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Published:August 10th, 2007 04:49 EST
Shiite Holy Day in BAGHDAD

Shiite Holy Day in BAGHDAD

By SOP newswire

BAGHDAD — Crowds of Shiite pilgrims gathered in Baghdad Thursday to commemorate the death of an eighth century saint.

The Kadhimiya mosque is the site of an annual pilgrimage where Shiites not only honor the saint buried within, but seek healing and invoke the saint’s intercession for the forgiveness of sins and the fulfillment of needs.

The seventh of 12 principal Shiite saints, Imam Moussa al-Kadhim was known for his patience and his ability to suppress his anger.  The seventh of the Twelver Shia Imams, he fought corruption in the brutal Sunni Abbassid government.  Al-Kadhim was poisoned in 799 and is considered a martyr to Shiites.

Security during Thursday’s rites provided a welcome change from the violence that has accompanied them in recent years.  In 2005 an estimated 1,000 people were killed and 300 wounded in a stampede on the Jisr al-Aiema bridge (BridgeImams) when reports spread that a suicide bomber was in the crowd.  The incident was the single largest loss of life since the war began in March 2003.

Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abdul-Kareem Khalaf, director of the Iraqi interior ministry’s national command center, said in order to ensure the safety of worshipers the Iraqi Security Force was intensively deployed on the main roads leading to Kadhimiya to protect visitors to the shrine.  In addition, a citywide driving ban was in effect to prevent suicide car bombings.

Iraqi Police and Army worked together to ensure pilgrims, many of whom walked for days from other areas around Baghdad and the Diyala province, reached the twin golden domes of the mosque in safety.

More than 1,800 Iraqi Security Forces were guarding the mosque complex, including 625 agents inside the shrine, officials said.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops took a lesser role in security, staying away from the mosque at the pilgrimage's heart to show respect, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Miska, the leader of Task Force Justice.

Although the ceremony honoring the anniversary of al-Kadhim's death is not one of the most important in the Shiite faith, it has gained significance in Iraq because Shiite ceremonies were banned under Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

Sectarian strife is an issue deepened not only by experiences in recent years, but also through years of oppression during the Sunni Ba’ath party’s reign over Iraq.  Reconciliation efforts have begun the process of getting Iraqis to openly set aside their sectarian differences and focus on the future of a free Iraq.

Strengthened security measures by both Sunni and Shiite Iraqi Security Forces during the ceremony helped stem the tide of violence present in preceding years is an example of Iraqi people working together towards a peaceful Iraq.

“The Iraqi government is gaining headway in beginning to provide security for all Iraqi people and not just one group or another," said U.S. Maj. Steven Lamb, deputy public affairs officer for Multi-National Division-Baghdad.

(U.S. Army story by Spc. Emily Greene, Combined Press Information Center)