outside his office in Najaf chanted: “Rise up Shi’ites! Take revenge!” …

    Armed Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took up positions on streets in Baghdad and Shi’ite cities in the south, clashing in Basra and elsewhere with Sunnis; a Sadr aide said: “If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so.”

    Negotiations over the government composition have exposed divisions among Shi’ite leaders, with Sadr gaining influence, and mixed responses to the crisis may reflect jockeying for power.

    The leading Sunni religious body condemned the attack.

    After gunmen attacked offices of his party in Baghdad and Basra, Sunni political leader Tareq al-Hashimi of the Iraqi Islamic Party said: “We will pursue anyone who attacks Sunnis.” …

    [Iraq’s] national security adviser accused al Qaeda followers of the bombing and said 10 people wearing the uniforms of police commandos had been arrested in Samarra; police said such a group had overpowered mosque guards and laid charges which brought down the 20-metre wide, 100-year-old gilded dome, shattered mosaic wall coverings around the complex and littered it with debris.

    “For the Shi’ites … this is a major assault comparable to an attack on Mecca for all Muslims,” said Hazim al-Naimi, a political scientist at Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University.

    “It could push the country closer to civil war.”


    Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, declared three days of mourning and called for Muslim unity. He said the interim government had sent officials to Samarra.

    Residents said police sealed off the mainly Sunni city, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad; police fired over demonstrators’ heads as they chanted religious and anti-American slogans.

    Hakim, leader of the SCIRI Islamist party which also has an armed wing, the Badr organisation, accused U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of encouraging Sunni insurgents with comments on Monday insisting that the new cabinet must include Sunnis and others.

    While this is the most dramatic and serious incident by far, Shia’s most sacred mosques have long been pawns in the wars for Iraq, and have suffered damage in fighting and bombardment.

    In May 2004 fighting between US forces and the Shiite insurgency led by Moqtada al-Sadr at Najaf’s Shrine of Ali, the gold dome was hit by gunfire, and a courtyard wall was damaged in a shell blast. (WW4R #99)

    The Shrine of Ali has long been the center of political conflict, and was damaged by Saddam in repression against the Shiite rebellion of 1991. It has more recently been contested by al-Sadr’s forces and rival Shiite factions. (WW4R #94)

    On Aug. 29, 2003, a car bomb exploded at the Shrine of Ali mosque during Friday prayers, killing 75–including one of Iraq’s most important Shiite clerics, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, 64, who had just delivered a sermon calling for Iraqi unity. The mosque suffered minor damage, with some mosaic tiles blown off. Ayatollah al-Hakim was leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). His borther Abdel Aziz al-Hakim became SCIRI’s new leader. (WW4R #92)

    That same month, the dome of the shrine of Imam Ali Zein Abeddine, an important Shiite saint, was destroyed in Kurd-Turcoman violence in Kirkuk. (WW4R #92)

    During the US aerial bombardment and invasion of Spring 2003, pro-Saddam resistance fighters took refuge in Najaf’s Shrine of Ali. The city’s Shiite residents spontaneously mobilized to protect the mosque, demanding that the fighters abandon it and that US troops not enter it. Citizens also gathered at the Imam Hussein Mosque in Karbala to protect it from war damage. (WW4R #80)

    On Aug. 31, 2005, up to 1,000 were killed in a stampede on Baghdad’s Al-Aaimmah bridge sparked by rumors that a suicide bomber had infiltrated a crowd of one million pilgrims had marching toward the Kadhimiya mosque, the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kazim, one of the twelve Shiite Imams. (Wikipedia)