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Imam Ali Mosque

Exterior view of Imam Ali Mosque
Exterior view of Imam Ali Mosque

The Imam Ali Mosque, also known as Mesjed Ali or the Tomb of Ali, is a mosque located in Najaf, Iraq. It is venerated as a holy site by Muslims, particularly Shiites, most of whom believe that Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad and the fourth caliph, is buried there.

The mosque was first built by the Iranian ruler the Daylamite Fannakhosraw Azod ad Dowleh in 977 over the tomb of Ali. After being destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt by the Seljuk Malik Shah I in 1086, and rebuilt yet again by the Safavid Shah Ismail I shortly after 1500.

During the uprising of March 1991, following the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards damaged the mosque, where members of the Shiite opposition were cornered, in storming the mosque and massacring virtually all its occupants. Afterwards the shrine was closed for two years, officially for repairs. Saddam also deported to Iran a large number of the residents of the area who were of Iranian descent.

Since the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. military in 2003, there have been a number of further attacks at the mosque.

On April 10, 2003, Shiite leader Sayed Abdul Majid al-Khoei , the son of Grand Ayatollah Abu al Qasim al-Khoei, was killed near the mosque. Al-Khoei had returned from exile in Britain to encourage cooperation with the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

On August 29, 2003, a car bomb exploded outside the mosque just as the main Friday prayers were ending. Somewhere between 85 to 125 people were killed, including the influential Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the Shiite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Early U.S. reports that al-Qaeda was involved were quickly amended, though it is thought the blast was the work of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

On May 24, 2004, unidentified mortar fire, in which U.S. forces were not involved, hit the shrine, damaging gates which lead to the tomb of Imam Ali.

In August 2004, an ongoing battle between combined U.S. and Iraqi forces, and the Islamist al-Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, damaged two of the minarets of the mosque in which al-Sadr's forces have taken refuge. On August 23, at least 15 explosions, many sounding like artillery shells, rocked the area, as shrapnel fell in the courtyard of the gold-domed mosque and gunfire echoed through the alleyways.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45