Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

10 Years on, Iraq Scarred from Attack on Shiite Shrine

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

10 Years on, Iraq Scarred from Attack on Shiite Shrine

Article excerpt

SAMARRA, Iraq * Ten years after Sunni extremists blew up a revered Shiite shrine, igniting the worst sectarian violence Iraq had ever seen, the country remains deeply divided, with the Islamic State group facing off against increasingly powerful Shiite militias.

The rebuilt golden dome of the al-Askari shrine rises above the low, brown skyline of Samarra, but down below a maze of blast walls and checkpoints manned by Shiite militiamen separate pilgrims from the city's mostly Sunni residents. The IS group's lightning advance across northern and western Iraq in 2014 stalled just outside Samarra, though the front lines are now some 20 miles away.

Many believe IS would have never emerged if al-Qaida in Iraq a precursor of the extremist group had not blown up the shrine in the early hours of Feb. 22, 2006, shattering its golden dome and setting off a two-year wave of reprisal attacks.

Shiite lawmaker Muwaffak al-Rubaie, who was then Iraq's national security adviser, remembers the call he got from a local security official that morning. "He said today is the day of judgment," al- Rubaie recalled. "He was absolutely right."

In the days that followed, hundreds of Sunni mosques were attacked and thousands of civilians were killed. As Sunni extremists carried out near-daily suicide bombings, Shiite militiamen raided Sunni neighborhoods, abducting young men, torturing and killing them, and dumping the bodies in the streets.

In 2006 alone, the United Nations estimated that more than 34,000 civilians had been killed across Iraq. The following year, the government withheld casualty figures from the U.N., fearing they would be used to paint a "grim" picture and undermine security efforts.

Baghdad's once-mixed neighborhoods were carved into Sunni and Shiite enclaves that soon came to be surrounded by high concrete walls and concertina wire. …

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