Joining a chorus of UN officials led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has decried the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra.“I strongly condemn this new attack against Samarra and call on Iraq’s highest religious leaders and national authorities for calm and restraint to avoid further acts of sectarian violence,” said UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura. The holy Shi’a shrine had already been seriously damaged by a bombing on 22 February 2006, which set off a wave of sectarian violence that claimed the lives of thousands in Iraq. “Cultural and spiritual heritage is an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration and any attack against it is an attack against humanity and inter-religious understanding,” said Mr. Matsuura. The Director-General reiterated UNESCO’s commitment to work with the Government of Iraq to protect and restore the historical, spiritual and cultural heritage of the Samarra shrine. “UNESCO will continue to work closely with the Iraqi authorities to rebuild their country and pave the way for national reconciliation, based on respect for the different cultural and religious beliefs of the Iraqi population,” he said. The Samarra shrine contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams – Ali al-Hadi who died in 868 AD and his son Hassan al-Askari, who died in 874 AD, UNESCO said in a news release. Previous attacks in Samarra caused severe destruction to the top section of the spiral minaret of the al-Mutawakkil Mosque, as well as the collapse of the 68-metre high Golden dome of Imam Ali-Hadi shrine. Wednesday’s bomb blasts destroyed the al-Askari’s two 36-metre high minarets. Yesterday, Mr. Ban, his envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qazi and members of the Security Council all denounced the bombing. 14 June 2007Joining a chorus of UN officials led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has decried the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra.