22 February 2006 al-Askari Mosque bombing

"This article is about the bombing that took place in 2006. For the later bombing see 2007 al-Askari Mosque bombing"

Infobox terrorist attack
title=Al-Askari Mosque 2006 bombing

caption=The Al-Askari Mosque in 1916.
location=Samarra, Iraq
target=Al-Askari Mosque
date=February 22, 2006
type=Bombing (demolition)
perps=Al-Qaeda in Iraq (presumed)
The 2006 al-Askari Mosque bombing occurred at the al-Askari Mosque in the Iraqi city of Samarra, on February 22, 2006, at about 6:55 a.m. local time (0355 UTC). The attack on the mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shi'a Islam, is believed to have been caused by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Although no injuries occurred in the blasts, the mosque was severely damaged.

The bombing was followed by retaliatory violence with over a hundred dead bodies being found the next day; at least a hundred sixty-five people are thought to have been killed in total in the following days. [cite web |title=Muslim Clerics Call for an End to Iraqi Rioting |work=New York Times |url=http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/25/international/middleeast/25iraq.html |accessdate=February 24 |accessyear=2006]

The mosque is located some 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Baghdad, the capital.

The bombing

On February 22, 2006, at 6:55 a.m. (0355 UTC), explosions occurred at al-Askari Mosque, effectively destroying its golden dome and severely damaging the mosque. Several men, one wearing military uniforms, had earlier entered the mosque, tied up the guards there and set explosives, resulting in the blast. Two bombs were set off [cite web |title=Explosion destroys Shiite shrine golden dome |work=Ireland On-Line |url=http://breakingnews.iol.ie/news/story.asp?j=173575042&p=y73575748 |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] [cite web |title=Bombers strike Shia mausoleum in Iraq |work=IBN Live |url=http://www.ibnlive.com/article.php?id=5757&section_id=2 |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] by five [cite web |author=Knickmeyer, Ellen|year=2006|title=Bombing Shatters Mosque In Iraq |format= |work=WashingtonPost.com |url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/22/AR2006022200454.html |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] to sevencite web |title=Blast destroys golden dome of Iraq's shrine |work=HindustanTimes.com |url=http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1632721,00050004.htm |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] men dressed as personnel of the Iraqi special forces [cite web |author=Knight, Sam |year=2006 |title=Bombing of Shia shrine sparks wave of retaliation |work=TimesOnline.com |url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,7374-2052701,00.html |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] who entered the shrine during the morning. [cite web |title=Iraqi shrine bombing spurs wave of sectarian reprisals |work=CBC News |url=http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2006/02/22/iraq-shrine-blast.html |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006]

No injuries were reported following the bombing. However, the northern wall of the shrine was damaged by the bombs, causing the dome to collapse and destroying three-quarters of the structure along with it. [cite web |author=Worth, Robert|year=2006|title=Blast Destroys Shrine in Iraq, Setting Off Sectarian Fury |format= |work=NYTimes |url=http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/22/international/middleeast/22cnd-iraq.html?hp&ex=1140670800&en=1077baccd068bf6b&ei=5094&partner=homepage |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006]

Following the blast, American and Iraqi forces surrounded the shrine and began searching houses in the area. Five police officers responsible for protecting the mosque were taken into custody. [cite web |title=Famous Iraq mosque damaged in blast |work=Scotsman.com |url=http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=274442006 |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006]

While a Friday curfew and appeals for restraint by religious leaders across Iraq appeared to have prevented any major outbreak of violence on Friday, in contrast to the incidents that reportedly took more than 130 lives and damaged or destroyed nearly 200 Sunni mosques on Wednesday and Thursday, [http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=32290 experts warned that it was far too early to exhale] .

Responsibility and accusations

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on the mosque.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Although Al-Qaeda in Iraq denied any involvement in statements released, in June 2006, it was reported that Iraqi commandos and troops had captured and seriously wounded Yousri Fakher Mohammed Ali, a Tunisian also known as Abu Qudama al-Tunesi, after he and 15 other foreign fighters stormed an Iraqi checkpoint 25 miles north of Baghdad, according to Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie.

