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To recreate the dramatic open space around the shrine, urban planners reviving Karbala’s old city will increase plaza space outside the site’s gates, said Mohammed al-Assam of Dewan Architects.
Shiite officials are also renovating the shrine of al-Abbas next to Hussein’s, that of Imam Ali in neighboring Najaf, and the shrine of his descendants in Baghdad.
The rush to improve the shrines became more determined after al-Qaeda militants in 2006 blew up the golden dome of a shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad. The destruction of the al-Askari shrine — now rebuilt — underscored to Shiite officials the need to rebuild and glorify their shrines to demonstrate their growing power.
"Shiite areas are now in the hands of Shiites. What is happening is natural and it shows their control," said analyst Hadi Jalo.
In contrast to the architects, worshippers aid the changes to the once-neglected shrine should have been even grander.
"All these changes are but a little for the Imam Hussein," said Ahmad Ali, who just arrived in Karbala from Baghdad. "But thank God it’s better than before: there’s air conditioning, protection from the sun and rain," he said.
Speaking before walking from Baghdad to Karbala, Abdullah Ashraf, 25, said worrying about changes to the shrine misses the point.
"What makes the Hussein shrine alive is the memory of his story."
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