Thursday, February 23, 2006

DAILY WAR NEWS FOR FEBRUARY 23, 2006 AFTERMATH: At right, Iraqis in the city of Samarra viewed the damage at Askariya shrine, where explosions were set off in an attack Wednesday. The shrine is one of four main Shiite pilgrimage sites in Iraq. Its gold dome (l.) was constructed in 1905. LEFT, REUTERS; RIGHT, GETTY IMAGES Bring ‘em on: BASRA - Gunmen in police uniforms seized 11 Sunni men suspected of being insurgents from a prison in the mainly Shi'ite city of Basra on Wednesday and later killed them, police said. Among those killed in the apparent reprisal attack for the bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine earlier in the day were two Egyptians, police sources said. The other nine were Iraqis. SAMARRA - A bomb attack shattered a sacred Shi'ite shrine in the town of Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad. The blast ignited protests in several cities. DIWANIYA - A Shi'ite police officer guarding a Sunni mosque in Diwaniya, 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad, was shot down when gunmen opened fire, police said. BAGHDAD - At least 28 Sunni mosques and an office for the Iraqi Islamic Party in Baghdad were attacked by gunmen after the bomb blast in Samarra. Police said one mosque was completely burnt while others were attacked by gunfire and rocket propelled grenades. Three clerics and three bodyguards were killed, and another cleric was kidnapped, according to interior ministry sources. Gunmen used rifles and RPG rounds in the latest mosque attack, in the southern Saidaya district of Baghdad, a witness said. Hussein al-Falluji, a leading Sunni politician, reported attacks on at least 75 Sunni mosques around the country with most in eastern Baghdad. (Other reports say over 100. – Susan) BASRA - Storage depots belonging to the main Sunni religious body in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) south of Baghdad, were reported by local police to be on fire after three grenades were thrown from moving cars while residents were at prayers. DIWANIYA - Clashes erupted in Diwaniya after militiamen loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attacked the houses of Arab Sunnis in Diwaniya. One of Sadr's men was killed, said a member of the Diwaniya provincial council. BASRA - Gunmen attacked a Sunni mosque with rocket propelled grenades in Basra, local police said. There were no casualties. BASRA - Local police said shootouts erupted between Sadr's militiamen and members of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Basra. KIRKUK - Gunmen ambushed an Iraqi army patrol on Tuesday, killing two soldiers and wounding two in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, said police colonel Sarhat Qadir. HASSWA - Four policemen were wounded by a roadside bomb while travelling on a road in the town of Hasswa, 50 km (32 miles) south of Baghdad, police said. FALLUJA - Three Iraqi contractors working for the U.S. army were abducted by gunmen in the town of Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad, said police major Omar Mohammed. AL-MASHRUGIYA - Two children and a woman were killed and four people wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a primary school in al-Mashrugiya, 175 km (110 miles) southeast of Baghdad, police said. BAQUBA - Two police officers were killed by gunmen in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. BAQUBA - The head of the Criminal Court of Diyala province survived an assassination attempt by gunmen in al-Ahmer village, 40 km (25 miles) east of Baquba, but four of his bodyguards were killed, police said. Bring ‘em on: Iraqi Sunni Prisoners Killed in Apparent Reprisal Gunmen in police uniforms seized 11 Sunni men suspected of being insurgents from a prison in the mainly Shi'ite city of Basra in southern Iraq on Wednesday and later killed them, police said. Among those killed in the apparent reprisal attack for the bombing of a major Shi'ite shrine earlier in the day were two Egyptians, police sources said. The other nine were Iraqis. The attackers arrived in a convoy of 16 cars. All 11 prisoners were found dead later with gunshot wounds. Six bodies were found in Republic Street in Basra. Three were discovered in the Sekak district of the city. The other two were found in Leader Street. All the bodies were now in the morgue in Basra, a police source said. Bring ‘em on: Gunmen kill 10 Egyptian, Saudi prisoners in Iraq. Bring ‘em on: Gunmen kidnapped and killed a correspondent for Al Arabiya television and two members of her crew in Iraq, the Arabic channel said on Thursday. More than 70 foreign and Iraqi journalists have been reported killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Bring ‘em on: Police and military sources tallied at least 78 deaths, mostly of Sunnis, in the two biggest cities Baghdad and Basra in the 24 hours since the Samarra attack. Dozens of Sunni mosques have been attacked and several burnt to the ground. A bomb blasted an Iraqi army foot patrol in a market in the religiously divided city of Baquba, killing 16 people, including eight civilians, and wounding 21. It was not clear if the total of 53 deaths in Baghdad included over 40 bodies found at a nearby village which has seen previous attacks on Sunnis by Shi'ite militias. Nor was it clear if the Basra death toll of 25 included up to 11 Sunni rebel suspects hauled from a prison overnight by men in police uniform and left shot dead around the mainly Shi'ite southern city. Bring ‘em on: Iraqi police and army officials said that over 40 bodies were found in one spot just south of Baghdad. It was not clear whether the victims who were shot dead had been among 53 deaths reported earlier by police. The bodies -- an army source said there were 42 while police said there were 47 -- were found at the village of Nahrawan. BAQUBA - A bomb targeting an Iraqi army foot patrol killed 16 people, eight civilians and eight soldiers, and wounded another 11 civilians and four soldiers in the city of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Baghdad, on Thursday, an army source said. The colonel commanding the patrol was among the dead. SAMARRA - The convoy of Iraqi Minister of Housing and Reconstruction Jasim Mohammed Jaafar was stoned in Samarra, police said, as the minister visited the damaged Golden Mosque. BAGHDAD - The Iraqi army has closed the road to the Abu Hanifa Mosque, the most important Sunni mosque in Baghdad, the army said. BASRA - At least 25 people have been killed in Basra, 550 km (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, police said. BASRA - Overnight 12 prisoners were removed from a prison in Basra and 11 killed, police and the British military said. The 12th prisoner is in hospital. Police said the 11 included a two Tunisians, a Saudi, a Turk, one Libyan, two Egyptians and four Iraqis. BASRA - Several thousand people demonstrated near governing council offices in Basra, a Reuters reporter said. Demonstrators also gathered at the Square of the Martyr Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim. BAQUBA - Gunmen in two cars opened fire on a