First Published: 2007-06-15

Iraq Sunni shrine bombed amid reprisal attacks

US military announces deaths of five more soldiers, taking losses of this month to 36.


Middle East Online

Mussawi: The structure is completely destroyed

BASRA, Iraq - Assailants pretending to be a film crew destroyed a Sunni shrine near the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Friday as militants carried out more revenge attacks for the bombing of a Shiite shrine.

The US military, meanwhile, announced the deaths of five more soldiers taking its losses already this month to 36.

The shrine of Talha bin Obeidallah in the town of Zubair, west of overwhelmingly Shiite Basra, was destroyed at dawn, an Iraqi army officer said.

"A group of people carrying a camera arrived at the Talha bin Obeidallah shrine at 6:00 am (0200 GMT)," said Major General Ali Mussawi.

"They said they wanted to film the mosque. But they went about planting bombs around it.

"The structure is completely destroyed," he said, adding that the shrine's security guards had been detained for questioning.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki condemned what he described as a terrorist act and ordered an indefinite curfew imposed on British-patrolled Basra from 4:00 pm (1200 GMT) to prevent any further tit-for-tat violence.

"The terrorist act which targeted the shrine came as part of a series of crimes aimed at inflaming sectarian passions among the sons of the country," the Shiite premier said in a statement.

"Those who have committed it are enemies of Allah, the country and the people."

Several Sunni mosques have been attacked in tit-for-tat violence since Wednesday's bombing of the Shiite Al-Askari shrine in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad.

Immediately after the bombing, at least four Sunni mosques were targeted, three south of Baghdad in the town of Iskandiriyah and one in the capital.

Three more were hit on Thursday and the US military said a Shiite mosque in the town of Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, was also attacked.

But the imposition of curfews in both Samarra and Baghdad helped prevent any wider outbreak of sectarian violence.

It was an attack on the same Samarra shrine by Al-Qaeda militants in February 2006 that triggered the sectarian fighting between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority that rages on to this day.

The earlier bombing destroyed the shrine's golden dome.

US officials say Wednesday's bombing, in which the mosque's two gold-topped minarets were destroyed, was also the work of Al-Qaeda.

More than 650 Iraqi and US troop reinforcements have been sent to reinforce protection of the shrine since the attack, the US military said.

Iraqi authorities have also detained 13 police guards at the shrine for questioning.

Police snipers posted around the shrine shot dead two suspects, police Major Ahmed Majid said from the provincial capital of Tikrit.

The five more deaths announced by the US military took its losses since the 2003 invasion to 3,512, according to a count based on Pentagon figures.

Three of the soldiers died from wounds sustained in a roadside bombing in the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Thursday.

A joint Iraqi and US team meanwhile raided the office of the movement of Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr in the town of Suwaira, southeast of Baghdad, police Lieutenant Najim Abdullah said.

"A team of Iraqi and US forces raided Sadr's office in the town. There was an exchange of fire in which two militants were killed," Abdullah said.

The officer's director, Sheikh Haider al-Mussawi, and five other people were detained, he added.

The US military in Baghdad had no immediate comment.


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