Letter from Baghdad after bombing of Samarra mosque

 (Peggy is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Baghdad. Their colleagues, including Norman Kember, were kidnapped before Christmas and are still missing.) An Iraqi human rights worker was interviewing members of our team for her radio show, when we heard the news. The Shia Al-Askari shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, had been heavily bombed early that morning. All around Iraq, groups of angry men gathered to march and protest or retaliate by attacking Sunni mosques and leaders. We heard that gun-battles had erupted in many Baghdad neighbourhoods. Police began to close bridges. In a neighbourhood where Iraqis of Palestinian origin live, two rocket-propelled grenades exploded. We talked on the phone with a Christian priest who had been injured in his leg by shrapnel when a group of men shot into the church building. We cancelled later appointments for the day. Everywhere people were fearful that this would escalate into sectarian war. Out on the streets people lined up at food shops to stock up supplies before they closed for the three "days of mourning" declared by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. He called on Iraqis to "close the road to those who want to undermine national unity." Ayatollah Sistani called it "Black Wednesday and called for seven days of mourning. We bought an extra supply of food, water, and phone cards and then limited our going out the rest of the day. Some of us were able to use the limited electricity to send quick messages back home, asking friends and family to join us in prayer for the situation. The following day was calmer, but reports of the widespread violence were sobering. Sunni organizations said that ten Sunni Imams had been killed and 168 Sunni Mosques had been attacked. The forensic morgue in Baghdad received 80 new bodies, and in areas east of Baghdad, 47-50 were killed. Even in the next day's curfew, sporadic violence continued. The news that did not get widely circulated, however, was the many actions to demonstrate and foster unity. On Wednesday, Sunni and Shia marched together from the Al Mansour neighbourhood to the Khadamiya district in Baghdad calling for peace. In another Baghdad neighbourhood Shia residents protected a Sunni mosque. Sistani urged Shia not to attack Sunni Muslims or their holy places. Muqtada Sadr also called for an end to the sectarian violence and commissioned the Mehdi Army in Basra to go to the Sunni mosques to protect them. The Iraqi people generally agree that they have had enough and want to get on with their lives. Many here believe that those who bombed the shrine were trying to incite more division and hatred between Shia and Sunni. Some Iraqis speculate that this was encouraged by US leaders in order to discredit the Jaaferi government to pave the way for putting in leaders more supportive of US policies. One Iraqi neighbour told me that behind this are all the leaders, Iraqi and American, who want to use this to grab more power. Sectarian violence has the potential of causing horrendous damage to Iraqi society. We are encouraged, however by the resistance here to that, among the leaders as well as the Iraqi people. To learn more about Christian Peacemakers visit: www.cpt.org.

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