Sunni mosque in the Iraqi town of Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, on Thursday, killing one person, police said. SAMAWA - Some 1,000 people demonstrated in Samawa 270 km (170 miles) south of Baghdad, a Reuters journalist said. Police were guarding the access to a Sunni mosque in the town. KIRKUK - Several thousand Arab and Turkish Shi'ites demonstrated in Celebration Square, police said. A dozen explosive devices were found and disabled at the site of the demonstration, police said, alongside several more fake devices. Bring ‘em on: Police said 130 people were killed in Baghdad in the 24 hours after the blast. That casualty figure was not high by Iraqi standards but signs emerged that sectarian killings might be becoming more systematic. Bring ‘em on: 50 shot dead as violence escalates in Iraq. THE bullet-riddled bodies of 50 people were recovered in Baghdad today after a night of sectarian violence in Iraq. Bring ‘em on: Gunman pulled factory workers off buses headed to Baqouba, killing 47 brick factory workers. They were found mid-day on Thursday. Other news from NPR radio: A bus from Najaf was headed to Samarra to protest, and all 48 people on the bus were pulled off and shot dead. All groups are arming themselves and there are many attacks around the country. It is hard to tell if any of these stories are repeats or not. Somehow, it does not feel right to use “Bring ‘em on” here, since these attacks are Iraqi on Iraqi attacks, not attacks on US forces (which was Mr. Bush’s original intention behind the comment). But I don’t know what else to use, and this violence, which is leading to an all-out civil war, is the direct result of Mr. Bush’s policies and decisions and actions. May God forgive him. SHRINE BLAST REPERCUSSIONS Rida Jawad al Takki, a senior official in the Shi'ite SCIRI party said, "So far, Sistani is still the force behind the calmness in the Shi'ites street, his reputation and strength has not shaken ... If it was not for him or if he did not exist we would have faced two dangerous problems: one is an internal Shi'ite problem similar to what had happened between Badr brigades and Mahdi Army ... The other problem would be a Shi'ite-Sunni problem; the Shi'ite public opinion would have exploded and tends to revenge but he was very strict and controlled the street." Barham Salih, Iraqi minister of planning, told Reuters: "One must admire and recognise Ayatolla Sistani's moderating influence ... His restraining role has been crucial in preventing Iraq from sliding into the abyss of civil war." BOYCOTT The Iraqi Accordance Front, which won most of the minority Sunni vote in December's parliamentary election, said it would need an apology from the ruling Shi'ites before it would consider rejoining talks on a national unity coalition. "We are suspending our participation in negotiations on the government with the Shi'ite Alliance," Tareq al-Hashemi, a top official of the Accordance Front, told a news conference at which he accused Shi'ite leaders of fostering the violence. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shi'ites' reclusive and ageing senior cleric, made a rare, if silent, television appearance that underlined the gravity of the crisis on Wednesday. He called for protests but also restraint. The Sunni Muslim Clerics Association, without naming him, accused their Shi'ite counterparts of fostering violence, however -- an unusually blunt condemnation. Since U.S. forces toppled Saddam's Sunni-dominated government, Sistani has helped hold in check anger many Shi'ites feel against al Qaeda and other Sunni militants as the Shi'ite majority tastes power after years of oppression. Sunnis accuse police of running death squads against them and some powerful Shi'ites, buoyed by success in December's election, have said only Sistani has prevented more violence. Iraq Forces on Alert as Sectarian Killings Mount Iraq cancelled all leave for the police and army and placed them on the highest alert as the death toll mounted on Thursday in sectarian violence that has swept the country after bombs wrecked a major Shi'ite shrine. The main Sunni political group pulled out of U.S.-sponsored talks on joining a national unity government, blaming the ruling Shi'ite Islamists for attacks on Sunni mosques and dozens of killings since Wednesday's suspected al Qaeda bomb attack that destroyed the Shi'ites' Golden Mosque in Samarra. The main Sunni religious authority made an extraordinary public criticism of the Shi'ites' most revered clerical leader, accusing him of fuelling the violence by calling for protests. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, pressed ahead despite the Sunni boycott with a meeting of political leaders that he had called to avert a descent towards a "devastating civil war". His office could not say who was present at the talks. Attack Deepens Iraq’s Divide An attack Wednesday that destroyed the soaring gold dome of one of ShiiteIslam's holiest shrines is being interpreted by most Shiites here as a direct attack on their faith - and has sharply raised sectarian tensions. As citizens deserted the streets of Baghdad in the wake of the attack, many said they feared this could be a seminal moment in Iraq's low-intensity civil war. "The war could really be on now,'' says Abu Hassan, a Shiite street peddler who declined to give his full name. "This is something greater and more symbolic than attacks on people. This is a strike at who we are." The attack occurred shortly before 7 a.m. in the largely Sunni city of Samarra, which has remained an insurgent hotbed despite years of US operations there. It was carried out by a small group of men who somehow gained access to the usually heavily protected Askariya shrine, set demolition explosives, and then fled. Though the shrine dates back 1,000 years, it has been rebuilt numerous times. Its current dome was built in 1905. There are no records of previous attacks on the building or its predecessors. Within hours of the attack, tens of thousands of angry Shiites - many of them members of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army who brandished rifles and rocket-propelled grenades - took to the streets in at least least a half-dozen central and southern Iraqi cities. A spokesman at Mr. Sadr's main office in Baghdad said the militiamen were acting spontaneously, and had not been ordered out onto the streets. The Iraqi and US militaries scrambled forces in Baghdad and other cities in an effort to protect Sunni mosques. US soldiers cordoned off the approaches to the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad's Sunni- controlled Adhamiya district. Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most respected cleric, issued a statement forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques and calling for seven days of national mourning. But in a rare move, he also called for public protests. Ayatollah Sistani has typically called for even peaceful protesters to stay off the streets, fearing a downward spiral into violence. Ayatollah Sistani "has the coolest and wisest head in Iraq, but this has chaos written all over it,'' says Mr. Cole. "He must know the likelihood of these protests being completely peaceful is low, so he's got to be absolutely furious to call for people to come out on the streets." Samarra is not simply a Sunni city with a Shiite shrine at its heart. It hosts a confusing welter of tribal allegiances and rivalries that have left it violent and unstable since the war began. About half of its 200,000 residents have abandoned the city in the past two years, and US soldiers built a vast earthen berm around it last August in an effort to keep insurgents out. (Lot of good that did. – Susan) The city's history is also wound up with an age-old Sunni-Shiite rivalry, as well as with the apocalyptic beliefs of many Shiite clerics, like Sadr. The shrine contains the tombs of Ali al-Hadi and his son Hasan al-Askari, the 10th and 11th imams of Shiite Islam who died in the 9th century. Legend has it that Askari's son, Muhammad al-Mahdi, was born in the city. It is one of four main Shiite pilgrimage sites in Iraq. Mahdi was the 12th and final of the Shiite imams. Legend has it that he was "occulted" by God before his death, and will return to earth to bring an era of justice and peace, followed by the end of the world. Sadr's militia is named for this imam. Sadr and his followers are convinced that the time for the Mahdi's return is close. "He disappeared into a supernatural realm from there ... so this will be interpreted as an attack on the imam al-Mahdi, an attack on their guy; so for the Sadr people it's an apocalyptic moment,'' says Cole. "There will be reprisals." Sectarian Emotions Swirl After Iraq Mosque Blast When Hussein Ali was stopped at a makeshift checkpoint in Baghdad, gunmen asked a question he never feared before the bombing of a sacred shrine on Wednesday sparked a wave of violence -- are you Shi'ite or Sunni? "One of the gunmen looked at my identification card," Ali, motorcycle courier, said on Thursday. "He let me pass because I am Shi'ite. But I told him there was no difference between Shi'ites and Sunnis." Many Iraqis would like to believe that. But the devastation of a major Shi'ite shrine in Samarra north of Baghdad is making it very difficult. No single act of violence has fired as much fear of civil war as the attack on the Golden Mosque on Wednesday, even bombings that have killed more than 100 people at a time. Iraqis pointed their fingers in familiar directions, accusing the United States, Israel, Iran, Arab countries and al Qaeda of trying to tear their country apart. But sectarian anger is boiling beneath the surface and people who had dismissed talk of civil war after past crises no longer rule it out. Sunnis sawed down palm tree trunks in the Amiriya district of the capital and used them to block off roads leading to mosques. In Adhamiya, cars packed with Sunni insurgents patrolled the streets while their comrades stood guard in front of mosques. An army officer, who said he was under orders to protect Shi'ite and Sunni mosques, acknowledged it could be difficult in such sensitive times. "We are trying to pacify the situation in spite of the fact that some of the mosques are under the control of gunmen but we do not want to confront them so as not to ignite the situation," said the officer who asked not to be named. Iraqis have heard several appeals for calm from their government. But they are getting mixed signals every time they turn on their televisions. Government-run Iraqiya television included in its schedule a graphic video hailing 9th-century Shi'ite leaders' battles against Sunni dominance set against the backdrop of images of the devastated shrine. One Iraqi man stood silently inside a gutted Sunni mosque staring at charred walls that can no longer protect him. Golden Mosque in Samarra Gunmen entered Samarra's Golden Mosque at dawn on Wednesday and set off charges that destroyed its dome. Below are facts about the Golden Mosque. ** The Golden Mosque is one of the four major Shi'ite shrines in Iraq. The other major sites are in Najaf, Kerbala and the Baghdad district of Kadhimiya. ** Two of the 12 revered Shi'ite Imams are buried in the shrine. Imam Ali al-Hadi, who died in AD 868 and his son, the 11th Imam Hasan al-Askari, who died in AD 874. ** Shi'ites believe the 12th Imam, Imam Mehdi, known as the hidden Imam, went into hiding from a cellar in the complex in AD 878. Shi'ites say he will return before the Day of Judgment to return justice to a world full of oppression. ** Iraqi commandos retook the Golden Mosque from insurgents during a U.S.-led offensive against Samarra in October 2004. ** The golden dome of the sanctuary was completed in 1905 and is covered by 72,000 golden pieces. It measured roughly 20 metres (yards) wide with a circumference of 68 metres, making it one of the biggest domes in the Islamic world. Each of the mosques two golden minarets is 36 metres high, according to the Encyclopedia of the Orient and Atlas Tours. Reactions to Bombing of Samarra Mosque ** Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani: "If the security systems are unable to secure necessary protection, the believers are able to do so with the might of God." ** Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shi'ite SCIRI party speaking of comments made earlier this week by the U.S. ambassador: "The comments of the U.S. ambassador were not responsible. He did not behave like an ambassador and his comments were a reason for more pressure and light for the terrorist groups. Therefore he bears some of the responsibility." ** Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr: "We ask Iraqis to rise to the responsibility and the scope of this tragedy and maintain the unity and safety of Iraq. My message today to the Iraqi people is to show solidarity and not to fall prey to projects aimed at compromising the unity of the country." ** Iraqi Islamic Party: "(The party) strongly condemns this sinful act and calls for a wide-reaching and objective investigation to catch those behind this crime that aims to harm the Iraqi people by provoking destructive sectarian strife." ** National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, a Shi'ite: "They will fail to draw the Iraqi people into civil war as they have failed in the past." Iraq Shrine Bombing Sparks Sectarian Reprisals A dawn bomb attack devastated a major Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Iraq on Wednesday, sparking bloody sectarian reprisals despite urgent appeals from leaders fearful the nation could slide into civil war. The apparently bloodless but highly symbolic attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest, provoked more outrage than Sunni guerrilla violence that has killed thousands since U.S. forces overthrew Saddam Hussein. But three Sunni clerics were among six killed at dozens of Sunni mosques attacked, police said; in the bloodiest apparent reprisal, gunmen in police uniforms took 11 Sunni rebel suspects from a jail and killed them in the mainly Shi'ite city of Basra. Sectarian clashes hit a number of cities. In Baghdad, people rushed home before dark, some stocking up on food. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, accused the bombers, who also dressed as policemen, of trying to derail talks on a national unity coalition. "We must ... work together against ... the danger of civil war," he told Iraqis in a televised address. The Shi'ites' reclusive and ageing senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, made a rare, if silent, television appearance that underlined the gravity of the crisis. He called in a statement for protests but restraint as a crowd outside his office in Najaf chanted: "Rise up Shi'ites! Take revenge!" Sunnis accuse police of running death squads against them. Militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr patrolled streets in Baghdad and clashed in Basra and elsewhere with Sunnis. A Sadr aide said: "If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so." Sadr himself also called for national unity. Baghdad Streets Tense After Shi’ite Shrine Blast Menacing militiamen in trucks intimidated the few motorists moving along darkening Baghdad streets on Wednesday after the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine left Iraqis fearing they were on the brink of sectarian civil war. Political and religious leaders called for calm, but tense streets, jumpy policemen and Iraqis lining up for bread in case violence spins out of control suggested otherwise. "We don't know what could happen in the next few days," said Mohammed Tariq, standing in a long line outside a bread shop. "I will buy as much as I can because of the security situation." On central Baghdad's usually busy Saadoun street, a handful of motorists were startled when heavily armed Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr appeared in a pick-up truck waving their AK-47 assault rifles. Fears of revenge killings have already emerged after the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines. Interior Ministry sources said six Sunnis, including three clerics, were killed and 27 Sunni mosques were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, rockets and rifle fire. Gunmen raided a Baghdad home and killed a Sunni woman from Samarra, family members said. It was not clear if it was related to the Samarra blast or simply another murder of the sort seen every day. Shrine Blast Hits Nerve Among Iraq’s Shi’ites Iraqi Shi'ites condemned the bombing of one of their most sacred shrines on Wednesday as an inhuman act designed to draw them into sectarian civil war. "Whoever did this are not human beings. They are less than animals. It was a cowardly act," said Wuroud Kathim, 29, a computer specialist in Baghdad. Gunmen burst into the Golden Mosque, one of four key Shi'ite holy sites in Iraq, and planted explosives that brought down it down, senior officials said. The 100-year-old, gold-covered dome is one of the biggest and best known in the Muslim world. The bombing in the town of Samarra north of Baghdad touched a raw nerve among Iraq's Shi'ites, who have showed restraint despite bombings that have killed thousands in their majority community. "The goal of this action is to drag the country and the people to a civil war and continuous violence and fighting," said Ali al-Moussawi, a cleric in the sacred Shi'ite city of Najaf in southern Iraq. Shi'ites took to the streets in several cities as their top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani made a rare call for protests, albeit insisting they should not be violent. bout 2,000 protesters gathered near Sistani's office in the holy southern city of Najaf and shouted words rarely heard among his followers in the 60 percent Shi'ite majority. "Rise up Shi'ites. Shi'ites take revenge. Rise up Shi'ites. Rise up Shi'ites," they yelled. Iraq’s Top Shi’ite Cleric in Rare TV Appearance Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was shown on television meeting fellow senior Shi'ite clerics on Wednesday in an all but unprecedented appearance by the top religious authority after an attack on a Shi'ite shrine. Al-Forat television, run by a Shi'ite political party, showed the ageing and reclusive Sistani flanked by his three most senior colleagues in the holy city of Najaf after Sistani called for protests but restraint following the attack in Samarra. There was no accompanying audio in Wednesday's release. It was the first footage of Sistani since video was released following an operation in Britain in late 2004. Earlier Sistani, a key force for Shi'ite restraint in the face of Sunni insurgent attacks, called for protests and declared seven days of mourning. He insisted in a statement, however, that there must be no violence and in particular no reprisals against Sunni mosques. Iraqi Cleric Sadr Vows Revenge Over Shrine Blast Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr blamed the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in the Iraqi town of Samarra on Wednesday on Sunni Arab militants and vowed to take revenge, a spokesman for Sadr said. "We will not only condemn and protest but we will act against those militants. If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so," said Abdel Hadi al-Darajee of Sadr's position. Members of Sadr's Mehdi Army militia have already clashed with Sunnis in Diwaniya and Basra. Sunni Arab militants loyal to al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for many of the bombing attacks that have killed thousands of Shi'ites. Sadr, who led two uprisings against U.S. and Iraqi troops, has become a kingmaker in Iraqi politics after joining a Shi'ite alliance that will have the biggest bloc in parliament after Dec. 15 elections. Witnesses said scores of his militiamen armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades took over streets in his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City after the Samarra attack. Three Days of Mourning Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari declared three days of mourning on Wednesday over a blast at a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in the city of Samarra, which he described as an attack on all Muslims. "I announce on this occasion three days of mourning," Jaafari said in a live address on Iraqi state television. "I hope our heroic people will take more care on this occasion to bolster Islamic unity and protect Islamic brotherhood and Iraqi national brotherhood." Mosque Attack Pushes Iraq Toward Civil War No one was reported injured in the bombing of the shrine in Samarra. But at least 18 people, including three Sunni clerics, were killed in the reprisal attacks that followed, mainly in Baghdad and predominantly Shiite provinces to the south, according to the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political group. Major Sunni groups joined in condemning the attack, and a leading Sunni politician, Tariq al-Hashimi, urged clerics and politicians to calm the situation "before it spins out of control." The country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sent instructions to his followers forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques, and called for seven days of mourning. But he