SAMARRA, April 1: Gunmen blew up the top of a towering centuries-old spiral minaret in the Iraqi city of Samarra, damaging one of the country’s prized architectural treasures. Police said the top tier of the 52-metre Malwiya mosque tower was damaged in the attack, and an explosion left debris on the tower’s winding ramps and a jagged hole on the top.
US troops had been stationed until two weeks ago in the ninth century yellow sandstone minaret in Samarra, an ancient city on the banks of the Tigris river north of Baghdad.
US and Iraqi troops had draped an Iraqi flag from the minaret after retaking Samarra from guerillas last October, and locals accused US forces of using it as a sniper position.
“I feel tremendous sadness. This is a disaster for the world. It is one of the most well known monuments in the world and its partial destruction is an assault on Islamic art and the world of art,” said Alastair Northedge, an Islamic art professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, who is a specialist on Samarra.
The Malwiya, completed in 850AD by the Abbasid dynasty, is one of just three spiral minarets in the world, including the Abu Duluf mosque, also in Samarra, and Cairo’s Bin Toulon mosque.
Samarra, 125 kilometres north of Baghdad, was controlled by violent tribal clans, criminals and Saddam Hussein loyalists from last June until October. The occupation forces rarely ventured inside the city during that period and it remains rife with violence today.
The minaret was built by Abbasid ruler Al Mutawakkli after the dynasty made Samarra the seat of the Islamic world in the eighth century AD.
Iraq proposed in 2000 that UNESCO make the minaret a world heritage site.
Famed British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler once paid a lavish tribute to the Malwiya minaret.
“What matters most about the Samarra minaret is not its formal design, but its startling originality. Strikingly bold and simple in design, functional, elemental, finely proportioned, comfortable to the eye. Here we have in the ninth century many qualities which bridge the centuries. The Malwiya is truly a great and rather lonely masterpiece.”
Many of Iraq’s archaeology sites have been plundered by thieves or damaged by US-led military operations since the occupation two years ago. —AFP