Shrine in Iraq Damaged in Attack

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Samarra's al Hadi shrine. Credit: Dia Hamid/AFP/Getty Images. i

Iraqis inspect the bombed shrine in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra. Dia Hamid/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Dia Hamid/AFP/Getty Images
Samarra's al Hadi shrine. Credit: Dia Hamid/AFP/Getty Images.

Iraqis inspect the bombed shrine in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra.

Dia Hamid/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi officials are blaming al Qaeda and a Sunni militant group for an explosion at one of the country's most famous Shiite religious shrines. The blast in Samarra destroyed the golden dome and sent protesters into the streets.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani, has called on his followers to protest today's attack on one of the country's most holy Shiite religious shrines. This was an attack on the golden dome mosque in Samarra, which is north of Baghdad. It was the third such incident on a Shiite target in as many days. We do not know if this latest explosion caused any casualties, but we do know it has it is causing unrest already.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay joins us now from Baghdad. And first, Jamie, how did insurgents, or whoever may have been behind this, commit this attack?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, Steve, we were told by the Interior Ministry that insurgents managed to get into the shrine last night and place explosives in the building, and they set it off very early this morning. We've been seeing television images of the shrine's very famous golden dome, and it has sustained a great deal of damage.

As you know, this attack has really set off the Shiites. It's one of their most holy shrines. Buried in the Shrine are the Iman Ali al-Hadi, and Iman Hassan al-Askari. And they're two of the 12 imans of the Shiites, and the descendents of Iman Ali, who is the founder of Shiism. Just to give you an indication of how important this is to the Shiites, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has announced a three-day morning period, and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for seven days of morning.

INSKEEP: Which helps to explain why there have already been protests here. Is this seen as even more significant than other deadly attacks against Shiites and Shiite targets?

TARABAY: Yes. This is a direct attack on the Shiite shrine. Sistani is holding meetings with other religious leaders in Najaf, where he is. And Muqtada al- Sadr, who is a radical Shiite cleric, has cut short his visit to Lebanon, and his on his way back to Iraq. The situation here is very urgent. Sistani has actually told people to protest any suitable way. He's asked them to refrain from actual violence, but there are graphically growing numbers of demonstrations across the country--in Shiite areas in the South, in Basrah, in the slum here in Baghdad, in Sadr city.

People are angry. They're calling for revenge. One person rang up an Iraqi television station and said, you know, with all due respect to Sistani, enough is enough, and it's time to retaliate.

INSKEEP: People saying that peaceful protest will not be enough. And I have to ask, given the leaders you just mentioned, this is a time when Shiite Muslims, to some degree, have been arguing among themselves over who will control the country, and how the country will be controlled. Do you suddenly have a situation where Shiites are united, but maybe not in a good way?

TARABAY: Well, they only recently decided to re-elect Ibrahim al-Jaafari as the prime minister. So, you know, they've been taking a lot of time to decide among themselves on a uniform position. This might help them come together even more. It could also break them further apart from the Sunnis. The Sunnis have come out and also condemned the attack. But what happens now? It's very, very tenuous.

The presidents come out, the prime ministers come out, all to condemn the attack. They've launched investigation committees. A Sunni endowment group, which is in charge of Sunni mosques and shrines, has also said it's going to send an investigative committee to Samarra to see what's happened. So, I mean, the atmosphere here is very tense. People are very angry. And we're not really sure what's going to happen next.

INSKEEP: Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad, where a Shiite shrine, a golden dome visible for miles, was the target of an attack today.

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