Iraqi pilgrims swarm Baghdad to mark imam's death

AP News
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Posted: Jun 28, 2011 8:57 AM
Iraqi pilgrims swarm Baghdad to mark imam's death

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslim pilgrims flocked Tuesday to a Baghdad shrine to observe the death of a revered eighth century saint, snarling traffic and sending security forces to the streets to protect the worshippers.

Shiite pilgrims have been a favorite target of Sunni insurgents hoping to inflame sectarian tensions. However, no major attacks took place against Tuesday's throng and Iraqi security officials hailed their troops' work as a huge success.

Baghdad's top military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, praised the security forces and said that they foiled terror plots. He did not give any details.

"Today is a victory for security forces and all parties that took part in making this visit a success," al-Moussawi said at a press conference.

Eyewitnesses estimated the crowd number at hundreds of thousands, and Iraqi state TV said more than 3 million have visited the gold-domed Imam Moussa al-Kadhim mosque over the last few days.

Police used concrete blocks and razor wire to close roads across the capital to safeguard the pilgrims. Al-Moussawi said the security precautions began early last week.

He also praised Sunni leaders for providing shelter, food and water in tents set up along the pilgrimage.

"The parade of sadness turned to a parade of national unity," he said.