hinted, as did Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, that religious militias could be given a bigger security role if the government cannot protecting holy shrines — an ominous sign of the Shiite reaction ahead. Both Sunnis and the United States fear the rise of such militias, which the disaffected minority views as little more than death squads. American commanders believe they undercut efforts to create a professional Iraqi army and police force — a key step toward the eventual drawdown of U.S. forces. Some Shiite political leaders already were angry with the United States because it has urged them to form a government in which nonsectarian figures control the army and police. Khalilzad warned this week — in a statement clearly aimed at Shiite hard-liners — that America would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias. Iraq Announces Three Day Mourning for Shi’ite Shrine Attack The Iraqi government condemned the attack on one of Iraq's most famous Shiite shrines in Samarra, 120km north of Baghdad, and announced three days of mourning. "We announce three days of mourning in protest against this coward act which was against all Muslims in the world and it entails that all of us should exert every effort to protect these shrines," Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said in a speech on the Iraqiyah local TV. The attack occurred at about 6:45 a.m. (0345 GMT) on Wednesday at the shrine of Ali al-Hadi and badly damaged the golden dome,said a source from Salahudin province, where Samarra is located. He said the blast caused no casualties. In a press release, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the foremost Shiite spiritual leader, called on Iraqis to hold seven days of mourning for the attack and to protest peacefully against the damage of the shrine. Muwafaq al-Rubayie, Iraq's national security advisor, said the security forces captured 10 suspected "terrorists" in Samarra after the attack. The attack also drew condemnation from Sunni Arabs, calling to bring the responsible for justice. Sadr Calls on Iraqis to Unite Against Aggression on Imam’s Shrine Leader of Sadrist Movement in Iraq Moqtada al-Sadr called on his countrymen on Wednesday to unite against those who are after sowing segregation and dissent among them. This came in reaction against the terrorist blast at the shrine of Imam Ali Al-Hadi and Al-Hasan Al-Askari in Samarra. He told newsmen here after cutting short his visit to neighboring Lebanon "my message to the Iraqi is unite and keep away from being dragged behind the plans to shatter their unity." Sadr called for pull out of the US forces from Iraq according to a timetable and urged the Iraqi parliament to vote for full withdrawal of foreign troops from his country. Dozens of Sunni Mosques Attacked Throughout Iraq The Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political group, said at least 60 mosques were attacked, burned or taken over by Shiites. They included more than 50 in Baghdad alone, three of which were completely destroyed with explosives, the party said. The rest were in predominantly Shiite areas on the capital's southern outskirts and in Iraq's southern provinces. Armed Shiites attacked the mosques with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, holding Sunnis after taking over some of them, the party said. Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia took a major part in Wednesday's attacks, said four of their supporters were killed and dozens wounded in a series of clashes with mosque guards. The violence was unleashed when two bombs caused severe damage to the golden dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra on Wednesday morning. From Juan Cole’s blog: Sistani threatens to turn to Militia, Sadr Calls for Calm The shoe seems to be on the other foot now, with Muqtada al-Sadr attempting to cool Iraq's Shiites down and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani threatening to create a paramilitary to protect Shiites. Al-=Hayat says that [Ar.] the Sunni cleric Abdul Ghafur al-Samarra'i led a demonstration of Sunnis in Samarra' in protest against the "Excommunicators" for having attempted to set off a sectarian civil war in Iraq by bombing the shrine. They also blamed "the Americans". Al-Samarra'i asked for restraint and the avoidance of civil war. Sunni and Shiite demonstrators in the city (but presumably mostly Shiite) chanted "With our spirits and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, O Imam!" [Bi'r-ruh wa'd-dam nufdika ya Imam!] The ministers of defense and the interior made a joint announcement that the Iraqi armed forces had been put on alert for any contingency. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was shown on Iraqiyah television meeting with the other 3 grand ayatollahs in Najaf, among whom he is first among equals. They include Bashir Najafi, Muhammad Ishaq Fayyad and Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim. Sistani called for self-discipline and for peaceful demonstrations. He said Shiites must not attack Sunni mosques, but called for them to demonstrate peacefully. He laid responsibility for security on the Iraqi government, saying that it "is called today more than at any time in the past to shoulder its full responsibilities in stopping the series of criminal actions that have targeted holy spaces. If the security apparatuses are unable to safeguard against this crisis, the believers are able to do so, by the aid of God."Astonishingly, Sistani seems to be threatening to deploy his own militia, Ansar Sistani, if the Iraqi government doesn't do a better job of protecting Shiites and their holy sites. One lesson Sistani will have taken from the bombing of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra is that he is not very secure in Najaf, either. But all we need in Iraq is yet another powerful private sectarian militia! Muqtada al-Sadr had been in Lebanon. He cut short his trip and went overland to Iraq. He told the Syrian news agency that he condements this "despicable crime" and called the Iraqi people to "unity and solidarity so as to deny any opportunity to those who wish to ignite public turmoil." Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said during a press conference in Baghdad that the statements of the US ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had "contributed to greater pressure [on the Shiites] and gave a green light to terrorist groups, and he therefore bears a part of the responsibility." Al-Hakim has long wanted to unleash the Badr Corps, his Shiite paramilitary, the Badr Corps, but has been checked by the Americans so far. The Association of Muslim Scholars [hardline Sunni] called for calm but then blamed the Americans for the downward sppiral of conditions. After Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei blamed the US and Israel for the bombing on Wednesday, Shiites all over the world staged demonstrations in some of which they burned US and Israeli flags. On the other hand, the thousands of protester in Bahrain blamed Sunni "excommunicators" instead. BLAME GAME

