A dawn bomb attack devastated the dome of one of the world's holiest Shiite shrines, sparking reprisal attacks against 90 Sunni mosques that left at least eight dead and sending thousands of Shiites to the streets in protests. The Iraqi president warned that extremists were pushing the country toward civil war, as Shiite leaders lashed out at the U.S. as partly to blame and hinted that local armed militias might play a bigger role in security to protect such holy shrines.
The national security adviser said 10 people wearing the uniforms of police commandos had been arrested in Samarra; police said such a group had overpowered mosque guards and laid charges that brought down the 20-meter wide, 100-year-old gilded dome, shattered mosaics and scattered debris.
The bombing bears "the imprint of Al-Qaeda which wants to bring about a civil war in Iraq," Muwaffaq Rubaie said.
President Jalal Talabani accused the attackers of trying to derail negotiations on a national-unity coalition: "We must ... work together against ... the danger of civil war," he said in a televised address to the nation.
The Shiites' most revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani made a rare, if silent, television appearance underlining the gravity of the crisis. He called for protests but urged restraint, forbidding attacks on Sunni mosques. He later hinted, as did Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel-Mehdi, that religious militias could be given a bigger security role if the government is not capable of protecting holy shrines.
Sistani said: "If its security agencies are not able to guarantee the needed security, then the believers are able to do that with God's help."
I have a very bad feeling that we'll soon be looking back on the "good old days" before the bombing of al Askariya.