Brian Conley and Isam Rashid
It was said initially that the bombing happened early in the morning Feb. 22, and was sudden and unexpected. It now appears that although the explosions occurred at 6:55 am that morning, preparations began earlier.
“According to initial reports, the bombing was technically well conceived and could only have been carried out by specialists,” construction minister Jassem Mohammad Jaafar said in a statement. He also said it must have taken at least 12 hours to place the charges.
This corroborates other information that suggests that unknown black-clad men dressed in the standard style of Shia police commandoes seized the shrine Tuesday evening and held it until just before the explosion Wednesday morning.
Since the bombing there have been demonstrations all over Iraq, many of which have drawn both Sunnis and Shias. These demonstrations have called for a peaceful response to the bombing. They have also demanded that the government be held responsible for failing to provide adequate security.
In response, defence minister Saadoun Dulaimi called on Iraqis to avoid violence. “If we have to, we are ready to fill the streets with (armoured) vehicles,” he told reporters Saturday. He added, “If there is a civil war in this country, it will never end..”
Major Tim Keefe from the Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) told IPS, “There are no plans to deploy MNF-I troops to the streets. We are prepared to support the Iraqis if requested by the Iraqi government.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Al-Askariya mosque bombing, more than 100 Sunni mosques were attacked, and in the following days several Shia mosques have been attacked in reprisal for the attacks on Sunni mosques.
“On the 22nd of February, 100 Sunni mosques were attacked and some of them were occupied by Shias, and they burned some and attacked the Islamic Party building in Basra,” Tarek Al’Hashimi, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party said in a statement.
Despite these attacks, and suggestions in the mainstream press that Iraq is already caught in civil war, many Shias on the streets are calling for calm and unity.
Haider Hasan, a 37-year-old Shia who works in the oil ministry is among many concerned about the attacks on Sunni mosques.
“I’m against that, I think they were some of the uneducated Shia people and couldn’t control their feelings and they started to attack Sunni mosques,” he told IPS. “I would like to ask them to stop that because we don’t want this problem to get bigger and bigger.”
Most demonstrations have been called as a peaceful response to the attacks, but it has been difficult to keep them under control. Abd Ali who arranged one of the demonstrations said, “I organised this peace demo to send a message saying we have a peaceful way for protesting against this bombing in Samarra. But other Shia people brought their guns, and it is so difficult to control their feelings of anger.”
These feelings have spilled over into repeated acts of violence since the bombing. Political leaders on both sides of Iraq’s Sunni-Shia divide have called for calm. Sunni leader Adnan Dulaimi said Iraqis must not fight each other because “occupation forces want us to fight between each other.”
Many Iraqis say they do not know who actually carried out the bombing, but they blame the occupation..
Some believe it was the work of Ba’athists left over from Saddam’s militia forces. “I think they were from the Ba’ath party because when they lost their control in Iraq they want to destroy it by causing a civil war between Sunni and Shia,” said Haider Hasan.
Omar Hamid, a 30 year-old member of the Iraqi Islamic Party told IPS that it was allies of the occupation forces who attacked the Al-Askariya shrine “because occupation forces want to make the Iraqi people busy with a civil war, and that will make it easier for them to carry out their plans in Iraq. And I’m sure the persons who did this attack in Samarra had permission to move in Samarra because it was curfew in Samarra at that time.”
The attacks on Sunni mosques began within a few hours of the attack on the shrine in Samarra.
“I saw one of the attacks on a Sunni mosque, it happened in front of me at the Al-Quds mosque in the Baladiyat area in eastern Baghdad,” Alaa Ahmed told IPS. “I saw many land cruisers and cars come to Al-Quds mosque and they opened fire on the mosque. As I saw them I became sure they had training before, because they knew what to do very well.”
The Baladiyat area is close to Sadr City in Baghdad, a large Shia slum. In recent weeks many, particularly Palestinians living in the refugee camp there, have complained of attacks by Shia militia groups.
Omar believes some of the attacks were carried out by the Mahdi army of Muqtada Al-Sadr and the Shia militias. “Really I’m sorry to say but, some Shia militias carried out (the attacks), and they don’t know how much they help the occupation forces with their plans to make civil war with these kinds of attacks.”
Omar was not alone in believing that the attacks would help the occupation. Most of the demonstrations were simultaneously protesting the attack in Samarra and the continued occupation. They were asking also for more security.
“We are very angry today because terrorists attacked one of most important holy mosques for us, and in this demonstration we ask the Iraqi government to protect our mosques and imams buried inside the mosques,” Haider Hasan said after one of the demonstrations. “We voted for the Al-Jaafari government in the last election and they should take their responsibilities and at least protect our holy imams’ graves.”
Alaa Ahmed told IPS he still has hope, despite the recent attacks. “I hope Iraq will pass this problem in safety and I hope the occupation will end as quickly as possible. My message to Shias is I hope they will be careful about colluding with the occupation. Remember Sunni and Shia are both Muslims and all these mosques are for Muslims.”
The United States is currently planning a reduction of forces in Iraq, and there has been speculation whether the recent unrest will extend the occupation.
Major Keefe said MNF-I troops were not affected by the recent developments. “This has no effect on the planned drawdown of troops. Iraqi security forces continue growing in their capabilities and battle space will continue being turned over as each situation merits. There is no consideration regarding ‘retaking control’ of any battle space.” (END/2006)