Sunni Mosques Still Show Damage in Iraq

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 2:58 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Four Sunni mosques attacked in late November in the embattled Hurriyah neighborhood of Baghdad still bear scars from the attacks and all are now either under Shiite Muslim control or closed.

Immediately after the Nov. 24 incidents, an Associated Press story quoted an Iraqi police captain saying the four mosques had been attacked and six men doused with fuel and burned alive at one of them. In some early versions of the AP story, which was updated several times as more information became available, the police officer referred to the mosques being burned or blown up.

The report was challenged a day later, when a U.S. military spokesman said it could only confirm an attack on one mosque.

Since then, the AP has confirmed damage at three of the four mosques, including burn damage at two and slight damage at a third.

Today, all four mosques are either clearly under the control of Shiites or closed and nonfunctioning, guarded by Iraqi army troops. The Iraqi army increased its presence in Hurriyah after the November attacks, which drove many Sunnis out of the neighborhood and put it firmly under Shiite control.

The loss of the Sunni mosques is a powerful symbol of how the formerly mixed neighborhood has changed to one where only Shiites are welcome.

An Associated Press reporter who lives in the neighborhood, and whose name has been withheld from this story for security reasons, visited the mosques Friday.

_ At the small Mustafa mosque, where residents said the six men were burned Nov. 24, an AP video taken shortly after the Nov. 24 attacks showed burn damage and the front torn away by explosives.

The reporter who visited it Friday said the mosque was still heavily damaged and unrepaired. A teenager holding a pistol and sitting outside, believed to be a member of the radical Shiite Mahdi Army or its offshoots, pointed to graffiti on a nearby wall that said "TNT mosque," a reference to the fact it had been bombed.

"This is the TNT mosque. ... This name was given to it by Wahhabis" _ the name of an extremist Sunni branch that is used by the Mahdi Army as a derisory label for all Sunnis.

_ The al-Nidaa mosque, where the U.S. military said on Nov. 25 that its Iraqi sources had confirmed a fire, also remains damaged. The reporter who viewed it Friday said most of its dome has been destroyed although some was still in place. The dome's decorative covering has been knocked off and the part of the concrete dome structure that remains is full of holes. Windows are shattered and graffiti on a wall reads "Long live the Mahdi Army." The gates are closed and no one is inside the mosque or guarding it.

_ The third, the al-Muhaimin mosque, had shattered windows and holes in the roof, but a closer examination was impossible because the gate of the wall surrounding the structure was locked, the AP reporter found. It is closed, guarded by the Iraqi army and adorned by a picture of the late Shiite cleric father of Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric who heads the Mahdi Army.

_ The fourth mosque named in the AP's original report, the al-Qaqaqa mosque, also known as the al-Meshaheda mosque, has a broken window and is closed, guarded by Iraqi army troops outside and adorned with a picture of al-Sadr's father. It also has Mahdi Army graffiti scrawled on its side, partially whitewashed over but still readable.

© 2007 The Associated Press