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Context of 'February 22, 2006: ’Golden Mosque’ is Bombed by Men in Paramilitary Uniforms'

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An Iraqi voter displays her purple finger for a reporter’s camera.An Iraqi voter displays her purple finger for a reporter’s camera. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Elections for Iraq’s 275-member national assembly are held, the first democratic elections in Iraq in 50 years. Fifty-eight percent of Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a new government, the first national elections since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. Iraqis proudly display their ink-dipped purple fingers as signs that they voted. In Washington, Republicans display their own enpurpled fingers as a sign of solidarity with President Bush and as a symbol of their pride in bringing democracy to Iraq. The Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) wins 48.2 percent of the vote, a coalition of two major Kurdish parties garners 25.7 percent, and a bloc led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wins only 13.8 percent. As expected, the Sunni parties capture only a fraction of the vote. [Washington Post, 2/14/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 327-329]
Shi'ite Turnout High, but Election Marred by Violence - Suicide bombers and mortar attacks attempt to disrupt the elections, killing 44 around the country, but voters turn out in large numbers regardless of the danger. Three cloaked women going to polls in Baghdad tell a reporter in unison, “We have no fear.” Another Iraqi tells a reporter: “I am doing this because I love my country and I love the sons of my nation. We are Arabs, we are not scared and we are not cowards.” [Associated Press, 1/31/2005]
Sunni Boycott Undermines Legitimacy of Election Results - The political reality of the vote is less reassuring. Millions of Shi’ites do indeed flock to the polls, but most Sunnis, angered by years of what they consider oppression by US occupying forces, refuse to vote. Brent Scowcroft, the former foreign policy adviser held in such contempt by the administration’s neoconservatives (see October 2004), had warned that the election could well deepen the rift between Sunnis and Shi’a, and indeed could precipitate a civil war. Soon after the elections, Sunni insurgents will shift their targets and begin attacking Shi’ite citizens instead of battling US troops. Another popular, and effective, target will be Iraq’s decaying oil production infrastructure.
UIA Links to Iran and Terrorism Undermine US Ambitions - Another troublesome consequence of the elections is that Bush officials are forced to support a Shi’ite government led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a member of the Dawa Party, one of the two Shi’ite factions comprising the United Iraq Alliance. Dawa is so closely aligned with Iran that not only had it supported Iran in the Iraq-Iran War, but it had moved its headquarters to Tehran in 1979. While in the Iranian capital, Dawa had spun off what Middle East expert Juan Cole called “a shadowy set of special ops units generically called ‘Islamic Jihad,’ which operated in places like Kuwait and Lebanon.” Dawa was also an integral part of the process that created the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah. And Dawa was founded by Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr, the uncle of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has been accused of attempting to exterminate Sunni populations. In other words, the US is now supporting a government which not only supports terrorism, but itself incorporates a terrorist-affiliated organization in its executive structure. Author Craig Unger will write: “One by one the contradictions behind America’s Middle East policies emerged—and with them, the enormity of its catastrophic blunder. Gradually America’s real agenda was coming to light—not its stated agenda to rid Iraq of WMDs, which had been nonexistent, not regime change, which had already been accomplished, but the neoconservative dream of ‘democratizing’ the region by installing pro-West, pro-Israeli governments led by the likes of Ahmed Chalabi in oil-rich Middle East states. Now that Chalabi had been eliminated as a potential leader amid accusations that he was secretly working for Iran (see April 2004), and the Sunnis had opted out of the elections entirely, the United States, by default, was backing a democratically elected government that maintained close ties to Iran and was linked to Shi’ite leaders whose powerful Shi’ite militias were battling the Sunnis.” Moreover, the Iraqi security forces have little intention of cooperating with the US’s plan to “stand up” as US forces “stand down.” Their loyalties are not to their country or their newly elected government, but to their individual militias. Journalist and author Nir Rosen says the Iraqi soldiers are mainly loyal to al-Sadr and to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, the other member of the United Iraq Alliance), “but not to the Iraqi state and not to anyone in the Green Zone.” Unger will write, “Unwittingly, America [is] spending billions of dollars to fuel a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 327-329]

Entity Tags: Juan Cole, Nir Rosen, United Iraqi Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iyad Allawi, Brent Scowcroft, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The predominantly Shiite Arab administration of Ibrahim al-Jaafari is sworn into office with several posts unfilled. It was originally planned that a Sunni Arab would hold the position of defense minister, but the appointment was blocked by the Shiite officials who said that he had close ties to the deposed Baathist regime. [New York Times, 5/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Ibrahim al-Jaafari