Abu Qudama confessed to taking part in the attack on al-Askari mosque in Samarra and gave a detailed account of how the attack took place. Al-Rubaie said Iraqi security forces have yet to capture the mastermind of the mosque attack, Haitham al-Badri, an Iraqi and leader of one of Al Qaeda in Iraq's cells. Al-Rubaie said al-Badri, Abu Qudama, four Saudi nationals and two other Iraqis stormed the mosque Feb. 21, rounded up the shrine's guards, members of Iraq's Facility Protection Service, and bound their hands. The group then spent the rest of the night rigging the mosque with bombs. At dawn the next day, they detonated the explosives, bringing down the dome.cite news |url=http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/news/world/14924090.htm |title=Suspect in bombing of Shiite shrine is captured |author=Alex Rodriguez |publisher=Chicago Tribune |date=2006-06-28]

In an August 2006 press conference U.S. President George W. Bush stated "it's pretty clear – at least the evidence indicates – that the bombing of the shrine was an Al Qaida plot, all intending to create sectarian violence."cite news |url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/21/AR2006082100469.html?nav=rss_politics |title=President Bush Holds a News Conference: CQ Transcripts Wire |date=2006-08-21] Before his death, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi listed among his goals the incitement of a civil war between Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis.cite news |url=http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/meast/02/10/sprj.nirq.zarqawi/ |title=Letter may detail Iraqi insurgency's concerns |author=CNN |date=2004-02-10]

In September 2006, Iraqi officials announced the capture of Hamid Juma Faris Jouri al-Saeedi in connection with the bombing, allegedly done on his orders by Haitham al-Badri.Oppel, Richard A. Jr. (September 3, 2006). Senior Al Qaeda Figure in Iraq Is Captured. "The New York Times"]

The alleged mastermind of this attack and the later minaret blasts, Haitham al-Badri, was killed in August 2007. [ [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L04311264.htm Reuters AlertNet - U.S. forces kill al Qaeda mosque bomber in Iraq ] ]

USA and Israel

*Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the United States and Israel for the attack. He claimed that "these heinous acts are committed by a group of Zionists and occupiers that have failed." He warned, amid a crowd of protesters, that the United States would "not be saved from the wrath and power of the justice-seeking nations" by resorting to bombings like the one that occurred at Al Askari Mosque. [cite news|date=2006-02-23|title=Iran president warns West over Iraq shrine blast|publisher=Reuters|url=http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L23295106.htm]

*According to [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L23295106.htm alertnet] , Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, speaking from the Lebanese capital, Beirut, echoed the opinions of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and accused the United States of attacking the mosque to cause tension between the Sunnis and Shi'ites in the Middle East.

Violent reactions

Shi'ites protest following the bombing at Al Askari Shrine.As a result of the bombing, a great amount of violence broke out throughout Iraq. The Sunni Clerical Association of Muslim Scholars has said that, as of February 23, 2006, 168 Mosques had been attacked. They also stated that ten imams had been murdered and fifteen others kidnapped since the attack on the Samarra Shrine. [cite news|date=2006-02-24 |url=http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/Story.asp?Article=136363&Sn=WORL&IssueID=28341|title=Killing Fields |publisher=Gulf Daily News] The Shi'ite controlled Interior Ministry said it could only confirm figures for Baghdad, where it had reports of 19 mosques attacked, one cleric murdered and one abducted.

February 22 (Wednesday)

*In Najaf, shops were closed, while residents gathered at the city's 1920 Revolution Square for demonstrations. In Al Diwaniyah, all mosques, shops and markets were closed. [cite web |title=Title |work=Canada.com |url=http://www.canada.com/topics/news/world/story.htm |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006]
*Three Sunni Muslim clerics were shot and murdered by Shi'ite terrorists after Al-Askari bombing. [cite web |author=al-Amery, Amer|year=2006|title=Iraq shrine bomb fuels Shi'ite terrorism |format= |work=Reuters |url=http://today.reuters.com/News/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2006-02-22T194909Z_01_MAC231520_RTRUKOC_0_US-IRAQ.xml |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006]

February 23 (Thursday)

