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09BAGHDAD624 2009-03-10 11:16:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
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DE RUEHGB #0624/01 0691116
P 101116Z MAR 09
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 000624 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2019

REF: A. 08BAGHDAD 3994

B. 08BAGHDAD 3456

C. 08BAGHDAD 3418

Classified By: PRT Leader Rick Bell for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (U) This is a PRT Salah ad Din reporting cable.

2. (U) SUMMARY: The predominantly Sunni city of Samarra in
Salah Ad Din (SAD) province has made significant progress in
Sunni and Shi'a reconciliation. On March 6, up to three
million Shi'a pilgrims from Karbala, Baghdad and elsewhere
visited the Golden Dome mosque, a major Shi'a shrine in the
city. The mass pilgrimage was the first since the mosque was
bombed in 2006, and was a notable departure from the
Sunni-Shi'a animosity that followed the bombing. Firebrand
Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr attached his name to the event,
urging both his followers and Sunni Muslims to go to the
mosque as a sign of Iraqi unity. Several other key events
preceded the pilgrimage and reinforced the sense of
reconciliation in Samarra: a strong turnout of Samarra's
voters in provincial elections, winning 11 of 28 Provincial
Council (PC) seats for Samarra candidates; an agreement with
Shiite PM Maliki to give the city greater control in Golden
Dome Mosque reconstruction, and a successful visit of a
high-level Shi'a delegation from Karbala on February 24. END




3. (U) On March 6, Shi'a Muslims commemorated the death of
the eleventh Imam, Hassan Al Askari. Traditionally, Shi'a
make a pilgrimage to his gravesite within the Golden Dome
Mosque in Samarra, but the bombing of the mosque in 2006
limited access to it and raised security issues over the past
three years. This year was the first time since then that
great numbers of pilgrims returned to the city. The numbers
may have increased in part because Muqtada Al Sadr called for
Shi'a and Sunni pilgrims to march to Samarra together as a
sign of Iraqi unity.

4. (U) Visitors began arriving in Samarra on foot, at dawn,
on March 5. By noon, about 1,000 people per hour were
entering the city. By afternoon on March 6, over 50,000
visitors per hour were arriving in a continuous column that
stretched over four kilometers from the west side of the
Tigris River, across the river, and through the city to the
Mosque. Loudspeakers welcomed pilgrims to the city, and
groups flying banners or flags were welcomed by name.
Muqtada Al Sadr's followers were arriving in force by early
afternoon and were welcomed as well. This was a historic day
for Samarra and the nation. Local people hope Samarra will
now become a symbol of peaceful reconciliation and

5. (C) MG Rasheed, Samarra Operations Center Commander,
prohibited pilgrims from carrying ceremonial swords and other
implements for ritual self-flagellation along the march. The
sheikhs of Samarra and Karbala and many of the convoys from
various mosques in the south set up major food distribution
stations along the route and the SaD Provincial Government
gave the city 100 percent support in preparing for the
security, health and well being of the visitors. The JCC and
PJCC successfully implemented security plans with CF support
standing by, and IA helicopters circled overhead for the
first time since the liberation.




6. (C) Since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in February
2006, rumors concerning who was responsible for the attack
have caused deep-seated animosity among Shi'a areas of Iraq
toward the city of Samarra and its predominantly Sunni
Qtoward the city of Samarra and its predominantly Sunni
residents. Samarrans believe this animosity has been used as
a lever by outsiders to hinder reconstruction efforts in the
city and control the reconstruction of the Golden Dome Mosque
to the exclusion of local input. Samarra residents are
resentful of the Shi'a dominated Government of Iraqi (GoI)
and suspect that the GoI is plotting to take control of the
center of the city. It is widely suspected that Iranian
interests are moving with the support of the GoI to take
control of key properties throughout the city to create an
infrastructure suitable for religious pilgrimage rather than
the more open and non-sectarian atmosphere desired by Samarra
residents. For over a year the Satellite PRT in Samarra has
worked with local officials and prominent citizens to build
bridges among local, provincial, and national stakeholders in
order to reach the level of understanding necessary to

BAGHDAD 00000624 002 OF 002

expedite reconstruction of the city.

7. (C) During PM Maliki's visit to the city just before the
Provincial Council (PC) elections in January, the Qaimmaqam
("Mayor") and Qada Council Chairman from Samarra asked Maliki
to stop unilateral planning for the economic area in the
immediate vicinity of the Mosque and to honor the city
leaders' desire to retain its basic character and design.
Maliki agreed, and a Samarra delegation will attend a March
18 planning session sponsored by the GoI Ministry of

8. (SBU) The most significant recent event is Samarra's full
embrace of the electoral process during the PC elections.
Some 78 percent of Samarra's eligible citizens voted and
elected 11 members from 8 lists to the SaD PC. Samarra
citizens now have the largest bloc of votes in the PC and are
meeting together to discuss the economic and political
possibilities this presents. Parties from other cities are
contacting the newly elected Samarra representatives to build
alliances and discuss future directions for SaD. This new
empowerment is leading local officials to take a more
confident stance in discussions with the GoI on the future of
the city, and a new willingness to take a proactive approach
in direct reconciliation with other cities.




9. (SBU) In late January Suheil Najm Abed (aka Haji Suheil),
a highly respected Samarra native who resides in Jordan, and
prominent Samarra sheiks, civic leaders, and military
commanders held a series of meetings to plan meetings with
the people of Najaf and Karbala, aimed at dispelling
misunderstandings and false information concerning security
and attitudes in Samarra. As a result of these meetings,
Samarra officials invited prominent Najaf and Karbala
officials, sheikhs, and clerics to visit Samarra in
friendship. On February 24, an official delegation of 200
Karbalites visited Samarra; they were joined by approximately
800 other unofficial visitors from Karbala, including more
than 20 Sheikhs of tribes from Karbala. The delegation was
headed by the leaders of the two Karbala Shrines: Abdul
Mahdi Al Karbalai, General Secretary of Hussainia House, and
a representative from Ahmed Al Safi, General Secretary of Al
Abassia House.

10. (SBU) The delegation was welcomed to Samarra and
residents from both cities spent the day getting to know each
other. Haji Suheil and the Samarra sheikhs paid all expenses
for the delegation's trip, including lunch for 200 of the
visitors. In speeches before leaving the city, the delegates
from Karbala expressed pleasant surprise at the warm
reception they had received and praised the progress the city
was making in clearing rubble and restoring order. All
pledged to work together in restoring good relations between
their cities and to support an end to sectarian mistrust.
This renewed friendship by local initiative will almost
certainly have a positive impact on national reconciliation
efforts and will have the added benefit of boosting the local
economy in SaD's largest city through increased tourism.




11. (SBU) The March 6 pilgrimage will have immediate effects
in both Samarra and nationally. Samarra has demonstrated
that sectarian differences need not divide Iraq and that the
Shi'a-led GoI can work closely with a major Sunni city
effectively for the good of all Iraqis. The economic impact
in Samarra was significant. Visitors were permitted to make
purchases in local shops on a large scale for the first time
Qpurchases in local shops on a large scale for the first time
since 2006. This sets the stage for a gradual opening up of
the central city to a more free circulation of visitors and a
significant boost in revenues from tourism. Many Iranian
faithful were intermixed with the crowd of visitors and were
also welcomed by Samarrans. Samarra is now beginning to shed
its image as a symbol of sectarian violence and gradually
resume its rightful place as a national historic treasure and
tourist destination. PM Maliki's effort to reconstruct the
Golden Dome Mosque can move briskly toward completion, and
the special budgets created for restoration and expansion of
city services can move forward at the same pace. END COMMENT.