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The Golden Mosque, before and after the bombing.The Golden Mosque, before and after the bombing. [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)The Al-Askari or Golden Mosque, in Samarra, Iraq, is partially destroyed in a bombing attack that devastates the ancient shrine. The mosque is one of the holiest of Shi’ite sites. The attacks are carried out by about a dozen men in paramilitary uniforms who enter the shrine, handcuff four guards sleeping in a back room, place a bomb in the dome of the mosque, and detonate it. [New York Times, 2/22/2006; Radio Free Europe, 2/12/2007] The devastating attack on one of Shi’a Islam’s holiest sites prompts off a wave of Shi’ite attacks on Sunni mosques, Sunni citizens, and even US occupiers that eventually takes over 10,000 Iraqi lives and brings the country closer to full-blown civil war. [Washington Post, 6/13/2004] Some local officials say that the bombers wore the uniforms of Iraqi security forces. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari says that the attack was possibly the result of “infiltration” of Iraqi security forces. The four guards found handcuffed will later be arrested as suspects in the bombing as well as 10 men dressed as Iraqi police commandos. [Washington Post, 2/23/2006] The Iraqi government will blame the al-Qaeda faction in Iraq for the bombings, though that organization’s responsibility for the bombings remains unclear. [Reuters, 6/13/2007] One leading Iraqi Shi’ite politician, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, lays partial blame for the bombing on the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, saying that Khalilzad’s public comments on death squads operating within Iraq’s Shi’ite-led Interior Ministry were a provocation to the bombing. [New York Times, 2/22/2006] Shi’ite and Sunni politicians exchange accusations over the bombings, with Shi’ite lawmakers saying that the government ignored warnings about the attacks, and Sunnis accusing Shi’ites of bombing their own shrine to exacerbate discords between the two religious factions. [Reuters, 3/2/2006] President Bush promises to rebuild the mosque. [CNN News, 2/22/2006] But the shrine is, as of mid-2007, never rebuilt, partly because of disagreements between Sunnis and Shi’ites as to how to go about the rebuilding process. [Radio Free Europe, 2/12/2007] The shrine will be bombed again 17 months later (see June 13, 2007), setting off another wave of violent reprisals.

Entity Tags: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Golden Mosque, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Zalmay M. Khalilzad

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

US troops raid the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi’ite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and capture two Iranians. The two, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, are high-ranking members of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which the US accuses of supplying funding and training to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. After a tense nine-day diplomatic standoff, the US acquiesces to requests by the Iraqi government and its own State Department to allow the two to return to Iran, though the Pentagon wished to keep them in captivity for interrogation. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007] Iran calls both Chirazi and Davari “diplomats,” and says they are in Iraq at the invitation of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, as part of an agreement to improve security between the two countries. [BBC, 12/29/2006]

Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, Abu Amad Davari, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Jalal Talabani, Mohsen Chirazi, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, US Department of Defense, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest of Shi’ite shrines, is attacked for a second time, apparently by Sunni insurgents. The mosque was partially destroyed in a massive bombing attack over a year ago (see February 22, 2006), sparking a calamitous increase in sectarian violence that claimed at least 10,000 lives. Both US and Iraqi officials fear a similar outbreak of violence following this bombing. President Bush says the attack is “clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions.” Additional US forces are sent to Samarra to enforce security. US and Iraqi officials blame al-Qaeda in Iraq, an extremist Sunni group with loose ties to the larger al-Qaeda network, but as with the February 2006 bombings, that assertion cannot be proven. In what are apparently retaliatory strikes, Shi’ite members of the Mahdi Army destroy the Sunni Grand Mosque in Iskandariyah, and attack another Sunni mosque in the same city. Mahdi leader Moqtada al-Sadr blames the Golden Mosque attack on “the hidden hands of the occupiers,” his term for the US military, but calls for peaceful protests instead of violent responses to the attacks. Al-Maliki says that Sunni security forces responsible for guarding the mosque may have been involved in the attack; until very recently, Sunni forces were the only ones delegated to guard the Shi’ite mosque. Iraqi authorities believe those forces may have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda operatives. One day prior, a Shi’ite force from Baghdad was deployed to the mosque. According to a resident, the Sunni and Shi’ite forces engaged in “some disagreement and fighting…because the previous force did not want to leave their position, but later they had to.” It is possible that the conflict between the two Iraqi forces precipitated the attack. [Washington Post, 6/13/2004] Many Iraqis feel that the latest attacks could carry Iraq to the brink of an all-out civil war. A Shi’ite graduate student says, “The problem is that ignorant people carry out the orders of those who want to arm Iraq. We have some of those, and some of the Sunnis also have some among them. We are on the edge of a catastrophe.” A Sunni housewife says, “We feel that the gap is getting bigger and bigger between us and the Shiites.” [New York Times, 6/13/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Moqtada al-Sadr, Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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