Shiite Shrine in Samarra Is Hit Again

In Samarra, the bombed-out shell of the Askariya mosque is visible from the air. Some officials blamed the blasts on al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group.
In Samarra, the bombed-out shell of the Askariya mosque is visible from the air. Some officials blamed the blasts on al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group. (Iraqi Government Via Associated Press)
By John Ward Anderson and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 14, 2007

BAGHDAD, June 13 -- The Iraqi government imposed a curfew across Baghdad on Wednesday after insurgents used explosives to demolish two minarets at a revered Shiite shrine whose partial destruction last year sparked a devastating increase in sectarian bloodshed.

The attack raised concerns among U.S. and Iraqi leaders about a resurgence of such violence. President Bush said in a statement Wednesday evening that the bombing "was clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions" and called on "all Iraqis to refrain from acts of vengeance."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a nationally televised address, urged his countrymen to "exercise self-restraint" and sought to portray the attack as evidence that insurgents "have lost hope in dismembering the state."

The 9 a.m. blasts occurred at the historic Askariya shrine in Samarra, 65 miles north of Baghdad, where explosions in February 2006 destroyed its gilded dome. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died last year in the ensuing Shiite-Sunni strife.

Wednesday's attack is certain to give fresh impetus to U.S. demands that the Iraqi government expedite political steps toward reconciliation among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. U.S. officials have feared that a high-level assassination or an attack similar to the 2006 bombing of the Askariya shrine could prompt renewed sectarian bloodletting and undo recent security improvements credited to the deployment of thousands of additional U.S. troops in Baghdad and other parts of the country.

In his statement, Bush said the U.S.-led coalition had sent additional forces to Samarra to restore calm and security to the area.

U.S. and some Iraqi officials immediately blamed Wednesday's blasts on al-Qaeda in Iraq, an extremist Sunni group that regularly attacks U.S. and Iraqi targets, the latter in an apparent effort to provoke chaos and civil war.

Maliki's Shiite-led government imposed the curfew across Baghdad beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but some reprisal attacks were reported outside the capital.

In Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, fighters believed to be from the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr planted explosives at the Sunni Grand Mosque and flattened it, according to Babil provincial police Capt. Muthana Ahmad. He said the militiamen also attacked the smaller Abdullah al-Jubury Sunni mosque in the city.

Religious leaders from both sects appealed for calm. In the holy city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, senior aides to Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged self-control on protesters who gathered outside his office.

Sadr, whose Mahdi Army was accused of brutally attacking Sunnis after the dome of the Askariya mosque was destroyed 16 months ago, said that "no Sunni would desecrate" the Samarra shrine; he blamed the blasts on "the hidden hands of the occupiers," his term for the U.S. military.

Sadr lambasted the Iraqi government for failing to protect the mosque and declared what he called a mourning period of three days. Aides announced that 30 lawmakers from Sadr's political bloc would boycott parliament until the government began repairs at the complex.

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