Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sectarian violence sweeps across Iraq, Shiite holy site levelled in coordinated militant attack

SAMARRA, Iraq - A large explosion heavily damaged the golden dome of one of Iraq’s most revered Shiite shrines Wednesday, spawning mass protests and sparking reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques. It was the third major attack against Shiite targets this week and threatened to stoke sectarian tensions.

Shiite leaders called for calm, but militants attacked Sunni mosques and a gunfight broke out between Shiite militiamen and guards at the offices of a Sunni political party in Basra. About 500 soldiers were sent to Sunni neighbourhoods 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.”

A government statement said several suspects had been detained in the early-morning attack on the Askariya shrine in this city about 100 kilometres north of Baghdad, and some of them “might have had been involved in carrying out the crime.”

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