Even though no one was killed in the Golden Mosque attack, it was seen as highly symbolic because the shrine is considered one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites.
Despite calls for non-violent protest from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a leading Shiite cleric, dozens of Sunni Mosques were attacked and burned to the ground.
In the deadliest attack, 47 Iraqis were killed after taking part in a joint demonstration in Baghdad protesting the Samarra bombing and sectarian violence. The bodies were found on the outskirts of the capital in a ditch alongside the road. The Associated Press reported that they were pulled from their vehicles at a fake checkpoint, shot and left to die.
President Bush condemned the bombing of the Golden Mosque on Thursday, calling the attack “an evil act” and a “political act intended to create strife.” Mr. Bush said he understood the anger felt by Iraqi Shia but urged all sides to be calm.
The bombing of the Golden Mosque is believed to be the work of al-Qaida in Iraq and is seen as an effort by the terrorists to escalate months of sectarian violence into all-out civil war.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, called the attack on the Golden Mosque “a conspiracy against the Iraqi people to spark a war among brothers” and warned that if civil war did result, “no one will be safe.”
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting the Middle East, urged Iraqis to pull together to bridge sectarian differences and not be pushed into escalating the violence. “The only people that want a civil war in Iraq are the terrorists like Zarqawi,” Rice told reporters.
In addition to declaring three days of national mourning, Iraq is on high alert following the attacks. Curfews have been extended, all leave for members of the police and the army has been cancelled and the start of university classes has been postponed.