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Death comes again to Iraq's 'Mother of all Battles' mosque

The Baghdad mosque, where 28 people were killed in a suicide bombing Sunday, is tied to some of the biggest failures, and a few of the successes, of post-Saddam Iraq.

By Staff writer / August 29, 2011

A man inspects bloodstained copies of the Koran a day after a blast occurred inside Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad's Ghazaliya district Aug. 29. A suicide bomber posing as a beggar detonated his explosives inside a main Baghdad Sunni mosque on Sunday, killing 28 people, including an Iraqi lawmaker, and wounding more than 30 others, hospital and local officials.

Mohammed Ameen/Reuters

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The gaudy mosque Saddam Hussein built to celebrate the "victory" of surviving the first Gulf War is back in the headlines today, once again for all the wrong reasons.

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Yesterday, as worshipers gathered for evening prayer at Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, a suicide bomber murdered 28 people. Among them was Khaled al-Fahdawi, a Sunni Arab MP from the Ramadi area in Anbar Province who had been a leading voice against Al Qaeda-aligned insurgents from his own community. The attack came as Ahmed Abdulghafur al-Samarrai was leading prayers. Mr. Sammarai is a Sunni preacher from Baghdad's Adhamiyah neighborhood, once a bastion for Sunni jihadis. He was among the clerics and tribal leaders who turned against the insurgency in the so-called Sunni "awakening" a few years ago, and is a hated figure among the hardcore.

Reuters reports that the Islamic Party of Iraq says the attack was carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq, a self-proclaimed Al Qaeda affiliate, and that the target was Mr. Fahdawi. He was the seventh member of the Sunni-based party to be murdered in the past month.

"Al Qaeda has been distributing a lot of leaflets which say that there is no repentance for IIP members anymore, and killing them is allowed everywhere," party leader Rasheed al-Azawi told Reuters.

The attack is a reminder that as US troop levels continue to dwindle (the US mandate expires at the end of this year), Iraq remains an inordinately violent place. Events at the mosque since the 2003 help illustrate the challenges Iraq continues to confront.

After the attack, Samarrai blamed Al Qaeda for the deaths, but also called for religious tolerance. "Do not describe [the attackers] as Shiite or Sunni or Iraqis," AFP quoted him as saying at the mosque during funeral services for many of the dead today. "They are terrorists and terrorists have no religion."

Perhaps. But the attack highlights the fact that there are still many in the country willing to kill and die in service of the Sunni takfiri ideology of Al Qaeda. The practice of takfir, declaring opponents to be infidels and apostates and therefore fair game for murder, is embraced by the group's fellow travelers in Iraq and elsewhere. To them, Iraq's Shiites are marked for death simply because of their beliefs, as are fellow Sunnis who reject their vision.

That's one reason that the vast majority of Iraq's Sunni Arabs are opposed to the jihadis. Thousands of Sunni Arabs have been killed at their hands for the crime of participating in Iraq's political process or rejecting violence. But the strains of sectarian division remain – with many of the country's Sunni Arabs suspicious of the Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki and afraid of the Shiite militias, like those loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr that ran death squads at the height of the sectarian civil war a few years ago.

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