A major Shiite pilgrimage went smoothly Saturday in Baghdad, marking a success for Iraqi security forces after the departure of most US troops from the cities.
The four-day religious festival, which concludes Sunday, has been marred by violence in the past, but this year, the hundreds of thousands descending upon western Baghdad's Imam Mussa Kadhim shrine were spared catastrophic violence. Less than six people were killed in isolated attacks, according to security officials.
Pilgrims applauded the safety. “I trust the Iraqi police and army,” said Mohammed Fadel Hassan, 18, a pilgrim from Hilla who had walked to the shrine in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya neighborhood.
Others agreed. “We trust the government and army to control the situation,” said civil servant Fahem Yousif Saghban, 55.
The streets were packed with people. Some pilgrims rested in tents, while others chanted prayers to Shiite religious figures. One pilgrim waved to an Iraq helicopter flying overhead. "Hello Abu Shaker,” the marcher shouted at the pilot, who waved back. Policemen and soldiers stood everywhere searching people and watching vigilantly.
The Iraqi security forces and Iraqi officials lauded the event.
“Up to now the plan is successful . We [have] wanted to reach such stage of security,” said Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman for security in Baghdad. “Now the security forces are totally supported by our civilians.”
Those in the crowd reflected on the changes in Iraq. One Shiite man, from the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, described how he returned to his home after living in a Shiite district during the country’s civil war.
“The sectarian violence will not happen again because people became more aware about the situation. For example, me, I live in the middle of Adhamiya and the people there are cooking for Imam Kadhim,” said Ali al-Yaseri, a 48-year-old gas station attendant, referring to the courtesy of locals offering food to pilgrims. “I left Adhamiya during the sectarian violence to live in Hurriya, but when the situation becomes stable I returned to my old place.”
-- Usama Redha in Baghdad
Photo: Iraqis celebrate in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, on June 29. redit: Karim Kadim/AP