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Mourners, Shoppers in Baghdad : Iraq: Relieved that air raids are over, war-weary residents visit mosques to pray for the dead.

REUTERS

Relieved Iraqis went to mosques on Friday free from the fear of allied bombs. For many, it was a pilgrimage of mourning.

In the Kadhimain district of Baghdad, site of a Shiite Muslim shrine, the faithful knelt in the Great Mosque of Kadhimain to give thanks for peace.

“People prayed for peace and to teach our people to understand what happened,” said Ali Mohammed, a Baghdad University history professor. “Our people have to rebuild themselves first and then rebuild their country.”

Outside the mosque, the walls were bedecked with five black banners with white script in mourning for soldiers and civilians killed in the Gulf War.

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In a country of 18 million people, with an estimated prewar army of 1 million regulars and reservists, hardly anyone in Iraq did not have a friend or a relative in the war.

“There will not be one single family that will not be affected,” said Msgr. Marian Oles, the Vatican ambassador to Iraq and Kuwait.

Shoppers crowded Baghdad’s main market to buy goods that have become essential in a city deprived of electricity, fuel and water by the allied bombing that lasted from Jan. 17 to Thursday’s halt in the fighting.

“If the war is really over, I will throw all this lot in the river,” said Kadhim Hamad, selling oil lamps and battered kerosene gas stoves from a stall. His large lamps, which nobody wanted before the allied air raids cut electricity, now sell for $350, nearly five times their prewar price.

Other merchants did a brisk trade in candles, matches, plastic water containers, lamp wicks and batteries from Iran.

“We and our children are filled with great joy that we have been relieved of this disaster,” said Sahed Ghani, an 80-year-old store owner selling Arab headdresses.

Traders said the market was busy after the first 24 hours without an air raid.

“There is more movement. People are relieved that there are no more air raids, no more war,” said Ali Mahdi, a 29-year-old selling shoes at his father’s store.

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His full-time job at a government ministry ended when the building was bombed.

“This will keep me going until things get back to normal,” he said.

Soldiers, some back from Kuwait and southern Iraq, mingled with civilians at a stall selling charcoal-grilled kebabs, sweet tea and dates.

Many Baghdad residents returned to the city from outlying districts and the countryside, where they had sought safety from air raids. Fixed curtains used in many homes to stop light from escaping at night were taken down. Some Iraqis said they had used car batteries to power bright lights Thursday night after weeks under the dim glow of candles and oil lamps.

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Official newspapers on Friday continued to boast of victory, claiming that Iraq had inflicted heavy losses on allied troops. The statements contradict allied reports of tens of thousands of Iraqi war dead and prisoners. Many Iraqis said they had heard such reports on foreign radio stations but did not believe them.

“You know, in war there are always prisoners, death and casualties,” said Latif Mohammed, a 35-year-old army reservist.

Air raids and reports from returning soldiers that Iraqi troops were bombed as they withdrew from Kuwait have caused bitterness and resentment against the United States.

“There is a real anti-American sentiment. This is the first time I have felt this, it is growing very fast,” said Mohammed, the history professor, who was educated in the United States.

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