Iraqi Shrine City Rises From The Rubble -- Slowly

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SAMARRA, Iraq -- In this ancient city along the Tigris River, a new Al-Askari Mosque -- a revered Shi'ite shrine and ground zero in the sectarian battles that roiled Iraq -- is slowly rising from the rubble of war.

Al-Qaeda gunmen who once roamed the city at will to enforce their draconian strictures and terrify the population have been driven out to desert hideouts by U.S. and Iraqi security forces, and the main focus now is transitioning to stability -- and that includes rebuilding Samarra's symbol of hope and progress.

"The mosque is simply the economic lifeblood of the place," says Captain Juan Garcia, who works civil-affairs projects in Samarra for Charlie Company, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. "Samarra is a mosque with a city, not a city with a mosque."

Samarra Mayor Mahmud Khalif Ahmad al-Bazzi puts it in more concrete terms: "You know it's very important to us. The tourist people would come to visit it, stay at hotels, go to the shops, use the taxis. Before, especially during holy days, 100,000 people came. Now it's only a few thousand."

Samarra is located north of Baghdad in Salah Al-Din Governorate, part of the so-called Sunni Triangle. During the rule of Saddam Hussein, the city (population about 100,000) was said to have been marginalized by Hussein in terms of political influence, public services, and economic development in favor of Tikrit, the provincial capital and the area from where he came.

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