Sunni Muslim Religious Organization Speaks

Iraq's leading Sunni Muslim religious organisation blamed top Shi'ite clerics on Thursday for fuelling sectarian tension. "The Muslim Clerics Association points the finger of blame at certain Shi'ite religious authorities for calling for demonstrations," said spokesman Sheikh Abdul Salam al-Qubaisi in comments that appeared aimed at Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Qubaisi also appealed to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to calm his supporters, adding: "I remind Moqtada al-Sadr ... that our blood was mixed in Falluja, Sadr City, Kerbala and Najaf." US Points Finger at al Qaeda for Iraq Shrine Bomb

The militant group al Qaeda is suspected of being behind Wednesday's bomb attack on a major Shi'ite shrine in Iraq which sparked sectarian reprisals, a senior U.S. official said. "We believe this can be traced back to the Zarqawi al Qaeda movement," said the State Department's coordinator for Iraq policy, Ambassador James Jeffrey, adding the United States would do all it could to track down the perpetrators. Asked what evidence the United States had to link the attack to al Qaeda, Jeffrey said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, had often called for attacks on Shi'ite targets and said they were aimed at sparking civil war. "We are trying to connect the dots," he told reporters at the State Department. "We certainly think it would be in line with what they have been saying and doing." Iran Blames Iraq Shrine Blast on Foreign Forces

Shi'ite Muslim Iran said on Wednesday a dawn bomb attack which devastated a Shi'ite shrine in Iraq was orchestrated by Israel and U.S.-led foreign forces hoping to promote sectarian strife in Iraq. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters in the Islamic Republic, urged Shi'ites not to take revenge on Sunni Muslims for the attack on the Samarra shrine. "This is a political crime and its origins should be found in the intelligence organisations of the occupiers of Iraq and the Zionists," Khamenei said in a statement read out on state television.

