Pilgrims Ask, 'What Is Our Guilt?'

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

BAGHDAD, March 6 -- Inside the tent of Ali Abbas in the central city of Hilla, Shiite men beat their chests in a feverish rhythm on Tuesday. The pilgrims were mourning the death of Imam Hussein, the prophet Muhammad's grandson who was slain with his family in 681. They had walked dozens of miles, praying and chanting, embracing the ritual of sacrifice. Many solemnly carried black flags of mourning and red flags symbolizing the blood of Hussein.

Abbas, 38, a tire shop worker, had erected the tent in front of his store on Nadir Street to give the crowds of pilgrims food and water. It was still 50 miles to the holy city of Karbala.

About 4 p.m., the first suicide bomber approached his tent.

"Suddenly we heard an explosion and there was a big blast," recalled Abbas, who was cooking kebab sandwiches for the pilgrims in the back of the tent.

The second bomber blew himself up shortly afterward. He was standing 300 yards away from his companion, said Capt. Muthana Ahmed, a police spokesman.

Two of Abbas's cousins were among the 77 dead.

Muhammad Hassan, 29, was walking near the tent when he heard the blasts. He and other pilgrims escaped onto the main road, past corpses, heads, limbs and screaming women and children, he recalled. Women picked up dust and threw it over their heads in a sign of mourning, he said.

Others cursed the Baathists, the members of the late Saddam Hussein's party. "They were asking, 'What is our guilt, what have we done?' " he recalled. "People also started to curse the government."

Hassan, his back bleeding, was determined to reach Karbala. "Today I'll get my treatment and complete my walk tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," he said.

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