*Up to twenty one mosques were attacked in reprisals for the bombing. Three mosques were completely destroyed by explosives.
*In the mainly Shia city of Basra, armed men in police uniforms seized eleven Sunni Muslim men, including some Saudi, Turkish and Egyptian nationals, from the Mina prison. The seized men were later found murdered and were believed to have been tortured. Ninety reprisal attacks on Mosques are reported. [cite web |title=Dozens killed in Iraq sectarian violence |work=Aljazeera.net |url=http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/6B989359-6D61-4A50-B4C8-ECCFFA49B0E6.htm |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] Iraqi Kurdish Sunni President Jalal Talabani has warned that Iraq is now on the brink of civil war.
*Shia terrorists murdered 47 Muslim and Christian civilians and left their bodies in a ditch near Baghdad on Thursday. All of the bodies had their hands bound together. [cite news |url=http://www.chinapost.com.tw/i_latestdetail.asp?id=35742 |publisher=China Post |date=2006-02-24 |title=Iraqi Sunni bloc suspends political talks]
*Three journalists, including Atwar Bahjat, working for Al-Arabiya television were kidnapped and murdered while covering the bombing. Their bodies were found on the outskirts of Samarra. [cite news |url=http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/02/23/journalists.killed/index.html |title=Arab TV journalists muedred in Iraq |date=2006-02-23 |publisher=CNN] The journalist and her crew were Sunni Muslims.

February 24 (Friday)

*Baghdad [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/32CB6523-014C-4DC1-A025-78751E1A6050.htm was relatively calm] on Friday, despite reports of minor clashes between members of a Shia militia and armed men in the south of the city. In Basra, where the curfew was not in effect, on Friday armed men kidnapped three children of a Shia legislator who is a prominent member of the Shi'ite Dawa Party. In the city of Madain (Ctesiphon), two rockets struck the tomb of Salman the Persian, causing damage but no casualties. [cite news |url=http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/13955702.htm |title=Violence continues in Iraq despite curfew in central provinces |date=2006-02-24 |publisher=Knight Ridder Newspapers] [cite news |url=http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2006-02-24-tomb-attack_x.htm |title=Holy Shiite tomb attacked with rockets |date=2006-02-24 |publisher=USA Today]

February 25 (Saturday)

*Fierce sectarian violence [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/83926B1D-3351-4F44-916E-250F52AFA71E.htm erupted anew on Saturday] despite an extraordinary daytime curfew, killing more than two dozen people in a series of incidents around the country, including a brazen attack on the funeral procession of an Iraqi television journalist Atwar Bahjat. The violence took place even though a daytime curfew emptied the streets of Baghdad and three neighboring governorates for a second day. The government has extended the daylight security clampdown with a ban on cars on Monday morning. The overnight curfew is still in effect.
* [http://www.juancole.com/2006/02/more-shrines-destroyed-60-killed.html According to KarbalaNews.net and Juan Cole] , guerrillas blew up a Shiite shrine in Bashir, south of Tuz Khurmato. 20 guerrillas attacked the shrine of Salman the Persian. They killed the guards and placed explosives at the tomb, then blew it up, destroying it.

February 26 (Sunday)

* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1718646,00.html Five days of violence] have left more than 200 dead and many mosques smashed, despite daytime curfews on Baghdad and surrounding provinces. There were further ominous signs of the "cleansing" of once mixed neighbourhoods in and around Baghdad. Scores of Shia families were reported to have fled homes in the restive western Muslim suburb of Abu Ghraib. Shia community leaders said they were being housed temporarily in schools and other buildings in Shia areas. In the latest round of attacks, a bomb destroyed a minibus as it was leaving a bus station in the mostly Shia town of Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad, killing five people and wounding three.

February 27 (Monday)

* [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/A53F5F39-9E34-4918-88B0-EEA54580E99F.htm According to Aljazeera] , the Iraqi government said that since the bombing in Samarra last Wednesday 379 people had been killed and 458 wounded. However, the Baghdad morgue confirmed that it had only received 309 bodies since Wednesday, most victims of violence. Morgue data showed this was double the average - it handled 10,080 bodies in 2005. Al-Qaeda Terrorist group is suspected the deadly attacks

Political reactions


Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has urged Iraqis to stay unified and peaceful, saying the attack was an effort to incite violence. [cite web |title= Gunmen strike 27 Baghdad mosques, kill imams |work=CNN.com |url=http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/02/22/iraq.main/index.html |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] He has also called for three days of national mourning. [cite web |title= Samarra Mosque, Iraq Shiite Shrine, Damaged in Attack |work=Bloomberg.com |url=http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000085&sid=ajvT4mo_6sK4&refer=europe |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006] However, talks between him and a prominent Sunni Muslim group are put on hold as the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front quits discussions on forming a new government due to the recent violence [http://www.arabnews.com/?page=4&section=0&article=78288&d=24&m=2&y=2006] . At the same time, a government organization called the Sunni Endowments that maintains Sunni mosques and shrines condemned the attack. On Feb 25, [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2058790,00.html al-Jaafari blamed] terrorists for the crisis: "The Iraqi people have one enemy; it is terrorism and only terrorism... There are no Sunnis against Shiites or Shiites against Sunnis."

