051. Najaf - Imam Ali Mosque and Shrine Complex
Najaf Province. A large complex of highly important buildings in one of the holiest cities of Shia Islām and the center of Shia political power in Iraq.
Date of Site: completed 977 AD
The shrine is venerated as the fourth holiest site by Shia Muslims. Shia Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of Muhammad and the fourth caliph, is buried there. The Imam Ali Shrine is the third holiest site for the estimated 400 million followers of the Shia branch of Islam worldwide after Mecca and Medina. The shrine was built over the tomb of Ali by the Iranian ruler the Daylamite Fannakhosraw Azod ad Dowleh in the year 977; was rebuilt in 1086 by the Seljuk Malik Shah I after being destroyed by fire; and rebuilt again (reason unclear) by the Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly after 1500.
Effect of War on the Complex. During the Shi'a uprising of March 1991 that followed the Persian Gulf War, Iraq's Republican Guards cornered members of the Shi'a oppostion inside the shrine, massacred virtally everyone inside and damaged the shrine in the process. Two years of repairs then ensued. Since March, 2003, a number of further attacks at the mosque have occurred:
April 10, 2003 — Shia leader Sayed Abdul Majid al-Khoei, the son of Grand Ayatollah Abu al Qasim al-Khoei, who had returned from exile in Britain to encourage cooperation with the U.S.-led occupation, was killed near the mosque.
August 29, 2003 — a car bomb exploded outside the mosque. Between 85 to 125 people were killed, including Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the Shia leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The blast was probably the work of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
May 24, 2004 — mortar fire (no U.S. involvement) hit the shrine, damaging the gates that lead to the tomb of Imam Ali.
August 2004 — in a battle between combined U.S. and Iraqi forces, and the al-Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, two of the mosque's minarets were damaged, where Mahdi forces had taken refuge.
August 23, 2004 — at least 15 explosions rocked the area. Shrapnel fell in the courtyard of the gold-domed mosque. The neighboring buildings were heavily damaged, but the mosque itself suffered only superficial damage.
August 10, 2006 a suicide bomber blew himself up near the shrine, killing 40 people and injured more than 50 others.