02/28/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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International aid to rebuild Sāmarrā mosque

The United Nations, the United States, Europe and many other countries pledge assistance. It will take at least five years to rebuild the 1200-year-old mosque in Sāmarrā. Lebanese firms plan tourist investments in Najaf.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The United Nations expressed its readiness to help in the reconstruction of the Askariya mosque destroyed last week in an attack in Sāmarrā as well as other religious sites damaged in Iraq. The announcement was made in Baghdad by Ashraf Qazi, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative for Humanitarian Reconstruction and Development, who participated in a donor coordination meeting chaired by Iraqi Planning Minister Barham Saleh.

Mr Qazi said the UN, through its Iraq trust fund and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) technical expertise, is ready to assist in rebuilding the damaged complex.

The meeting was attended by the heads of the Shiite and Sunni Waqf (religious endowment) as well as representatives from the European Union, the United States, and the World Bank.

According to Iraqi Housing and Construction Minister Jassem Mohammad Jaafar, it will probably take at least five years and the intervention of UNESCO and Arab experts to rebuild the mosque in Sāmarrā.

"If the situation in Sāmarrā stays calm, if we have the necessary protection and if the residents of the city help our work, preliminary studies should be completed in four months," he said.

The mosque was built 1,200 years ago and is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. Located in the centre of Sāmarrā, it was damaged by two explosions that caused the collapse of the dome, which was covered by some 70,000 golden pieces, and shattered its turquoise mosaics.

"For four months, the Interior and Defence ministries will provide the necessary protection to the mosque," said Jaafar. "We'll set up a committee made up of archaeologists and UNESCO experts to prepare the work and find all the fragments that can be re-used."

Iraq's other holy Shiite city of Najaf is looking forward to the future. The city's governor Aqeel al-Khazaali said that some Lebanese firms are willing to start tourist projects. A delegation of Lebanese firms has already signed a deal for the construction of three hotels.

In Baghdad, hospital sources reported that the city's morgues held the bodies of 249 people killed in the wake of the Sāmarrā mosque bombings.

Today the curfew was restricted to the evening hours and tanks have been deployed around the city.

Three bombs exploded this morning in the capital killing 15 people, whilst another bomb blew up in Nāşirīyah. Two British soldiers were also killed in Başrah.

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