Explosions targeting pilgrims at a Shiite religious festival have claimed dozens of lives this week. But pilgrims streaming to a Baghdad shrine Thursday made it clear that, no matter their feelings of frustration over a bleak political horizon and ongoing bloodshed, they valued the opportunity to express their faith.
There were fresh attacks Thursday, killing 13 people as pilgrims continued to visit the shrine of Imam Musa Kadhim, a Shiite saint believed to have been poisoned in captivity in 799.
Five bombings targeted pilgrims in Shiite areas of east Baghdad, according to police. Five people were killed and 32 wounded in New Baghdad; four were slain and 41 injured in Bab Muadhim; two died and 13 were wounded in Zafaraniya; and two pilgrims were killed in the afternoon on Palestine Street as they returned from the shrine.
Since 2003, Shiite festivals have been marred by attacks and this week’s ceremonies were no different.
Devotees had descended on the gold-domed Imam Kadhim shrine knowing that a suicide bomber had killed 33 worshippers Wednesday as they marched through the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya.
Qema Hesnawiya, 60, had walked to the shrine from Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. She was undeterred by the carnage.
“I heard about the Adhamiya explosion yesterday. I am not afraid to be a victim of these attacks,” Hesnawiya said, sitting on the ground, wearing in a black gown and head scarf. “These people who commit such crimes have no fear of God, and have no sense and mercy. But despite all these attacks and explosions, today is better than Saddam Hussein’s time.”
Hesnawiya was well-acquainted with the violence. Salman Pak had been a front line in the battles between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Shiite militias during the country’s darkest days a few years ago. Her two grandsons were slain four years ago by Sunni extremists, she recalled. One of them was beheaded and the other buried alive.
She described her visit as comparable to those her grandfathers used to make to Mecca in Saudi Arabia or Shiite shrines around Iraq before Hussein’s predominantly Sunni government. “Now is a gift from God.”
Hesnawiya said she remains optimistic about the future, even though Iraqi politicians still have not agreed on a new government four months after inconclusive elections.
“If the next prime minister is good we will dance for him and support him,” she said. “The people supported Saddam before because he was giving money and gifts. He knew how to deal with the people but these guys don’t know how” to rule.
On Palestine Street in east Baghdad, where explosions killed two pilgrims returning home on Thursday afternoon, pedestrians expressed concern that the situation was slipping back.
“Now I hear talk from the people asking ‘why are they only targeting the Shiites in their visits to their holy sites, and nothing happens to the Sunnis’ when they do the same,” said Azzad Abdul Rahman, a 22-year-old student. The bombers “are trying to bring back sectarian violence.”
Redha and Hamid are Times staff writers. Times staff writer Ned Parker contributed to this report.