"While the mosque is sacred to both Sunnis and Shia, it is considered one of the most important Shia visiting places in Iraq. Samarra is considered a sacred city by many Muslims and historians because it was made the capital of the Abassid Empire, after Baghdad, by the Abassid Caliph Al-Mu’tasim.Riverbend recalls her antebellum visit to the mosque
The name “Samarra” is actually derived from the phrase in Arabic “Sarre men ra’a” which translates to “A joy for all who see”. This is what the city was named by Al-Mu’tasim when he laid the plans for a city that was to compete with the greatest cities of the time - it was to be a joy for all who saw it. It remained the capital of the Abassid Empire for nearly sixty years and even after the capital was Baghdad once again, Samarra flourished under the care of various Caliphs.
The mosque damaged with explosives today is the “Askari Mosque” which is important because it is believed to be the burial place of two of the 12 Shia Imams - Ali Al-Hadi and Hassan Al-Askari (father and son) who lived and died in Samarra. The site of the mosque is believed to be where Ali Al-Hadi and Hassan Al-Askari lived and were buried. Many Shia believe Al-Mahdi ‘al muntadhar’ will also be resurrected or will reappear from this mosque."
"I remember visiting the mosque several years ago - before the war. We visited Samarra to have a look at the famous “Malwiya” tower and someone suggested we also visit the Askari mosque. I was reluctant as I wasn’t dressed properly at the time - jeans and a t-shirt are not considered mosque garb. We stopped by a small shop in the city and purchased a few inexpensive black abbayas for us women and drove to the mosque.
We got there just as the sun was setting and I remember pausing outside the mosque to admire the golden dome and the intricate minarets. It was shimmering in the sunset and there seemed to be a million colors - orange, gold, white- it was almost glowing. The view was incredible and the environment was so peaceful and calm. There was none of the bustle and noise usually surrounding religious sites - we had come at a perfect time. The inside of the mosque didn’t disappoint either- elaborate Arabic script and more gold and this feeling of utter peace… I’m grateful we decided to visit it."
and she worries about the consequences:
"There has been gunfire all over Baghdad since morning. The streets near our neighborhood were eerily empty and calm but there was a tension that had us all sitting on edge. We heard about problems in areas like Baladiyat where there was some rioting and vandalism, etc. and several mosques in Baghdad were attacked. I think what has everyone most disturbed is the fact that the reaction was so swift, like it was just waiting to happen.http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/
All morning we’ve been hearing/watching both Shia and Sunni religious figures speak out against the explosions and emphasise that this is what is wanted by the enemies of Iraq - this is what they would like to achieve - divide and conquer. Extreme Shia are blaming extreme Sunnis and Iraq seems to be falling apart at the seams under foreign occupiers and local fanatics.
No one went to work today as the streets were mostly closed. The situation isn’t good at all. I don’t think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There’s so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know - Sunnis and Shia alike - I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan…
Several mosques have been taken over by the Mahdi militia and the Badir people seem to be everywhere. Tomorrow no one is going to work or college or anywhere.
People are scared and watchful. We can only pray."
I saw the news of the bomb on television when I was eating breakfast with my children. By lunch we had packed up our essential belongings and left to find refuge at a relative's house.
There was no argument from my wife. She knew as I did what the sight of the destroyed dome meant.
We live in a mixed Sunni and Shia area in Baghdad. Tonight there will be bloodshed and retaliation attacks and this time we are not going to sit inside while hoping we are lucky and the bullets do not come through our windows. This time we are leaving because things will get very bad.
It is not as if there are not already problems here. A neighbour was shot on his doorstep only a few days ago. Recently I visited the shops and the road was sealed: five armed men had been shooting at one of the Shia shops. The shopkeepers from all the other shops started firing back and the bodies were just lying in the street.
Such situations are common. We get used to them whether it is the Iraqi army closing off all the access roads so they can raid some house or the American helicopters flying over at night.
But this is going to be worse, I think. This may be the start of when it all goes really wrong and the thing that we all fear - the sectarian war that will destroy my country and my children's future - may be about to begin.
The Shia are crazy about this. I am Sunni and I am frightened that if I do not go somewhere to be surrounded by those who can protect me then they may take out their anger on me.
We were not alone on the roads. There were many cars with families in them. Then even more surprisingly there was the sight of the black-shirted followers of Moqtada al-Sadr with their Kalashnikovs at many of the street corners.
There were police out as well but they are standing with them manning checkpoints, not trying to tell them to go home.
I have seen such a thing before in Najaf but never in Baghdad. It frightened my wife. "There is the smell of civil war everywhere," she said to me.
At my relatives' house everyone was very nervous. There was news from cousins in Najaf. They said it was entirely blocked off and no one can get in or out. A friend in Basra said it was like a city of ghosts, no one on the street to be seen.
A nephew rang to say he has just witnessed a Sunni imam being shot. He was at the Yalani mosque when gunmen started firing at it. Then one got the imam and shot him twice in the head. He said they were young Mahdi army, teenagers with guns. All peaceful Iraqis are terrified of them nowadays.
I tried to play with my children to keep them from seeing how nervous we all are but I can hear people talking and the news is not good.
Another mosque has been attacked with 40 armed men shooting at it. In Sadr city, the big Shia part of town across from where I am now, thousands of Shia were marching. The news said many have Kalashnikovs.
This is not the city I knew. I had friends and colleagues who were Shia. My family married into Shia families. Now I am too frightened to be in my home. Maybe we will feel safe to go back when things are calm. But tonight we are fugitives. How did it ever get to this?