Iraq Mosque Blast Sparks Sectarian Anger
Reprisals, protest following attacks on shrine raise fears of civil war

(PG: I didn't think it was gonna happen before, now I thinks its a definite possiblity)

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Assailants wearing uniforms detonated two bombs inside one of Iraq’s most revered Shiite shrines Wednesday, blowing the top off its landmark golden dome and spawning mass protests and reprisal attacks against dozens of Sunni mosques as leaders pleaded for calm.

It was the third major attack against Shiite targets this week and threatened to further stoke sectarian tensions.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani addressed the nation on state television, warning Iraqis not to allow the attack to drag the country into civil war. “This new ugly crime comes as a warning that there is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people to spark a war among brothers. God willing, we will not allow this,” he said.

“We face a great conspiracy against Iraq, against its unity," added the president, himself an ethnic Kurd and secular Sunni Muslim. “We must cooperate and work together against this danger, the danger of civil war. This is the fiercest danger because it threatens our unity and our country with a devastating civil war.”

The brazen assault — the third major attack against Shiite targets in as many days — threatened to enflame religious passions as talks among sectarian and ethnic parties on a new government have bogged down.

‘Crime against humanity’
A Shiite political leader and many demonstrators also blamed the United States and its criticism of Shiite-led security forces that have been blamed for alleged abuses against Sunnis.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American commander in Iraq called the bombings a deliberate attempt to foment sectarian strife and warned it was a “critical moment for Iraq.” They also promised the U.S. would contribute to the shrine’s reconstruction.

“Given the historic, cultural, and religious importance of this shrine, this attack is a crime against humanity,” Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey said in a joint statement.

President Bush urged restraint among rival religious factions in Iraq, and pledged American help to restore the revered Shiite shrine.

“The United States stands ready to do all in its power to assist the government of Iraq to identify and bring to justice those responsible for this terrible act,” Bush said in a statement. “And the American people pledge to work with the people of Iraq to rebuild and restore the Golden Mosque of Samarra to its former glory.”

Al-Sistani forbids revenge attacks
Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani sent instructions to his followers forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques, especially the major ones in Baghdad. He called for seven days of mourning, his aides said.
Despite calls for calm from Shiite leaders, militants attacked Sunni mosques, including a shrine containing the tomb of Talha bin Obeid-Allah, a companion of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, in the southern city of Basra. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

About 500 soldiers were sent to Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad to prevent clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, Army Capt. Jassim al-Wahash said.
A leading Sunni politician, Tariq al-Hashimi, said 29 Sunni mosques had been attacked nationwide. He urged clerics and politicians to calm the situation “before it spins out of control.”

In Baghdad, a Sunni cleric was reportedly killed when he was sprayed with bullets while entering a mosque in the capital.
‘Several suspects’
A government statement said “several suspects” had been detained and some of them “might have had been involved in carrying out the crime.”

No group claimed responsibility for the 6:55 a.m. attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, but suspicion fell on Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The shrine contains the tombs of two revered Shiite imams, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Interior Ministry said four men, one wearing a military uniform and three clad in black, entered the mosque and detonated two bombs, one of which collapsed the dome into a crumbly mess and damaged part of the shrine’s northern wall.

Police said late Wednesday afternoon no casualties had been found.

Reduced to rubble
An aerial photograph released by the U.S. military showed the 66-foot wide dome reduced to a shell of brown masonry and twisted iron, with nearby buildings also wrecked.
U.S. and Iraqi forces in Samarra surrounded the shrine and searched nearby houses. Five police officers responsible for protecting the mosque were taken into custody, said Col. Bashar Abdullah, chief of police commandos.

Demonstrators then gathered near the shrine, waving Iraqi flags, Shiite religious banners and copies of the Muslim holy book, the Quran.