"The dominating powers ... have ominous plans such as aggravating the insecurity and creating religious disputes ... Today's crime in Samarra added another page to the list of misdeeds by Iraq's occupiers," he added. Announcing a week-long period of mourning in Iran, Khamenei urged all Muslims to avoid fanning the flames of sectarian rivalry. Shi’ite Leader Cites US in Shrine Blast

A Shiite political leader said Wednesday that U.S. Zalmay Khalilzad shares some of the responsibility for the bombing of a major Shiite shrine because of his criticism of Shiite-led security forces. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, cited Khalilzad's statement at a press conference Monday that America would not continue to support institutions run by sectarian groups with links to armed militias. "For sure, the statements made by the ambassador were not made in a responsible way and he did not behave like an ambassador," al-Hakim told reporters. "These statements were the reason for more pressure and gave green lights to terrorist groups. And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility."

Khalilzad has urged the Iraqis to form a unity government in which nonsectarian figures control the ministries of Defense, which runs the army, and Interior, which is responsible for the police. The current Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is a member of al-Hakim's party. His commandos have been accused by Sunni Arabs of widespread human rights abuses against Sunni civilians.

One top Shiite political leader accused Khalilzad of sharing blame for the attack on the shrine in Samarra. "These statements ... gave green lights to terrorist groups. And, therefore, he shares in part of the responsibility," said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the former commander of its militia.

No group claimed responsibility for the 6:55 a.m. assault on the shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, carried out by four insurgents posing as police. But suspicion fell on Sunni extremist groups.

The top of the dome, which was completed in 1905, collapsed into a crumbly mess, leaving just traces of gold showing through the rubble. Part of the shrine's tiled northern wall also was damaged. Thousands of demonstrators crowded near the wrecked shrine, and Iraqis picked through the debris, pulling out artifacts and copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, which they waved, along with Iraqi flags. "This criminal act aims at igniting civil strife," said Mahmoud al-Samarie, a 28-year-old builder. "We demand an investigation so that the criminals who did this be punished. If the government fails to do so, then we will take up arms and chase the people behind this attack."

U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounded the Samarra shrine and searched nearby houses. About 500 soldiers were sent to Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad to prevent clashes. National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said 10 people were detained for questioning about the bombing. The Interior Ministry put the number at nine and said they included five guards. In the hours after the attack, more than 90 Sunni mosques were attacked with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, burned or taken over by Shiites, the Iraqi Islamic Party said. Large protests erupted in Shiite parts of Baghdad and in cities throughout the Shiite heartland to the south. In Basra, Shiite militants traded rifle and rocket-propelled grenade fire with guards at the office of the Iraqi Islamic Party. Smoke billowed from the building. Shiite protesters later set fire to a Sunni shrine containing the seventh century tomb of Talha bin Obeid-Allah, a companion of Muhammad, on the outskirts of Basra.

Police found 11 bodies of Sunni Muslims, most shot in the head and including two Egyptians, in Basra, police Capt. Mushtaq Kadhim said. Protesters in Najaf, Kut and Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City also marched through the streets by the thousands, many shouting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans and burning those nations' flags. OTHER NEWS Iraq Violence a Nightmare for Poor Workers

Of all the Iraqis struggling to make sense of violence ravaging their country, few are as desperate as the labourers who cannot understand why they were bombed yet again on Monday while trying to earn a few dollars. A bomb hidden under a tea seller’s cart exploded in central Baghdad beside a crowd of workers, wounding 19 people. “We are not policemen. We are not in the army. We are not in the government. We are just poor people,” said Sayid Rasoul, standing at the site of the blast in Bab al-Sharjee, where labourers have been attacked at least seven times. Much of Iraq’s violence is driven by sectarian tensions.

Iraqis have also faced random suicide bombings like the one that killed at least 12 people on a bus in central Baghdad on Monday, one of the attacks apparently designed to fuel chaos. But labourers are baffled by violence against men who gather in Baghdad seeking work, a daily ritual that has nothing to do with sectarianism or politics. Hussein Ali said labourers are always at risk whether they are Shia or Sunni. “How can I feed my family? The government does not protect us. I get work maybe once or twice a week and I make an average of $20,” he said.

“Two days ago our suppliers were selling pipes to labourers and gunmen drove up and opened fire. The police did nothing. Who is fighting us? We have no idea.”

A Serving of Boiled Rice

"U.S. Hypocrisy Hangs Over Rice's Middle East Trip." With headlines like that in Lebanon's Daily Star, it appears that no matter how many millions of U.S.-taxpayer dollars the Bush administration throws at its public-relations effort to alter Arab attitudes about the United States, it's Washington's decades-old, inconsistent policies that will have to change before "they" ever stop "hating us." This theme has come inescapably to the surface now that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has touched down in the Middle East. Among her goals: to convince regional leaders to get on board with Team Bush's approach to the new government of the Israeli-occupied, Palestinian territories.

