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Iraq Government Extends Curfew As Death Toll Mounts

Iraqis hold their weapons during a protest against the attack on the holy Golden Mosque in Samarra today (epa) 23 February 2006 -- Iraqi state television has reported that the government has extended a general curfew until 4 p.m. tomorrow in Baghdad and three provinces after scores of people died today in more sectarian violence.

The outbreak of Sunni-Shi'ite violence follows yesterday’s bombing of a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, the Al-Askari Mosque.

More than 100 people died today in violence that appeared connected to the bombing. Most of the dead were thought to be Sunnis, killed by Shi'ites angered by the shrine attack.

U.S. President George W. Bush today denounced the bombing, calling it a political act intended to cause civil strife.

Earlier today, Iraq's main Sunni Muslim bloc pulled out of talks on forming a new government, blaming Shi'ites for the wave of sectarian violence.

Tariq al-Hashemi, a top Sunni politician, announced the withdrawal today in Baghdad.

Also today, authorities said the bullet-riddled corpses of at least 47 Iraqis were recovered from a ditch near Baghdad. The motive for the attack was unclear. The Reuters news agency reported that the victims included both Sunnis and Shi'ites.

(compiled from agency reports)

Shi'ite Shrines In Samarra

Shi'ite Shrines In Samarra

The Golden Mosque before the 22 February bombing (courtesy photo)

UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME: The Iraqi city of SAMARRA is the site of two major Shi'ite shrines. Consecrated in 852, the Golden Mosque is said to hold the remains of two Shi'ite imams: Ali al-Naqi and his son, Hasan al-Askari. A second shrine marks the place where the hidden -- or 12th -- imam, al-Mahdi, son of Hasan, went into hiding.
Imam Ali and Hasan were imprisoned in Samarra, the capital of the Abbasid Dynasty, by Al-Mutawakkil Ala Allah Jafar bin al-Mu'tasim (821-861), who is considered the last great Abassid caliph.
According to historical accounts, al-Mutawakkil felt threatened by the growing influence of Shi'ite Islam and Imam al-Naqi, who was based in Medina. Al-Mutawakkil thus brought Imam Ali and Hasan to Samarra in 848 and imprisoned them inside a military fort. Henceforth they became known as al-Askari (military) because of the location of their imprisonment.
Following al-Mutawakkil's death in 861, his successor had Imam Ali poisoned in 868. Hasan died in 874.
Imam Ali al-Naqi -- the 10th Shi'ite imam, commonly referred to as Imam Ali al-Hadi -- and his son, Hasan al-Askari, the 11th imam, are buried under the Golden Dome, which was a gift from Persian ruler Nasr al-Din Shah (1848-96). The dome's construction was completed in 1905. Also buried in the shrine are Hakimah Khatun, the sister of Imam Ali, and Nargis Kahtun, Imam al-Mahdi's mother.
The second shrine in the complex marks the place where Shi'a believe Imam al-Mahdi (b. 868), the 12th and final imam, went into hiding. According to Shi'ite tradition, Imam al-Mahdi, the son of Hasan al-Askari descended into a cellar under the present-day shrine and disappeared. Shi'a believe that he never died, and he will return on Judgment Day.

MORE: For more information on Shi'ite and Sunni sectarianism in Iraq, see:

Sunni-Shi'ite Tensions High On Eve Of Arab Conference

A Nation Finds Itself At A Crossroads

The Growing Sunni-Shi'a Divide

Ayatollah Al-Sistani Moves From Religious To Political Role