Mosque Bombing A Test For Emerging Political Climate

June 13, 2007

Author: Kathleen Ridolfo

Source: Radio Free Europe

Sunni insurgents have once again attacked the Al-Askari (Golden) Mosque in an apparent attempt to goad Shi'a into launching retalitory actions.

The attack comes just weeks after Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr extended an olive branch to Sunni Arabs and called on his followers to protect and defend their Sunni brethren in the wake of Al-Qaeda's increasingly bitter attacks that target all Iraqis without distinction.

The February 22, 2006, bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque, which destroyed the shrine's famous golden dome, was a watershed moment in Iraq. It set off a firestorm of sectarian attacks and counterattacks between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs in the country that continues to this day, pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

The shrine, which houses the tombs of the 10th and 11th Shi'ite imams -- Imam Ali al-Askari and his son, Imam Hasan al-Askari -- is immensely symbolic to Shi'a worldwide. Shi'a believe that the revered 12th Imam, al-Mahdi, went into hiding at the site and will only emerge on the day of judgment.

The site is also immensely symbolic to all Iraqis as a historic artifact, and its destruction signifies a further degradation of Iraqi history and culture.

As Iraqis brace for more violence in the wake of today's attack, which toppled two minarets at the partially destroyed mosque, the Iraqi government imposed a curfew in the capital until further notice. A curfew is likely to be called in Samarra as well; the city has a majority Sunni population and is a base for several insurgent groups, including Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq.