BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's Cabinet announced plans Thursday to repair a major Shiite shrine bombed by suspected Sunni extremists in February, setting off waves of sectarian revenge attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqis.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would chair a reconstruction committee composed of representatives from the military, government ministries and religious groups.
The committee will also oversee the building of infrastructure such as water and power supply, transport links, and housing in an attempt to stabilize Samarra, the primarily Sunni city about 60 miles north of Baghdad that surrounds the 1,200-year-old Askariya shrine.
The shrine, one of the holiest in Shiite Islam, was heavily damaged in the Feb. 22 attack, which enraged the country's majority Shiites.
Militias sponsored by major Shiite political parties attacked dozens of Sunni mosques, sparking revenge attacks by minority Sunnis. Militia-linked death squads terrorized Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad, with the tortured bodies of their victims found dumped on city streets or floating in the Tigris River.
In June, Iraq's national security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said the government had detained a Tunisian and two Saudis for allegedly taking part in the bombing, which he described as an Al Qaeda-led plot to spark outright sectarian warfare.
The rebuilding of the shrine comes as part of al-Maliki's reconciliation efforts to try to end a three-year insurgency and convince Shiite militias to stand down.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr recruited thousands of his followers in July to rebuild and protect the Askariya shrine, but dropped those plans following warnings from local residents that the move would only stoke tensions.
Immediately after the Samarra bombing, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said that if the state could not protect Shiite shrines, then "the faithful" should do so.
Al-Dabbagh also said the government decided to form another committee to oversee the rebuilding and renovation of all mosques, both Shiite and Sunni, that suffered damaged over recent years.