Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Iraqi Police, Army Protect Pilgrims

U.S. Army Soldiers from A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), along with Iraqi Army Soldiers, conduct a foot patrol through an area that has been frequented with attacks on Coalition forces, March 4. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jacob H. Smith.
By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service
Wednesday, 14 March 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Army and police forces worked together to provide security for more than six million pilgrims traveling to Karbala to observe the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen, officials in Baghdad said Monday.

Anti-Iraqi forces targeted the pilgrims killing more than 100 pilgrims on March 6. Iraqi Brig. Gen. Kassim Atta al-Moussawi said during a news conference in Baghdad Monday.

Arbaeen marks the end of 40 days of mourning for the Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. He was assassinated in 680 A.D. by fellow Muslims who sought to prevent him from becoming the caliph, or Muslim leader. The caliphate became the foundation of Sunni Muslim rule, and the killing of Hussein was the start of the Sunni-Shiite split. Karbala is the home of the imam’s tomb and has been a site of pilgrimage since his death.

Shiite Muslims from Iraq, Iran, the Gulf States and other areas travel to Karbala and engage in ritual flagellation in remembrance of the imam. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Shiite Muslims could not mark the celebration because Saddam was a Sunni Muslim. Iraqi and Coalition officials say this year has seen the largest Arbaeen celebration in decades.

Kassim, speaking through an interpreter, said the volume of threats in Iraq and the volume of pilgrims made Arbaeen a potentially dangerous situation. “The enemy targets the innocent people - children, students,” he said. “This is clear evidence of the terror of these groups.”

Despite Iraqi security forces’ limited capabilities, they did well against the security threats, Kassim said. Iraqi forces also discovered a number of caches of arms and munitions and foiled a number of attacks.

They cooperated well with each other and the Coalition, as they built trust with the Shiite majority in Iraq, the general said.

The operation to protect Karbala involved the office of the minister of national security, the governor of Karbala governate, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. “There was daily cooperation between forces in Karbala and Baghdad,” Kassim said. “The great efforts … exerted achieved good results in this plan.”

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