Yesterday, Rice turned up in Cairo. There, at a press conference with Egypt's foreign minister, she urged the Palestinian militant group Hamas to recognize Israel's sovereignty and renounce the use of violence. (Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January. It is now forming the Palestinian Authority's new government.) Speaking of Hamas, Rice declaimed: "You cannot have one foot in the camp of terror and another foot in the camp of politics." (I recommend following this link so you can look at the pictures of Rice and the Hamas leader Khalid Mashal. – Susan) Rights Group Blames US Torture For Detainee Deaths

At least eight detainees of the roughly 100 who have died in U.S. military custody in Iraq and Afghanistan were tortured to death, human rights lawyers said in a report released on Wednesday. "These are detainees who were beaten, suffocated or otherwise died in circumstances that meet the definition of torture that is in the federal law that bans the practice," said Hina Shamsi, a lawyer for New York-based Human Rights First and author of the report. Analyzing military documents and press accounts, Human Rights First examined 98 detainee deaths, and concluded that torture by U.S. military personnel caused eight deaths and may have been responsible for four others. All of the deaths have been disclosed previously.

The Pentagon said at least 108 detainees have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, not counting those killed in insurgent mortar attacks on jail facilities. "Critically, only half of the cases of detainees tortured to death have resulted in punishment; the steepest sentence for anyone implicated in a torture-related death has been five months in jail," the report stated. The military has said it has a policy against torture, but has acknowledged using interrogation techniques that include placing detainees in stress positions. U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq were also pictured sexually humiliating prisoners and menacing them with dogs. The report said that of the 98 deaths it examined, only 12 led to punishment of any kind for U.S. personnel.

"People are dying in U.S. custody and no one's being held to account," said Deborah Pearlstein, who heads the Human Rights First U.S. law and security program. US troops taught Iraqi gestures

The US military has funded a computer game to teach its troops how to use and decipher Iraqi body language. The purpose is to teach soldiers that using the wrong gestures can potentially cause offence and escalate already tense situations. In the program, users must build trust with local people through verbal communication and gestures. One of the system's creators says the training tool, known as Tactical Iraqi, has already been a great success. The system also teaches troops Arabic language skills.

(From Shirin: 1. It took them three years to decide it mattered to know something about the language (body and otherwise) of the people they conquered? 2. Why are they spending time and money on this now if they are getting ready to end the occupation? 3. Isn't it a little late to keep trying new ways to win hearts and minds? 4. Don't they understand that that if you treat people like s*** it really doesn't matter if you know what gestures to use, and if you treat them with decency and respect they will overlook your ignorance of cultural niceties?)


OPINION: The power of symbols

In response to the bombing of the al-Askariya shrine in Samarra, President Bush issued an eloquent statement:

“I ask all Iraqis to exercise restraint in the wake of this tragedy and to pursue justice in accordance with the laws and constitution of Iraq. Violence will only contribute to what the terrorists sought to achieve by this act.”

Is it inconceivable that while addressing his fellow Americans after September 11, 2001, Bush could have expressed a similar sentiment?In New York City, four and a half years ago, al Qaeda simultaneously created and destroyed a great symbol of American power. Before 9/11, aside from those New Yorkers and tourists for whom the Twin Towers were a visible presence, how many people across this country or around the world would have ranked those stark monoliths as outstanding American icons? For that matter, before 9/11 how many Americans if shown photographs of the United Nations Secretariat Building and the World Trade Center would have correctly distinguished one from the other? Truth be told, the iconic power of the Twin Towers only emerged as they were turning to dust. The destruction was staggering and the tragedy horrific yet the symbolism was an ex post facto concoction. It didn't have to be seen that way.

Now consider today's destruction. For some Americans it might seem obscene that I would draw a parallel. After all, whereas almost 3,000 people died on 9/11, at this time there are no reports that the explosion in Samarra directly resulted in any fatalities. Yet the significance of what happened cannot be measured in numbers.

What was destroyed today in Samarra was not a hub of commerce, but "a symbol of divine dominance engulfing the emotional and physical being of the faithful." More specifically, it was an assault on one of the holiest shrines of Shia Islam. As one Iraqi said, "This is something greater and more symbolic than attacks on people. This is a strike at who we are."

And whereas on 9/11 the future of the United States was in fact not in peril, the future of Iraq now hangs in the balance. Few people in Iraq will have heard or have had any interest in President Bush's wise counsel, but if we were to draw parallels with his response to 9/11, his counterpart in Iraq today would be Moqtada al-Sadr who said, "We will not only condemn and protest but we will act against those militants." Ayatollah Sistani on the other hand is appealing for calm and a week of mourning, though he clearly recognizes the need for people to release their anger. Yet he too offers an ominous warning: "If the security systems are unable to secure necessary protection, the believers are able to do so with the might of God."

The question now: has the need for vengeance already fixed an unyielding grip in the Shia heart? With 90 Sunni mosques attacked in just one day of reprisals, civil war is as close as ever to being an undeniable reality. PEACE ACTION: CodePink is bringing nine Iraqi women to the USA to speak out about their experiences before, during and after the war started by America in 2003. Even if you feel that signing a petition is useless, please sign CodePink’s petition anyway. It cannot hurt and it will show some Iraqi women that not all Americans support this war. Please sign. If you can, support CodePink’s efforts with a financial donation. Thank you. – Susan

Women Say No to War. Over 40,000 Women around the world have signed this petition to say no to war.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. ": U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, U.S. representative to the International Conference on Military Trials, Aug. 12, 1945


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