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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

One Year Later, Samarra Mosque Awaits Repairs

SAMARRA, Iraq -- It has been a year since Sunni insurgents ripped a hole in the glorious dome here of one of Iraq's most sacred Shiite shrines, shattering its 72,000 golden tiles and unleashing a tide of sectarian bloodletting. Not a single brick of the mosque has been moved since.

There has been no rebuilding and no healing; the million annual pilgrims and the prosperity they spread are gone. The roads south to Baghdad and north to Tikrit are pocked with roadside bombs and fake checkpoints where travelers are abducted. The citizens of this Sunni city, who protected and took pride in the Shiite mosque for more than 1,000 years, say they want to lead the reconstruction, but Shiites will not hear of it.

And a proposal from the Shiite-led government to send thousands of Shiite troops to provide protection for a reconstruction project has been met with threats of bloodshed.

Symbols of political paralysis are everywhere in this country. But few have the potency of the blown-up Mosque of the Golden Dome, site of the graves of two figures revered by Shiites: the 10th and 11th imams in a line of direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.

From the moment the shrine was destroyed, Iraqis -- already accustomed to extraordinary violence -- knew that life had taken an even darker turn. Within hours, Shiite death squads sought bloody revenge, dozens of Sunni mosques were burned and Sunni imams were dragged out into the street and killed.

That terrible day, one year ago according to the Islamic lunar calendar, was commemorated by Shiites from Najaf to Basra on Monday. But even as they were observing the occasion with a moment of silence, bombs in busy Baghdad markets left at least 67 more people dead. There were no commemorations in Samarra, just the ever-present reminder of the mosque itself.

Pieces of the blue and gold tiles that adorned the facade of the great mosque, formally known as the Askariya Shrine, where graceful Arabic script from the Quran praised God and peace, sit shattered in the empty courtyard.

There are continuing discussions about rebuilding the shrine, and the United Nations has been approached. The local Sunni tribal elders have put forth a plan to rebuild, but it is unlikely that Shiite religious and political leaders will trust them.

Both groups say reconstruction of the dome would be a powerful unifying force, a symbol of hope where hope is scarce. But any large-scale project remains complicated not only by the distrust between Sunnis and Shiites, but by the precarious security situation in Samarra itself, where a force of only about 300 national and local police officers is trying to control a city of about 100,000.