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The Collective
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: Minarets on Shiite Shrine in Iraq Destroyed in Attack

One of Iraq’s most sacred Shiite shrines, the Imam al-Askari mosque in Samarra, was attacked and severely damaged again today, just over a year after the previous attack on the site unleashed a tide of national sectarian bloodletting.

Angry demonstrations erupted in Samarra following the attack, which destroyed the mosque’s two minarets. Security forces fired in the air, and the Iraqi government announced a curfew in Baghdad starting at 3 p.m. today.


Senior American military commanders in Iraq have said recently that they feared just such an attack on a Shiite shrine to refocus Sunni attention on the country’s struggle between Shiites and Sunnis.

But they expected that if such an attack did occur, it would most likely come at one of Iraq’s three other most-sacred Shiite sites, not the al-Askari shrine, which was already badly damaged.

Since the attack in 2006, the shrine had been under the protection of local — predominantly Sunni — guards. But American military and Iraqi security officials had recently become concerned that the local unit had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq.

A move by the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad over the last few days to bring in a new guard unit — predominantly Shiite — may have been linked to the attack today.

In regards to the significance of the site:

Before that attack, more than a million Shiites streamed into the mosque each year, visiting the graves of the 10th and 11th Imams. They also came to honor Muhammad al-Mahdi, who became the 12th Imam when he was only 5 years old, in A.D. 872.

Shiites believe that it was at the shrine that the Mahdi was put into a state of divine hiddenness by God to protect his life. Shiites believe that the Mahdi will return at the end of days, at a time of chaos and destruction, to deliver perfect justice.

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Filed under: Iraq | |

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