During a recent visit to the ancient city of Samarra, Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, the United States Corps â€“Iraq commander, walked along the city’s streets with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division commander, Col. Henry A. Arnold, III and the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment commander, Lt. Col. Eric Timmerman.
As they made their way to the rooftop of a hotel across from the Golden Mosque, which is currently being rebuilt and restored to its original form, one couldn’t help but notice the evident change that has taken place in a city that was nearly destroyed by war.
On Feb. 22, 2006, the Al-Askari Mosque, or the Golden Mosque was bombed, setting off a chain of sectarian violence in the city. Then, June 13, 2007, terrorists attacked the mosque again, destroying two minarets and the clock tower. Despite the attacks on this prominent landmark and sacred mosque, the citizens of Samarra have made significant progress to restore peace.
In the past three years, violence has significantly decreased as Iraqi security forces have taken the lead to provide security of the city. According to Arnold during a recent interview with the New York Times, the improvements that have been made in the city are a result of the citizens rejecting terrorists and the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces.
There is a feeling of peace and security now, as markets are open and children are playing in the streets.
“The citizens are calling in reports,” he said during the interview. “The people have turned against violent extremists.
“I walk around in ACU’s and a soft cap; no body armor, no helmet. I walk to the mosque, something I would not have been able to do in 2006.”
There are future plans being made for Samarra like removing the protective t-walls surrounding the mosque; installing a decorative gate that can be opened and closed to pedestrians as security dictates; and installing security cameras.
Along the streets, Iraqi civilians stood outside their shops or paused long enough to gesture or say “hello” to the commanders as they moved toward their destination. After reaching the rooftop of the hotel, the group walked to the side of the roof that faced the ancient mosque which was still a sight to see even without the 72,000 golden plates that once adorned its dome.
Story by Spc. Shantelle Campbell