The Askariya Shrine in Samarra, the mausoleum of the 10th and 11th Imams of the Shias was attacked by militants in the early morning on Wednesday, destroying its golden dome in a series of explosions.
The place has the graves of two Imams, Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari. It is also the place of ascension of the last and 12th Imam, Mehdi, who is to return with the ascended prophet Jesus to establish justice before the Last Day. Three Imams being direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad’s family, the hurt and anger felt by the Shias especially may be beyond that felt after the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
This is also the month of Muharram, the beginning of the mourning period for the slain 3rd Imam, Hussain, when historical persecution of Shias, and in particular the family of the prophet through many generations, is narrated with celebrations and enactments of grief.
Most likely it is the work of Wahabi Sunni elements like the Al-Qaeda who do not favor reverence for shrines and even have unmarked graves. This brand is also historically the worst enemy for Shias and other Sunni sub-sects, viewing them as heretics and non-Muslims.
The attack is very bad news indeed.
Even the mild Ayatollah Sistani has urged protest and seven days of mourning. He has also insisted that there be no violence or reprisals towards Sunnis and their mosques.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and Sunni, has appealed to avoid civil war and called the bombing a shameful crime.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the prime minister, has declared three days of official mourning and contemplating motives behind the attack – to inflame sectarian division.
The US Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the top US commander, Gen George Casey, said the US would contribute to the shrine’s reconstruction.
There already have been some reprisals as crowds have come out on the streets in protest.
Claesk, an observer, notes that the al-Qaeda in Iraq have for a long time tried to start a war but so far the Shia has been kept calm by Ayatollah Sistani even as thousands have been killed. Of note are events: one when Moqtada al-Sadr was fighting the Americans, and Sistani’s gesture on his return from London was all it took to resolve matters, and second, when Sistani urged Iraqis to go and vote peacefully despite constant attacks to inflame Sunni-Shia relations.
Most Americans remain unaware how far the successes in Iraq, if we can call them that at all, revolved around the influence and poise of Ayatollah Sistani in dealing with political matters. His quietist influence, as opposed to the anti-Shah revolutionary fervor around Ayatollah Khomeini, may go some way in exerting a healthy influence in the successful governance of Iraq – a country with a mix of large minorities.
The current attack is a severe test of the country’s resolve for peace and security. Even Saddam Hussein – a secular and socialist Sunni, who had repressed Shias and Kurds during his rule as President – had not attempted such an attack. In the stark severity of its extreme resolve this event is definitely comparable to the attack on the United States on 9/11 – which probably points to the involvement of al-Qaeda.
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