URGENT : Insurgents now bomb minarets at wrecked shrine, flashpoint of Iraq violence
^Eds: Curfew imposed, graf 3.<
^By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA=
^Associated Press Writer=
BAGHDAD (AP) _ Suspected al-Qaida insurgents early Wednesday
destroyed the two minarets of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra,
authorities reported, in a repeat of a 2006 bombing that shattered
its famous Golden Dome and unleashed a wave of retaliatory sectarian
violence that still bloodies Iraq.
Police said the attack, at about 9 a.m., involved explosives and
brought down the pair of slender, golden minarets, which had flanked
the dome`s ruins. No casualties were reported.
The attack, blamed on Sunni Muslim extremists, immediately
stirred fears of a new explosion of Sunni-Shiite bloodshed. State
television said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki quickly imposed an
indefinite curfew on vehicle traffic and large gatherings in
Baghdad, as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.
The Iraqi leader also met with the U.S. commander in Iraq to ask
that American reinforcements be sent into Samarra to help head off
new violence in the flashpoint city, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north
of Baghdad, al-Maliki`s office said.
The powerful blasts shook the town, sending a cloud of dust
billowing into the air, said Imad Nagi, a storeowner 100 meters
(yards) from the century-old shrine. `After the dust settled, I
couldn`t see the minarets any more. So, I closed the shop quickly
and went home.`
It wasn`t immediately clear how the attackers evaded the shrine`s
guard force, which had been strengthened after the 2006 bombing.
In the aftermath of Wednesday`s explosions, police in the shrine
area began firing into the air to keep people away, witnesses said,
and Iraqi army and police reinforcements poured in. A national
police force under command of a major general was ordered to move
immediately to Samarra, said an Interior Ministry official.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, called for
three days of mourning and for peaceful demonstrations to mark
destruction of the Samarra minarets. His Mahdi Army militia was
blamed for much of the Shiite-on-Sunni violence in 2006.
Prime Minister al-Maliki, in his meeting with U.S. commander Gen.
David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, asked that U.S.
troops in Baghdad be put on a higher alert to head off any upsurge
in Sunni-Shiite bloodshed, said an al-Maliki aide, speaking on
condition of anonymity.
The U.S. command had no immediate comment on such military moves.
The attack was likely the work of al-Qaida, whose militants have
recently moved into Samarra from surrounding areas, said an official
close to al-Maliki, citing intelligence reports.
He and other officials spoke on condition of anonymity, either
because of the sensitivity of the matter or because they were not
authorized to share the information.
The Askariya shrine`s dome was destroyed on Feb. 22, 2006, in a
bombing blamed on Sunni Muslim militants believed linked to
al-Qaida. The mosque compound and minarets had remained intact but
closed after that bombing.
Police imposed an indefinite curfew on Samarra, a Sunni city
housing a revered Shiite shrine, amid fears the bombing might
further inflame the sectarian hatreds that swept Baghdad and other
areas of Iraq in the months that followed the destruction of the
The execution-style killings largely blamed on Shiite militias
had begun to decline in February, at the start of a major U.S.-Iraqi
security push to pacify Baghdad, but the numbers have seen a recent
rise as the bombings continued.
Violence also has been on the rise elsewhere in Iraq after
militants fled the security operation.
The United Nations warned earlier this week that the `situation
in Iraq remains precarious.`
`Insurgent attacks persist and civilian casualties continue to
mount,` the report reads. `While there was a brief lull in the
level of sectarian violence early in the reporting period, it now
appears that militia forces are resuming their activities, including
targeted killings and kidnappings,` the U.N. said in a report on
Iraq covering the period from early March to early June.
After Wednesday`s bombing, Prime Minister al-Maliki, a Shiite,
went into urgent talks with Saleh al-Haidari, chairman of the Shiite
Waqf, the government agency that looks after Shiite mosques and
religious schools, according to officials in al-Maliki`s office.
He later met with the interior and defense ministers, along with
other top advisers and security commanders to discuss measures to
contain any possible explosion of sectarian violence following the
bombing, al-Maliki`s office said.
The Askariya mosque contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams
_ Ali al-Hadi, who died in 868, and his son Hassan Askariya, who
died in 874. Both are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and
Shiites consider them to be among his successors.
The shrine also is near the place where the 12th imam, Mohammed
al-Mahdi, disappeared. Al-Mahdi, known as the `hidden imam,` was
the son and grandson of the two imams buried in the Askariya shrine.
Shiites believe he will return to Earth restore justice to humanity.
After last year`s bombing, the mosque was guarded by about 60
Federal Protection Service forces and 25 local Iraqi police who kept
watch on the perimeter, according to Samarra city officials.
In the immediate aftermath of that bombing, U.S. officials and
others had promised to help rebuild the landmark dome, completed in
1905, but no rebuilding has begun.
Iraq has been plagued by violence since the war started in 2003,
but the carefully orchestrated 2006 explosion, in which suspected
al-Qaida assailants wearing uniforms set off two bombs, touched a
nerve. The bombing unleashed Shiite militias, who ignored appeals
for calm and instead attacked Sunni clerics and mosques. Nearly 140
people were killed the next day.
The United Nations reported that 34,452 civilians lost their
lives in 2006 in the nearly unfathomable sectarian bloodshed that
hit the capital hardest. Sunni insurgents carried out bombings
almost daily, and Shiite death squads dumped dozens of corpses on
the streets and in vacant lots.
Also Wednesday, Iraqi police said suspected militants blew up
part of a bridge in northern Iraq, in the country`s fourth bridge
attack in as many days. Insurgents planted explosives under the
Zikaytoon overpass southwest of Kirkuk, 290 kilometers (180 miles)
north of Baghdad, collapsing part of the structure, said police
Brig. Sarhat Qader.
No one was hurt, but the attack appeared to be part of a
coordinated string of strikes against key infrastructure across
In other violence, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a police
station near the Iranian border, killing five Iraqi policemen and
wounding 10, the town`s mayor said.
And in volatile Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, the U.S.
military announced that U.S. and Iraqi forces killed five suspected
insurgents and arrested 15 others on Tuesday.
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