Islamic State group advances on Shia shrine in Iraq

Islamic State group advances on Shia shrine in Iraq
2 min read
11 December, 2014
Islamic State fighters move within striking distance of Samarra, the home of the Askari shrine and one of the most sacred sites in Shia Islam.
Samarra's al-Askari shrine is one of Shia Islam's holiest sites [AFP]

Islamic State group fighters are advancing towards the Shia shrine city of Samarra after fierce fighting between the group and Iraqi forces, sources have told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

The leader of the Shia Sadrist Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, called on supporters to mobilise within 48 hours to defend the city, which is home to the Askari shrine, one of the most important in Shia Islam.

The IS, a largely Sunni organisation that regards Shia as infidels, has vowed to attack Shia monuments and has already destroyed dozens of Shia mosques and shrines that have fallen under its control.

     The bombing of al-Askari Shrine in 2006 led to the outbreak of a sectarian war in Iraq.

Nawfal al-Hassany, a colonel in the Iraqi army, told al-Araby that the IS group had taken control of Dijla to the north of Samarra and Mutassim to the south.

They used suicide bombers and hundreds of fighters to force the Iraqi army and allied militias to withdraw.

Hassany added the IS lines were only 6km from Samarra city centre, where the shrine is located.

"The army and government are in a state of high alert," he said, and called for air support from the US-led coalition currently battling the IS group.

The Askari shrine has been targeted several times before, and remains in a state of disrepair. A bombing in 2006 led to sectarian war in Iraq that lasted nearly two years and killed tens of thousands of people.

Al-Araby
’s correspondent in Samarra reported residents in a state of panic and military and militia alike fleeing the city. He added that hospitals were full of army and militia casualties.

There are reports that Shia militia forces had arrived in the city, led by the commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, and the leader of the Badr Brigades militia, Hadi al-Ameri.

Saturday is Arbaeen, the 40th day after the commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein, when millions of Shia pilgrims will visit Hussein's shrine in Karbala.

The Iraqi authorities have launched a major security operation to try to ensure the safety of pilgrims.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.