With violence down, Iraqis travel for big religious holiday

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 9, 2008 

BAGHDAD — For the past few years, Nawal Abdulla Hadi of Baghdad couldn't travel to see her family for the Eid al Adha, giving up the traditional reunion during the annual Muslim holiday because the roads weren't safe.

The explosions that regularly shook her neighborhood in 2006 and 2007 have ceased, however, so she'll pack the kids Wednesday and take them to see their grandparents in Hillah, a city about 60 miles south of Baghdad

"This is the first time we've left our house in the Eid," she said, smiling, in a public park along the Tigris River on Tuesday with her six children and husband.

"Now I feel it's real safety, not just propaganda," she said.

Hadi is one of many Iraqis who are enjoying a noticeable decrease in violence over the past year, a trend that's allowing them to celebrate the holidays as they once did.

Iraqis began preparing for the Eid last week. The holiday marks Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God, and it follows an annual pilgrimage for Muslims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

In Baghdad, people crowded street markets at night last week, buying new clothes, another tradition for families who can afford it. Many bought sheep this week as a religious sacrifice that also honors deceased relatives.

"This Eid is the most beautiful Eid of the last few years," said Mazin Shihan, 34, Hadi's husband. "During the last Eid, we didn't see families anywhere. Now they're everywhere."

The holiday began Monday for Sunnis and Tuesday for Shiites. The two branches of Islam recognize its start on different days depending on their clerics' readings of the lunar calendar.

Eid celebrations have remained safe so far this year, though they sometimes become targets for attacks. In early October, during the most recent holidays in Iraq, attackers killed dozens of people in bombings throughout Baghdad.

Fears of attacks seemed distant Tuesday while families gathered at Abu Nawas Park. The scent of popcorn drifted along a paved path where vendors sold snacks ranging from hamburgers to figs. Children played on swing sets while adults laughed at picnic tables on a sunny but cool day.

"It gives me a feeling of friendship, happiness, life and peace," said Heider al Jabouri, a sculptor from Hillah who went to the park with his sister's and his children.

Jabouri, 44, didn't let concerns about safety stop him from visiting his family in Baghdad during the Eid over the past few years, but he noticed much more traffic this time.

"You could see everywhere it was crowded," he said.

Hadi, the woman from Baghdad, took comfort in the Iraqi police and army officers she saw walking through the park. Vehicle checkpoints line the roads that lead to the park, and it's watched by patrols.

"Whenever the security situation improves, more people come to the park, and this is good," police officer Hamed Nadhen said.

Elsewhere in Iraq on Tuesday, police arrested six men who allegedly had a role in planning two suicide attacks that killed 15 people in Fallujah last Thursday. Fallujah police Col. Dawood al Marawi said the men had been seized in a home in the town of Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad and that they were suspected of belonging to al Qaida in Iraq.

Police and coalition military forces also raided the Fallujah office of the National Assembly of Journalists, an organization to which two McClatchy special correspondents belong. Officers reportedly seized several cameras. Police declined to say why they conducted the raid.

(Ashton reports for The Modesto (Calif.) Bee. McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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