Appointment In Samarra: or why I need a drink
I first heard the news from Samarra on NPR this morning and have just finished the following AP report.
Bummed Out Bayou Bill
Shiite Shrine in Samarra Attacked
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer
Suspected al-Qaida insurgents on Wednesday destroyed the two minarets of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra, authorities reported, in a repeat of a 2006 bombing that shattered its famous Golden Dome and unleashed a wave of retaliatory sectarian violence that still bloodies Iraq.
Police said the attack at about 9 a.m. involved explosives and brought down the two minarets, which had flanked the dome's ruins. No casualties were reported.
The attack immediately stirred fears of a new explosion of Sunni-Shiite bloodshed. There are close ties between al-Qaida and some Iraqi Sunni militants.
A U.S. military official in northern Iraq confirmed that the towers were destroyed, and said Samarra remained calm by early afternoon Wednesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
The powerful blasts shook the town, sending a cloud of dust billowing into the air, said Imad Nagi, a storeowner 100 yards from the shrine. "After the dust settled, I couldn't see the minarets any more. So, I closed the shop quickly and went home."
It wasn't immediately clear how the attackers evaded the shrine's guard force, which had been strengthened after the 2006 bombing. A senior al-Maliki adviser said policemen at the shrine were detained Wednesday and would be questioned as part of an investigation ordered by the prime minister.
After last year's bombing, the mosque was guarded by about 60 Federal Protection Service forces and 25 local Iraqi police who kept watch on the perimeter, according to Samarra city officials.
The U.S. military released a statement saying "the Iraqi police on site described hearing two near-simultaneous explosions coming from inside of the mosque compound, but they did not see any attackers in the vicinity."
The Askariya shrine's dome was destroyed on Feb. 22, 2006, in a bombing blamed on Sunni Muslim militants believed linked to al-Qaida. The mosque compound and minarets had remained intact but closed after that bombing.
Police imposed an indefinite curfew on the Sunni city, located 60 miles north of Baghdad, amid fears the bombing might further inflame the sectarian hatreds that swept Baghdad and other areas of Iraq in the months that followed the destruction of the shrine's dome.
The execution-style killings largely blamed on Shiite militias had begun to decline in February, at the start of a major U.S.-Iraqi security push to pacify Baghdad, but the numbers have seen a recent rise as the bombings continued.
But while the numbers of people killed are down in Baghdad, violence has been on the rise elsewhere in Iraq after militants fled the security operation.
The Askariya mosque contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams — Ali al-Hadi, who died in 868, and his son Hassan Askariya, who died in 874. Both are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and Shiites consider them to be among his successors.
The shrine also is near the place where the 12th imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, disappeared. Al-Mahdi, known as the "hidden imam," was the son and grandson of the two imams buried in the Askariya shrine. Shiites believe he will return to Earth restore justice to humanity.
That bit of 2007 news reminded me of Somerst Maugham's 1933 retelling of:
The speaker is Death
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”
“That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
And that's why I need a drink.
Still Bummed Out Bayou Bill