TOPICS > Nation

Shock Waves

March 2, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JONATHAN MILLER: It was what everyone had secretly dreaded, but no one thought would actually happen. Gripped by terror, the two million people who thronged the streets of the sacred city just started running in panic. These scenes filmed by one of the pilgrims who had come to Karbala for this, the holiest day on the Shiite calendar.

It had been the first time in 35 years that Shiite pilgrims were free to gather in such numbers to grieve the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the prophet. Today, scores ended up martyrs themselves. As the first rumors of the Karbala massacre spread through Baghdad, four explosions boomed across the capital from the northern Shiite suburb of Aramiya.

The U.S. Army said this was the work of suicide bombers, killers who consider themselves martyrs. The target was another Shiite shrine, again the streets were filled with the faithful. Outside the hospital near the mosque, we met a man who said his three sisters had been killed. “What crime had they committed?” He wailed.

The immediate suspicion amongst Iraqi’s was that those who did this were connected with al-Qaida, but that the Americans let it happen. The level of coordination does indeed smack of al-Qaida, and last month the Americans said that they had intercepted a letter from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaida leader here planning suicide bombings aimed at triggering civil war. The letter said, “it would be reckless and irresponsible to do a thing like that. Souls would perish, blood would be spilled.” But it said, “That is exactly what we want to do.”

That is exactly what has happened here. At the hospital here, there’s a lot of grief, a lot of anger. As we left the scene, crowds were closing in on American troops who had attempted to secure the area around the shrine. Distrust of the occupiers runs so deep here, that many Shia really believe that America wants to keep Iraq violent and unstable so that they can stay longer and get their hands on the oil.

WOMAN ( Translated ): So many people have been killed. Neither the governing council nor the Americans work to stop such acts. Before there were mass graves, now there are public graves.

JONATHAN MILLER: The U.S. appointed governing council held a news conference this afternoon and announced three days of national mourning. Several members blamed the attacks on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

IBRAHIM JAFARI ( Translated ): Any drop of blood that’s shed in Iraq, whether from a Sunni or a Shia, is a loss. It’s a conflict between good and evil.

JONATHAN MILLER: Already in Aramiya they began burying their dead.