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Six Sunni Mosques Attacked in Wake of Samarra Bombing in Iraq


Despite attacks on Sunni mosques, Iraq is reported relatively calm in the wake of Wednesday's attack on a revered Shi'ite shrine north of the capital. The attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra has raised fears of an escalation in sectarian violence. From northern Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Iraqi officials say at least six Sunni mosques have been bombed or burned since suspected al-Qaida militants set off explosions Wednesday that toppled the two minarets of the Shiite Askariya shrine in the city of Samarra.

Police say two mosques were attacked 50 kilometers south of the capital in Iskandiriyah.

On Wednesday, just hours after the Samarra bombing, three other Sunni mosques in Iskandiriyah and one in Baghdad were attacked.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in any of the attacks.

Qasim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi official in charge of the Baghdad security plan, told Iraqiyya television that Baghdad is calm Thursday.

A vehicle curfew imposed Wednesday in Baghdad remains in effect. Iraqi and U.S. troops have also increased patrols and set up additional checkpoints to prevent reprisal attacks.

Meanwhile, in Samarra, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, visited the site of the damaged shrine.

He says there were already plans to rebuild the shrine, damaged in a prior attack 15 months ago, and that Wednesday's bombing would only reinforce the government's resolve to rebuild the shrine.

The Askariya shrine is important to Shiites because it contains the tombs of two ninth-century Shi'ite imams. It is also the place where Shi'ites believe their last imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi, disappeared. He is called the hidden imam and is the son and grandson of the two imams buried at the shrine.

The attack last February at the shrine damaged its famous golden dome and propelled the country into its current cycle of sectarian killings. The United Nations says sectarian inspired violence in 2006 killed nearly 35,000 Iraqis.

Prime Minister Maliki has announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the shrine attack. He said several Iraqi policemen have been detained for questioning. The shrine was heavily guarded by the country's Shi'ite-dominated police forces, raising questions as to how the attackers circumvented them.