Saddam Hussein's Baath Party began construction of the al Rahman mosque five years ago, hoping to make it the largest mosque in the Middle East. Since Saddam was overthrown, Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims have taken over the half-finished mosque and now plan to make it the largest Shiite mosque in the world.
Mosque officials said they're waiting to see what happens with the new Iraqi government before making solid plans to complete the mosque. But they hope to restart construction in 2005 with help from wealthy Iraqis inside and outside the country.
Al Rahman is a huge structure in the Mansour neighborhood, populated mainly by Sunni Muslims, and can be seen from all over Baghdad. Eight large mosques are laid out in a radial pattern around the giant center mosque. Prayers are held in just one of the smaller mosques, with its dirt and concrete floors covered with prayer carpets and woven reed mats. There are no doors or windows installed. It looks more like an ancient ruin than a new building.
Mosque officials said they will contract with a construction company to finish one of the small, radial mosques. But the remainder of the al Rahman mosque will be left to the elements for the time being.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq+mosque