Back at the Askariya Shrine, Haidar al-Yacoubi, the Shiite from Baghdad who serves as a technical adviser to the reconstruction project, gestured proudly at the workers sorting rubble in the courtyard. The integration of Shiites and Sunnis at the site, he said, would send a message to the world. "We don't make the Sunni-Shia difference important here," al-Yacoubi said, as we watched a Caterpillar bulldozer push debris through the mosaic-inlaid main gate. "Iraq is a kind of rainbow, so when we rebuild this mosque, we try to pick from each [group]." It remains to be seen, of course, whether such generous sentiments can be sustained—not only at the Mosque of the Golden Dome, but in Samarra and the rest of Iraq.
Freelance writer Joshua Hammer is based in Berlin.
Photographer Max Becherer lives in Cairo.