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Shiites Return to Prayers at Baghdad Shrine Hit by Bombings

'People have come out to show their unity,' says a worker at the mosque, where security was tight.

March 06, 2004|Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Hundreds of Shiite devotees braved heightened security and their own fears to attend Friday prayers at the Kadhimiya shrine, the site of one of this week's two deadly bombing attacks aimed at followers of the Muslim sect.

"People have come out to show their unity, that we will not be intimidated," said Sayyed Ammar Kadhimi, a worker at the shrine here in the Iraqi capital.

Worshipers walking the 100 shop-lined yards of Bab al-Murad street to the shrine were frisked at makeshift barricades by machine-gun-toting volunteers, some of whom appeared to be in their early teens.

"We're checking everything and everyone," said security guard Hassan Hameed, his pistol tucked under his belt Jesse James-style as he poked the underside of a pushcart of bananas. "Anyone carrying a weapon has it taken away."

At the shrine, the voice of a cleric crackled over well-used loudspeakers to the roar of the crowd: "Peace be upon the martyrs of the bombing."

Even as the crowd mourned the deaths, two roadside bombs went off a few miles away and a series of mortar rounds hit near the Baghdad airport. No deaths or injuries were reported.

The Iraqi Governing Council has said that the Tuesday bombings here and 55 miles south in the city of Karbala killed 271 people, but Coalition Provisional Authority officials put the number at 181. The attacks, which left more than 550 wounded, took place during Ashura, the holiest Shiite holiday period.

At the Friday services, theories differed on who was behind the well-coordinated suicide bombings. Some blamed the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Muslims. Others pinned the attacks on the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Others pointed to Syrians or disaffected members of Saddam Hussein's former regime.

Several worshipers said they believed prospects for a democratic Iraq were a threat to rulers in neighboring countries, who feared that their own people could demand similar rights.

Most agreed on one thing: "They're working overtime to destabilize our country," said Kadhimi, the shrine worker. "Iraq has become a pit hole for troublemakers and spies from all over the world."

Kadhimi said he had replayed the scenes in his mind since Tuesday, when he felt the earth shake as the shrine came under attack. "There was shredded flesh everywhere," he said.

Although the left door of the shrine was back on its hinges and most other signs of the destruction had been scrubbed clean, there was a reminder of the attack: a photocopy on the side of a black tent listing the dead. Nearby, another flier asked for information from anyone knowing the whereabouts of 26-year-old Mazin Latif, missing in Karbala since Tuesday.

As pilgrims took comfort in the shrine's heightened security, those charged with protecting them were criticizing each other behind the scenes, underscoring the challenges Iraq faced in rebuilding its tattered society.

Security volunteer Hameed complained that each time he and his colleagues caught people with weapons coming into the shrine and turned them over to Iraqi police, the suspects were released either by the police officers or coalition soldiers.

A few hundred feet away, Iraqi police officers guarding the shrine's entrance countered that the untrained security guards were the real problem.

"If you look at neighboring countries, citizens are protected by the police, not a bunch of guys running around in robes with guns, " said Mohammed Baqir, 33, a new police officer.

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