( UN ) - The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Government of Iraq have concluded an agreement on reconstructing the Al-Askari Holy shrine in Samarra, badly damaged by attacks last year and earlier this month.
"The commitment of the Iraqi authorities and the international community to work together on the reconstruction of this highly symbolic site is a reason for hope," said UNESCO Director-General Ko?chiro Matsuura. "Respecting cultural heritage is one of the fundamental principles of the reconstruction process for a country such as Iraq, and a decisive step towards national reconciliation."
The shrine was attacked on 22 February 2006, triggering a wave of sectarian violence across the country, and then again on 13 June.
The reconstruction will start "as soon as security conditions are guaranteed and will continue over a period of ten months," UNESCO said in a news release. The Iraqi Government is expected to provide $3 million of the $8.4 million project, with the rest coming from the UN Development Group Iraq Trust Fund.
The Al Askari shrine is one of the holy sites of Shi'ite Islam. It is home to the tombs of Ali Al Hadi, the tenth imam, who died in 868, and his son Hassan al-Askari, the eleventh imam, who died in 874. The 2006 explosion caused the collapse of the shrine's Golden Dome and of the Ali al-Hadi shrine. The explosions of 13 June destroyed two 36 metre high minarets of the Al-Askari shrine, UNESCO noted.
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in Amman by Mohamed Djelid, Director of the UNESCO Iraq office, and Hak Al-Hakeem, advisor to Iraq's Prime Minister for Reconstruction and Environment Affairs.