Iraq

Factbox - Iraq, a country torn apart

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June 13 (Reuters) - Suspected al Qaeda militants blew up two minarets of a revered Shi'ite mosque in the Iraqi city of Samarra on Wednesday, targeting a shrine bombed last year in an attack that sparked a wave of sectarian killing.

Here is a snapshot of what has happened since the first attack on the site:

* SECTARIAN STRIFE:

-- In February 2006 the destruction of the revered Shi'ite Golden Mosque in Samarra was a turning point for Iraq. Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has blamed al Qaeda for the attack.

-- Shi'ite officials blamed Sunni Islamist al Qaeda for Wednesday's attack. The Shi'ite group loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged its supporters to remain calm and accused militants of planting explosives to bring down the minarets.

-- After the 2006 bombing, gunmen from the Mehdi Army militia which is loyal to Sadr, targeted members of Iraq's Sunni Arab community in Baghdad in revenge attacks.

-- Violence was unleashed that has killed tens of thousands of people since and pushed the country to the brink of all-out civil war.

* A NEW GOVERNMENT:

-- Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was thrust to the forefront of Iraqi politics in April 2006 with the image of a tough, Shi'ite Islamist strong enough to weld warring factions together into a national unity government. Over a year later, Washington has dispatched a succession of officials to press Maliki's government to speed up passage of laws aimed at drawing disaffected minority Sunni Arabs more firmly into the political process.

* DEATH ON THE STREETS:

-- Bombings have continued unabated over the last year. In Feb. 2007, a truck bomb killed 135 people in the worst single bombing since the U.S.-led invasion.

-- Last April, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) accused the government of withholding sensitive data on civilian deaths amid spiralling violence. In January, UNAMI had said 34,452 Iraqi civilians were killed and more than 36,000 wounded in 2006, figures that were much higher than any statistics issued by the government.

* TIME TO TALK:

-- In Baghdad, a March conference of officials of world powers, Iraq and neighbouring states agreed it was vital to all to stop the sectarian violence spreadingacross the region and Maliki urged the powers to do all they could to help.

-- In further talks in late May 2007 in Baghdad, the United States urged Iran to stop supporting Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Iran denies supporting militias and blames the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 for Iraq's violence.

* THE SURGE:

-- U.S. President George Bush has sent nearly 30,000 extra troops to Iraq to help curb the violence and give Maliki's government breathing room to achieve a political accommodation between the warring sides. The strategy has been costly in the lives of U.S. soldiers, 126 were killed in May alone, and there is little to show for it so far. Overall, 3,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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