AP: On Thursday hundreds of thousands of Shiites marched to a gold-domed mosque in harsh heat and sun in a pilgrimage of devotion to an 8th century saint that also starkly demonstrated their political power.
Only scattered strikes by Sunni insurgents marred the event, held amid tight security to avoid the attacks that have occurred during past gatherings.
“Long live Muqtada!” some pilgrims shouted as they paraded toward the Imam al-Kadhim shrine, referring to radical Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr, whose Mahdi army is accused of death squad attacks. “May God kill his enemies!”
A few shook their fists at U.S. soldiers standing alongside the procession route, but the march was mostly peaceful.
Many said they intended their presence to show they could not be intimidated by Sunni insurgents who have devastated past gatherings, and who regularly target Shiites at markets and on buses.
“I have come here to get the blessing of the martyr imam and to challenge the terrorism of the Wahhabists,” said Hussein Mizaal, a 21-year-old college student from southeastern Baghdad. He was referring to the austere Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam, practiced mostly in Saudi Arabia but also identified with Sunni insurgents.
“We are not afraid of anyone except God,” Mizaal said.
The march comes as Iraq ‘s government remains sharply divided…
Update By Peter Graff
Aug 9, 2007
Pilgrims waved flags, chanted and beat their chests in a traditional Shi’ite gesture of ritual mourning. Others carried the symbolic green coffin of Imam Musa Kadhim, a Shi’ite martyr imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad 1,200 years ago.
Many had walked for days from distant towns in intense summer heat to reach the shrine where Kadhim is buried. Tents along the road offered water, juice, sweets and dates.
“Of course, I am afraid. But God willing I will come home safe,” said Um Khaled, a woman in black traditional robes. “I have made this pilgrimage every year, it will not stop me,” she said of the threat of violence.
Abd Sirhan, 37, had walked for two days in plastic sandals from his hometown of Aziziya, 80 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad.
“It is not like last year. This year it is secure,” he said, adding that the entire route appeared to be safe, with pilgrims guarded by Iraqi police and army checkpoints, and tended by well-wishers offering water and food.
|Shiite pilgrims, arriving in Baghdad Tuesday to pay tribute to Imam Musa al-Kadhim, touched the entrance to his shrine.
|Iraqi Shiites on their annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Kadhimain on the outskirts of Baghdad.
|Residents distribute free water, tea and food to pilgrims. Their actions are considered good deeds that will be rewarded by God.
|Iraqi Shiites near a shrine where the seventh Shiite Imam Musa al-Kadhim and his grandson Muhammad al-Jawad are believed to be buried.