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Sectarian violence engulfs Iraq following mosque bombing
The bombing of the Al-Askariya mosque in the city of Samarra on Wednesday is a deliberate provocation that has immediately unleashed widespread sectarian violence and threatens to take US-occupied Iraq to a new level of savagery and barbarism.
No organisation has claimed responsibility, though Sunni extremists aligned with Al Qaeda are suspected. What is known is that a squad of men dressed in police uniforms entered the shrine in the early hours of the morning and overcame the mosque guards. At dawn, they detonated explosives that had been rigged in such a fashion as to collapse the entire building. The famous golden dome of the 1,000-year-old mosque—which was erected in 1905 and was one of the landmarks of modern Iraq—was reduced to rubble.
It was a particularly provocative act. Shiites regard Al-Askariya as one of the four holiest sites. Two ninth century Shiite saints are buried there. According to Shiite theology, it is where Mohammad al-Mahdi, the 12th and last imam, will return and restore justice after a time of great evil. The movement headed by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which has its base among Iraq’s urban poor, calls its militia the “Mahdi Army” after the saint and preaches that his return is imminent.
The destruction of Al-Askariya has brought tens of thousands of Shiite youth onto the streets, vowing to exact retribution on Sunnis and the US-led occupation forces. The Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade militia of the Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) have taken over entire suburbs of Baghdad, Basra, Amarra, Najaf, Karbala, Nasiriya and other southern Iraqi cities. Shiites have demonstrated across the country. In Najaf, a mass demonstration outside the home of leading Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani repeatedly chanted: “Rise up Shiites. Take revenge!”
Shiite militias are terrorising the Sunni population. Over the past 48 hours, dozens of Sunni mosques across Iraq have been machine-gunned or desecrated in other ways. At least two were burnt to the ground in Baghdad. According to the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), 168 Sunni mosques have been attacked, 10 Sunni clerics murdered and 15 others kidnapped since the bombing. In Basra, 10 Sunni prisoners suspected of attacks on Shiites were dragged from their cells and handed over to militiamen. Their bodies were found later in various parts of the city. The overall death toll since Wednesday is at least 130.