By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
June 19, 2007 – A senior defense official today credited decisive action by the Iraqi government with helping to prevent last week's bombing at the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, from escalating into widespread sectarian violence. Bryan Whitman, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, cited the Iraqi government's "very positive response to a very tragic incident."
Two near-simultaneous explosions on June 13 destroyed two minarets at the mosque, one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq. An investigation is continuing to identify the perpetrators, Whitman said.
A previous attack on the mosque, in February 2006, set off widespread retaliatory attacks between Sunni and Shiia groups.
Iraqi leaders "were pretty aggressive" following the second bombing as they reached across ethnic lines to the Iraqi people to calm tensions, Whitman said. They instituted a curfew, which was lifted early June 17, visited the site personally and committed to rebuilding the mosque.
"Time will tell in the days ahead" if these actions can prevent a recurrence of the kind of violence that followed the February 2006 bombing, he said.
Whitman condemned the "tragic and terrible bombing" of a Shiite mosque in central Baghdad today, but drew no link between it and the Golden Mosque attack. A truck bomb reportedly struck Baghdad's Khilani mosque, causing heavy Iraqi civilian casualties.
The incident occurred as the U.S. troop surge deployed to help stabilize Baghdad reached full force.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said in June 17 interviews that the surge has helped reduce sectarian murders and executions in Baghdad by one-third between January and April. And despite an uptick in violence in May, the levels of violence are again going down, he added.
"The fact is, as we go on the offensive, the enemy is going to respond," Petraeus said.
Petraeus said the additional troops give him the combat power to launch operations in al Qaeda sanctuaries where there has been little permanent coalition force presence in the past.
These troops "are in the midst of conducting full-scale offensive operations," Whitman said today.