Baghdad under curfew


Summary

Baghdad already is under a nightly curfew between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am.

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Details were still sketchy, but the curfew is expected to last from at least 3:00 pm until 6:00 am on Thursday.

Suspected al-Qaeda insurgents have destroyed the two minarets remaining on the damaged Askariya Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, setting the scene for massive retaliation.

Second attack

The attack feels like a repeat of the 2006 bombing that shattered the shrine's famous Golden Dome and unleashed a wave of retaliatory sectarian violence that still bloodies Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki immediately met with the US commander in Iraq to ask that American reinforcements be sent into Samarra to help head off new violence in the flashpoint city, 95 kilometres north of Baghdad, Mr Maliki's office said.

Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for three days of mourning and for peaceful demonstrations to mark destruction of the minarets. His Mahdi Army militia was blamed for much of the Shi'ite-on-Sunni violence in 2006.

"We declare a three-day mourning period … and shout Allahu Akbar (God is greater) from Sunni and Shi'ite mosques," said Mr al-Sadr, who lives in Najaf.

Police said the attack at about 9am involved explosives and brought down the pair of slender, golden minarets, which had flanked the dome's ruins. No casualties were reported.

The powerful blasts shook the town, sending a cloud of dust billowing into the air, said Imad Nagi, a storeowner 100 metres from the century-old shrine. "After the dust settled, I couldn't see the minarets any more. So, I closed the shop quickly and went home."

It wasn't immediately clear how the attackers evaded the shrine's guard force, which had been strengthened after the 2006 bombing.

In the aftermath of the explosions, police in the shrine area began firing into the air to keep people away, witnesses said, and Iraqi army and police reinforcements poured in.

Mr Maliki, in his meeting with US commander General David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, is reported to have asked that US troops in Baghdad be put on a higher alert to head off any upsurge in Sunni-Shi'ite bloodshed.

An official close to Mr Maliki, citing intelligence reports said the attack was probably the work of al-Qaeda whose militants have recently moved into Samarra from surrounding areas.

Holy shrine

The Askariya mosque contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams – Ali al-Hadi, who died in 868, and his son Hassan Askariya, who died in 874. Both are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and Shi'ites consider them as his successors.

The shrine also is near the place where the 12th imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, disappeared. Al-Mahdi, known as the "hidden imam," was the son and grandson of the two imams buried in the Askariya shrine. Shi'ites believe he will return to Earth restore justice to humanity.

After last year's bombing, the mosque was guarded by about 60 Federal Protection Service forces and 25 local Iraqi police who kept watch on the perimeter, according to Samarra city officials.

In the immediate aftermath of that bombing, US officials and others had promised to help rebuild the landmark dome, completed in 1905, but no rebuilding has begun.

Iraq has been plagued by violence since the war started in 2003, but the carefully orchestrated 2006 explosion, in which suspected al-Qaeda assailants wearing uniforms set off two bombs, touched a nerve.

The bombing unleashed Shi'ite militias, who ignored appeals for calm and instead attacked Sunni clerics and mosques. Nearly 140 people were killed the next day.

The United Nations reported that 34,452 civilians lost their lives in 2006 in the nearly unfathomable sectarian bloodshed that hit the capital hardest. Sunni insurgents have carried out bombings almost daily, and Shi'ite death squads have dumped dozens of corpses on the streets and in vacant lots.


Baghdad already is under a nightly curfew between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am.

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Details were still sketchy, but the curfew is expected to last from at least 3:00 pm until 6:00 am on Thursday.

Suspected al-Qaeda insurgents have destroyed the two minarets remaining on the damaged Askariya Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, setting the scene for massive retaliation.

Second attack

The attack feels like a repeat of the 2006 bombing that shattered the shrine's famous Golden Dome and unleashed a wave of retaliatory sectarian violence that still bloodies Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki immediately met with the US commander in Iraq to ask that American reinforcements be sent into Samarra to help head off new violence in the flashpoint city, 95 kilometres north of Baghdad, Mr Maliki's office said.

Radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for three days of mourning and for peaceful demonstrations to mark destruction of the minarets. His Mahdi Army militia was blamed for much of the Shi'ite-on-Sunni violence in 2006.

"We declare a three-day mourning period … and shout Allahu Akbar (God is greater) from Sunni and Shi'ite mosques," said Mr al-Sadr, who lives in Najaf.

Police said the attack at about 9am involved explosives and brought down the pair of slender, golden minarets, which had flanked the dome's ruins. No casualties were reported.

The powerful blasts shook the town, sending a cloud of dust billowing into the air, said Imad Nagi, a storeowner 100 metres from the century-old shrine. "After the dust settled, I couldn't see the minarets any more. So, I closed the shop quickly and went home."

It wasn't immediately clear how the attackers evaded the shrine's guard force, which had been strengthened after the 2006 bombing.

In the aftermath of the explosions, police in the shrine area began firing into the air to keep people away, witnesses said, and Iraqi army and police reinforcements poured in.

Mr Maliki, in his meeting with US commander General David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, is reported to have asked that US troops in Baghdad be put on a higher alert to head off any upsurge in Sunni-Shi'ite bloodshed.

An official close to Mr Maliki, citing intelligence reports said the attack was probably the work of al-Qaeda whose militants have recently moved into Samarra from surrounding areas.

Holy shrine

The Askariya mosque contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams – Ali al-Hadi, who died in 868, and his son Hassan Askariya, who died in 874. Both are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and Shi'ites consider them as his successors.

The shrine also is near the place where the 12th imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, disappeared. Al-Mahdi, known as the "hidden imam," was the son and grandson of the two imams buried in the Askariya shrine. Shi'ites believe he will return to Earth restore justice to humanity.

After last year's bombing, the mosque was guarded by about 60 Federal Protection Service forces and 25 local Iraqi police who kept watch on the perimeter, according to Samarra city officials.

In the immediate aftermath of that bombing, US officials and others had promised to help rebuild the landmark dome, completed in 1905, but no rebuilding has begun.

Iraq has been plagued by violence since the war started in 2003, but the carefully orchestrated 2006 explosion, in which suspected al-Qaeda assailants wearing uniforms set off two bombs, touched a nerve.

The bombing unleashed Shi'ite militias, who ignored appeals for calm and instead attacked Sunni clerics and mosques. Nearly 140 people were killed the next day.

The United Nations reported that 34,452 civilians lost their lives in 2006 in the nearly unfathomable sectarian bloodshed that hit the capital hardest. Sunni insurgents have carried out bombings almost daily, and Shi'ite death squads have dumped dozens of corpses on the streets and in vacant lots.