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Secretary-General leads UN outcry against attack on holy site in Iraq

Secretary-General leads UN outcry against attack on holy site in Iraq

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his envoy to Iraq today strongly condemned the attack against holy shrines in Samarra, where a blast last February triggered a wave of deadly sectarian violence across the country.

“The Secretary-General was deeply shocked to learn of today's destructive attack on the holy Shrines of Imam Ali Al-Hadi and Imam Hassan Al-Askary in Samarra,” said his spokesperson Michele Montas in a statement.

Mr. Ban “strongly condemns this act, which was clearly aimed at provoking sectarian strife and undermining the peace and stability of Iraq,” she said.

The statement called on all Iraqis “to avoid succumbing to the vicious cycle of revenge and to exercise maximum restraint while demonstrating unity and resolve in the face of this terrible attack.” Mr. Ban also welcomed efforts by Iraqi political and religious leaders to calm the situation and to promote respect for human rights and the protection of religious sites.

He pledged that the UN “will continue to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people promote inter-communal dialogue and national reconciliation.”

Mr. Ban's statement came on the heels of a statement by his Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, who “condemned in the strongest terms possible the sacrilegious attack on the holy Shrines of Imam Ali Al-Hadi and Imam Hassan Al-Askary in Samarra.”

Calling the attack on the holy Shi'a shrines “atrocious,” he said it was a “horrendous, sinister and unspeakable crime whose perpetrators once again intended to inflame sectarian passions, destroy efforts aimed at national reconciliation and undermine any prospect of peace and stability in Iraq.”

Urging Iraqis to exercise maximum restraint and recalling May's “horrible attack on the Shrine of Abdul-Qader Al-Gilani Mosque in Baghdad,” a revered Sunni site, Mr. Qazi reaffirmed the UN's condemnation of the targeting of all places of worship.

He called on all Iraqis to “close ranks more than ever before and demonstrate unity and resolve in the face of this menace that threatens Iraq national fabric.” Doing so, he said, “will deny those behind such horrific acts the opportunity to undermine the ongoing efforts to consolidate peace and security in the country.”

Mr. Qazi also called on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 730,000 Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes since the al-Askary shrine in Samarra was bombed last February.

Members of the Security Council issued a press statement condemning “in the strongest terms today's abhorrent attack on the holy shrines of Imam Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hassan al-Askari in Samarra” and calling on all Iraqis to “reject this provocation.”

The statement also encouraged continued and robust UN assistance in support of the Iraqi people and Government. To this end, Council members welcomed planning for the construction of a new UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) compound in Baghdad.

The press statement was released following a meeting of the Council, which was briefed by Mr. Qazi, who said the Samarra bombing “can only add to our concerns” about Iraq.

Addressing an open session that saw the participation of over a dozen countries, the envoy said the Council is “uniquely placed” to support efforts to foster reconciliation in Iraq with the participation of the country's neighbours and the wider world.

“The international community cannot allow itself to become a spectator of the unfolding crisis in Iraq, if only because of the unconscionable human cost involved,” he stressed. “The international community not only has a vital security stake in the stability of Iraq, it also has an inescapable moral obligation” to help.

Mr. Qazi warned that if the political and security situation in Iraq is not improved over the coming months, “there is a danger that its several crises may escalate further.”

The Special Representative said the support of the UN, Council members and the Iraqi Government “has the potential to effectively assist and develop national dialogue and reconciliation processes, regional cooperation on Iraq, and international support.”

The Secretary-General, speaking to reporters following his monthly luncheon with Council members, said the UN has a plan to increase its presence in the country when circumstances permit.

“This is a priority issue, to see the early resolution as well as restoration of peace and security and democratization in Iraq,” he said. “This is a common effort of the international community.”