BAGHDAD – Thousands of Sunni Muslim faithful bowed their heads at dawn Wednesday in mosques around Baghdad for the first prayers of the Eid al-Adha holiday – a time of renewed hope after months of reduced bloodshed, yet tinged with sadness for those not there to share it.
It was the largest turnout in years at Abu Hanifa, Baghdad’s largest Sunni mosque, where worshipers spilled into the yard and the streets. After the service, long lines formed to buy slices of pastry eaten with syrup and cream, a traditional holiday breakfast. Relatives long separated by the killing in Baghdad’s streets were reunited again.
“I visited family and friends all over Baghdad,” said Sabah Abdul-Wahab, a young chef, who spent last year’s four-day holiday confined with his parents and siblings in the upmarket Karada district. “I also went to Zawra Park, and the place was filled with families having picnics and just relishing the newfound security.”
Later, goats, sheep and cows were slaughtered for family feasts commemorating the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for God. One proud man was spotted posing for a snapshot with his arm around the neck of a cow before sacrificing it.
U.S. commanders say violence across Iraq is at its lowest level since the first year of the war in 2003.
They credit the deployment of additional U.S. troops, a freeze in activities by a powerful Shiite militia and the decision of thousands of Sunni tribesmen to resist the insurgents they once backed.
But officials in Baghdad were leaving nothing to chance Wednesday. Extra security was deployed with bomb-detecting equipment around mosques, parks, markets and other places where people gather for the holiday.
Though an unusually quiet day, there were reminders Wednesday that militants remain active. A bomb targeting a police patrol in east Baghdad killed one policeman and injured three others, authorities said.
One other body was found in Baghdad.
But the relative calm pervading the city was a stark contrast to the holiday’s start in 2006, when at least 78 people were killed in explosions across Iraq and 16 corpses were recovered in Baghdad alone, victims of execution-style slayings. On that day, people woke up to hear the news that Saddam Hussein was hanged, spreading bitterness, fear and anger among his fellow Sunnis even as Shiites fired guns into the air to celebrate the execution.