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  • 8/16/2005

Imam Ali Mosque

A note from an American soldier

Exterior view of Imam Ali Mosque

In the middle of the city there is the Shrine of the Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib [cousin of the Prophet] with its resplendent golden dome and minarets. Great quantities of priceless objects, gifts of potentates and sultans, are treasured in the mosque. Historians say the tomb of Ali at Najaf was very likely built byAzoud ad Dowleh in 977; that it was burnt later and rebuilt by theSeljuk Malik Shah in 1086; and rebuilt yet again byIsmail Shah, the Safawid, in about 1500. No doubt numerous other hands have tinkered with it since. The tomb has the same style as those ofKerbela, Samarra and Kadhimain.

The first four successors to the Prophet Muhammad as head of the Muslim community were known collectively as the "Orthodox" or the "Rightly-Guided" or "Patriarchal" caliphs (al-khulafa' al-rashidun). They served as temporal leaders of the emerging Muslim community from 632, following the death of the Prophet Muhammad to 661 AD. They were four of the Prophet Muhammad's Companions, closely related to him either through blood or through marriage, and assumed the title of Khalifah or Caliph (literally, "he who follows" or "successor").

Ali is considered the leader of the Shi'a. He was the cousin and the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. And after the Prophet Mohammed died, Shiites thought that he should be the successor after the Prophet's death because he was married to the Prophet's daughter, and he was assigned by the prophet to be the carrier of the message after Mohammed's death. He was murdered in the doorway of his recently completed mosque at Kufa by Mu'awiyah, the founder of the Umayyad/Umayyads dynasty (the dynasty of Caliphs ruling from 661 (41H) to 750 (132H)) moved the administrative capital fromMedina inSaudi Arabia to Damascus in Syria. Under the Umayyads, the contours of the Islamic world extended from the Atlantic in the west to India and central Asia in the east.

In 1991, Saddam damaged the Imam Ali Mosque because most of the people, who rebelled and were part of the uprising against Saddam Hosein's government, were hiding in that mosque and they were taking it as a place of leadership. And so the Republican Guards fought the people, damaged that mosque and killed all the people who were inside. General Wafiq Al Samarae [the former director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service] admitted in his book (Eastern Gate Ruins) that Saddam's regime used chemical weapons against Iraqi people in the holy cities of Najaf andKarbala to crush the popular uprising of March 1991 which followed the defeat of Saddam in invading Kuwait.

Shi'a groups report capturing documents from the security services during the 1991 uprising that listed thousands of forbidden Shi'a religious writings. Since 1991 security forces had been encamped in the shrine to Imam Ali in Najaf, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites, and at the city's Shi'a theological schools. The shrine was closed for "repairs" for approximately 2 years after the 1991 uprising.

OnAugust 29, 2003, a car bomb exploded outside of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf during Friday prayers killing at least 95 people including Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Hakim.

On24 May 2004 apparent mortar fire hit the Imam Ali shrine, damaging gates which lead to the tomb of Imam Ali. It was unclear which side was responsible for the damage, but US military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said coalition forces had no involvement in damage to the shrine. He said he had heard differing accounts, including that the damage may have been caused by fighting between rival Shi'ite factions or by al-Sadr militia firing at the shrine to provoke outrage so they could blame it on the coalition.

Fighting around the Shrine of Imam Ali was intense during early August 2004, and the guerrillas used the nearby cemetery as their main staging point. US troops attacked the position from the ground and the air, and there have been reports that the holy site has been damaged in the fighting. On 08 August 2004 Lieutenant Colonel John Lewis Mayer, the commanding officer of U.S. ground combat operations in the area, accused al-Sadr's fighters of launching more than 100 mortar rounds at U.S. forces from within the compound of the city's Imam Ali Mosque.

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