Bush, U.S. Leaders in Iraq Condemn Mosque Attack, Urge Restraint
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2006 President Bush today condemned yesterday's bombing of one of the holiest Shiite mosques, in Samarra, Iraq, and vowed U.S. support in rebuilding it.
The top U.S. general in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad joined him in urging Iraqis not to allow the incident to divide them.
Bush called the bombing an evil, political act intended to incite sectarian strife. During a Cabinet meeting today, he said he's pleased that "voices of reason" recognize this and have spoken out against retaliatory violence.
"We will continue to work with those voices of reason to enable Iraq to continue on the path of a democracy that unites people and doesn't divide them," the president said.
Two explosions inflicted heavy damage on the Golden Mosque, one of the most revered Shiite shrines. Known for its golden dome, the mosque attracts Shiite pilgrims from around the world, according to Multinational Force Iraq officials. The mosque houses the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams, Ali al-Hadi, who died in A.D. 868, and his son Hassan al-Askari, who died in 874.
Iraqi security forces quickly secured the mosque following the blasts, officials reported.
The attacks sparked protests from Shiite Muslims throughout Iraq and resulted in more mosque attacks and killings despite calls on many sides for restraint, news reports said. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani denounced the attacks as a criminal act and urged peaceful demonstrations and a weeklong mourning period.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari echoed the need for calm, asking Iraqis "to close the door to all those who are fishing in the troubled water."
"I understand the consternation and concern of Iraqi Shiites when they see this most holy site wantonly destroyed," Bush said today. "I appreciate very much the leaders from all aspects of Iraqi society that have stood up and urged for there to be calm."
These leaders recognize that Iraqis want to live in a democracy and that the bombings were designed to derail their progress in pursuit of that democracy, the president said. More than 11 million Iraqis who voted in the last election "made a clear statement to Iraqi authorities as well as to the people of the world (that) they want democracy," he said.
Bush reaffirmed a commitment Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., U.S. commander in Iraq, made yesterday to help rebuild the mosque. "We understand its importance to Iraqi society, and we want to stand side by side with the government in making sure that beautiful dome is restored," the president said.
Khalilzad and Casey yesterday urged Iraqis to refrain from violence following what they called a "heinous crime." Their joint statement, read to local television outlets, said those who commit violent acts in response to the bombings will be serving the interests of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his followers, who want Iraq to descend into sectarian violence.
"This is a critical moment for Iraq," Khalilzad said. "We call on all Iraqis to unite against terror and violence. Coming together in unity to condemn this barbaric act and working for Iraq's salvation will be the right response. This desperate and despicable act shows that terrorists stop at nothing and care for nothing."
Zarqawi, al Qaeda's terrorist leader in Iraq, issued a statement in 2004 justifying violence against Shiite Muslims to help restore Iraq to its previous state. "I come back and again say that the only solution is for us to strike the religious, military and other cadres among the Shiia with blow after blow until they bend to the Sunnis," the statement said. Zarqawi said he recognizes that "blood will be spilled" in the endeavor, but that "God's religion is more precious than lives and souls."
Bush condemned yesterday's mosque attack as another example of terrorists defaming Islam. "The terrorists in Iraq have again proven that they are enemies of all faiths and of all humanity," he said in a statement issued yesterday. "The world must stand united against them and steadfast behind the people of Iraq."
The United States "stands ready to do all in its power to assist the government of Iraqi to identify and bring to justice those responsible for this terrible act," he said.