Despite the Sunni boycott, President Jalal Talabani pressed ahead with [http://www.arabnews.com/?page=4&section=0&article=78288&d=24&m=2&y=2006 a meeting] that he had called to avert a descent toward a civil war. After discussions with Shiites, Kurds and leaders of a smaller Sunni group, he warned about the danger of all-out war.

The government is [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4749308.stm extending a curfew] it imposed in parts of the country on Friday to calm tensions sparked by an attack on a Shia shrine.

Iraqi defence minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/83926B1D-3351-4F44-916E-250F52AFA71E.htm warned] about the danger of a long civil war. Also, he said that Iraq would not hesitate to dispatch tanks to the streets to end violence and impose security. The minister also denied any involvement by what he called Interior Ministry commandos in the attack that targeted Harith Sulayman al-Dari, leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars.

Sunni and Shiite clerics in Iraq [http://www.dw-world.de/dw/function/0,2145,12215_pg_0,00.html have agreed to prohibit killings] and to ban attacks on each other's mosques in an effort to ease sectarian violence.


U.S. President George W. Bush [http://www.arabnews.com/?page=4&section=0&article=78288&d=24&m=2&y=2006 warned about the threat of civil war] and expressed support for the Iraqi government. On February 25, [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2058790,00.html Bush called] seven Iraqi political leaders in an extraordinary round of telephone diplomacy aimed at getting talks restarted about forming a permanent government. [http://www.forbes.com/home/feeds/ap/2006/02/28/ap2559659.html On February 28, Bush decried the latest surge in sectarian violence] and said that for Iraqis "the choice is chaos or unity." In congressional testimony, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said a civil war in Iraq could lead to a broader conflict in the Middle East, pitting the region's Sunni and Shiite powers against one another.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the bombing a "criminal and sacrilegious act", urging Iraqis to show restraint and avoid retaliation.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington's ambassador to Iraq, and the top US commander in the country, Gen. George Casey, issued a joint statement saying the US would contribute to the shrine's reconstruction. [cite web |title= Iraq shrine blast sparks protests |work=BBC News |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4740010.stm |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006]

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has laid blame on the United States and coalition forces. "They invade the shrine and bomb there because they oppose God and justice," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq. [cite web |title= Iran: U.S., Israel Destroyed Iraqi Shrine |work=Breitbart.com |url=http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/02/23/D8FUMST00.html |accessdate=February 23 |accessyear=2006]

Religious reactions

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani sent instructions to his followers forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques, especially the major ones in Baghdad, and calling for seven days of mourning. [cite news |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1715211,00.html |date=2006-02-23 |title=Shia shrine blasts spark reprisal attacks |publisher=The Guardian] He hinted that religious militias could be given a bigger security role if the government was incapable of protecting holy shrines.

On February 25 [http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20060226/int/int2.html] Sistani called for Iraq’s powerful tribes to be deployed to protect the country’s holy places after three attacks on Shia shrines in four days: "Ayatollah Sistani, who received a tribal delegation from Kufa, asked that the Iraqi tribes reclaim their role of protecting the shrines,” said an official in Sistani’s office in the Shia clerical center of Najaf.... After the crimes against the places of worship, including the blowing up of the mausoleum in Samarra and the attacks against the tombs of Salman the Persian and Imam Ali bin Mussa al-Rida, the tribes must take a stand and claim a role in the protection of these sites."

Muqtada al-Sadr [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/B721965.htm condemned the attack and called for calm] . Having called to stop mutual attacks, Sadr [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/9E175456-3F9B-48C8-A768-6BA9D51C406C.htm ordered members of his militia] to protect Sunni mosques in majority Shia areas in southern Iraq. He [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/9E175456-3F9B-48C8-A768-6BA9D51C406C.htm called for Iraqi unity] and warned against "a plan by the occupation to spark a sectarian war". He called on Sunni groups such as the Association of Muslim Scholars to form a joint panel and ordered his militia to defend Shiite holy sites across Iraq.

