INTERNATIONAL

Call for sectarian unity after shrine attack

THE REMAINS: One of the two destroyed minarets of the Shia Imam Al-Askari shrine in the restive city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, on Wednesday.

THE REMAINS: One of the two destroyed minarets of the Shia Imam Al-Askari shrine in the restive city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: AFP

Atul Aneja

But violence begins to simmer; Maliki blames it on Al-Qaeda

DUBAI: The revered Shia Al-Askari shrine in Samarra has been bombed again resulting in the collapse of two minarets.

The historic shrine was bombed in February 2006 and its famed golden dome destroyed. That attack triggered a wave of sectarian violence resulting in large-scale executions and targeting of places of worship.

Cloud of dust

Eyewitnesses said the explosion raised a huge cloud of dust. The minarets were no longer visible after the dust settled. Another witness said the gold- topped minarets fell in a space of seven minutes of each other. It is so far not clear whether explosives had been planted inside the shrine or a mortar attack caused the damage.

The shrine is part of the Imam Ali al-Hadi mausoleum. It contains the graves of the 10th and 11th imams, believed to be direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad. Imam Ali Al-Hadi had died in 868 AD and his son, Hassan al-Askari, died six years later.

The influential Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr has issued a call for unity following the attack. He called for peaceful demonstrations and declared a three-day mourning period to mark the destruction of the minarets. He added that no Sunni Arab could have carried out the bombing. "We declare a three-day mourning period ... and shout Allahu Akbar [God is great] from Sunni and Shia mosques." Criticising the Government of inaction, the political bloc loyal to Mr. Al Sadr later decided to suspend its participation in Parliament. It urged the Government to take "realistic measures" to rebuild Shia and Sunni mosques.

Demolished

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki held an urgent meeting with Saleh al-Haidari, head of the Shia Waqf which is a Government body in charge of Shia mosques and religious schools.

In a speech on state television, Mr. Maliki appealed for unity and blamed the Al-Qaeda and the loyalists of the former President, Saddam Hussein, for the strife.

Despite the appeals for calm, sectarian violence has begun to simmer.

According to the Iraqi police, a Sunni mosque has been demolished with explosives, east of Samarra.

Authorities have enforced curfew in Samarra soon after the blast. Baghdad was also brought under curfew, and a state of emergency has been declared in Najaf where the famous Imam Ali mosque is located.

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