Mahdi Army Blow up Sunni Mosques in Baghdad Weeks Before Samarra Shrine Bombing
By ZEYAD KASIM
New videos have surfaced on Iraqi online forums showing self-described Mahdi Army militiamen burning and blowing up several Sunni mosques in southern Baghdad weeks before suspected Al-Qaeda militants blew up the two minarets of the revered Shi'ite Askari shrine in Samarra on June 13, 2007.
The first video shows the blowing up of the Fattah Pasha mosque and its minaret in the Bayya' district in southern Baghdad on June 8, 2007. Residents said Mahdi Army militiamen broke into the Sunni mosque and rigged it with explosives under the watch of Interior Ministry commandos in the district. They reportedly hanged one of the mosque's guards on the minaret and filmed it from a distance as it crumbled to the ground from the blast. Gunfire can be heard in the area following the explosion.
The district, which continues to witness gruesome tit-for-tat sectarian murders, was under the control of Kurdish Iraqi army units until early June. They had prevented Mahdi Army members from attacking the mosque several times, residents said, including a time when militiamen were caught drilling holes for explosives into the mosque's minaret. The militiamen succeeded in finally destroying the mosque after the Kurdish units were replaced with Interior Ministry commandos, despite objections of the Sunni community in the area, who said the Kurdish units were much more professional and impartial.
Shi'ite residents had charged that the mosque was used by Sunni insurgents and that snipers perched on its minaret attacked Shi'ite civilians in the area.