On February 25 [http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20060226/int/int2.html] Sunni and Shiite clerics agreed to prohibit killing members of the two sects and banning attacks on each other's mosques in an effort to ease tension between Iraq's Muslim communities following sectarian violence after the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine. The agreement was made during a meeting between representatives of radical Shiite cleric Sadr, Shiite religious leader Jawad al-Khalisi and members of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars at the Abu Hanifa Mosque, a Sunni place of worship.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L23295106.htm urged Shi'ites not to take revenge] on Sunni Muslims for the attack on the Samarra shrine.

According to Juan Cole, [http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2006/03/01/worst/] three Iraqi clerics all employed their influence and authority among the Shiite rank and file to make the Samarra bombing work for them politically. Sistani expanded his militia and stayed at the forefront of the movement by encouraging peaceful rallies. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim used the explosion in Samarra to bolster his own authority. He remonstrated with the American ambassador, saying it was not reasonable to expect the religious Shiites, who won the largest bloc of seats in parliament, to give up their claim on the ministry of interior, and that, indeed, Khalilzad had helped provoke the troubles with his assertions to that effect earlier. Muqtada al-Sadr used the incident to push for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, something he has wanted since the fall of Saddam. Abroad, Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei blamed Bush and his Israeli allies, an allegation widely believed to be true in Iraq.

Analysts' views

"I think this is probably the most dangerous event that has occurred since the fall of Saddam Hussein," former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht told CNN. "It risks our entire enterprise in Iraq."

"We may be on the verge of taking communal violence to the next level," warned Juan Cole, professor of Middle-Eastern history at the University of Michigan, who called Wednesday "an apocalyptic day in Iraq".

"It's very clear that the Shiites are interpreting this chain of events as evidence that the Americans are weak and can't protect Shiite interests," said Cole. "And now Americans are having to come back to the Shiites and ask them to be magnanimous and give away a lot of what they've won in elections."

"It was always going to be a very hard sell, but now it's an impossible argument; Shiites aren't going to give away any power at all at this point," he said, adding that "it's possible that there could be a hung parliament, the government would collapse, and you'd have to go to new elections. And that would be a disaster in the present circumstances."

[http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2006/03/01/worst/ According to Juan Cole] , as a result of the bombing, "Tactically, strategically, and politically Bush finds himself in the worst of all possible worlds. With Americans increasingly fed up with the Iraq debacle, he needs to start drawing down troops soon, but he can't do it while the country teeters on the brink of civil war. If civil war does break out, a U.S. withdrawal will look even more like cutting and running — under these circumstances, not even Karl Rove will be able to figure out a way to get away with simply declaring victory and going home. Yet if American troops stay, they have no good options either. The U.S. desperately needs to keep the Sunnis in the government, but if Shiites launch reprisal attacks against Sunnis, Americans will not be able to respond for fear that the Shiites, too, will turn on them — as indeed they have already begun to do. And as the shrine bombing shows, Iraq is a vial of nitroglycerin that can be set off with one shake. Imagine what would happen if one of the leading clerics, Sunni or Shiite, was assassinated."

According to "Der Spiegel", [http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/spiegel/0,1518,404503,00.html] the attack in Samarra and the resulting large-scale violence provided a glimpse of the abyss toward which Iraq could be headed. Dozens of mosques – mostly Sunni but also Shiite houses of worship – have already been destroyed, and by last Friday at least 480 people had lost their lives in the current wave of violence. The dead are mostly Sunnis, who have been accused of destroying the holy shrine in Samarra. The government has denied claims by Baghdad's central morgue that more than 1,300 people have been killed so far... The conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Basra is overshadowing the insurgency against occupation forces, as armed groups controlled by radical clerics take over power in the country. As Iran systematically expands its influence in southern Iraq, the Americans are being relegated to a secondary role.

William F. Buckley, Jr. considers the bombing [http://www.nationalreview.com/buckley/buckley200602241451.asp] as an indication of a general failure of the US policy in Iraq. According to Daniel Pipes, [http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=21445 it was a tragedy, but it was not an American or a coalition tragedy] . Pipes does not believe that Iraq’s plight is either a coalition responsibility or a particular danger to the West; fixing Iraq is neither the coalition’s responsibility nor its burden.


External links

* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/4738874.stm In pictures: Iraq shrine bombing]

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