Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis Come Together For Hajj

December 29, 2006

Source: Beliefnet

Wire Service: AP

MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 29 - Yassin Subhi, from Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland, vowed that his prayers during the hajj pilgrimage on Friday would be a sword to fight his country's occupiers. Nearby, a procession of his fellow Iraqis marched to a holy site, waving a Shiite banner.

Iraqi pilgrims say the hajj unites them - Shiites and Sunnis share the same tents on Mount Arafat, site of a key ritual Friday in the annual pilgrimage. But their homeland's turmoil, bloodshed and divisions hang over the rites.

The looming execution of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was on the minds of many. There are fears his hanging could spark Sunni violence, deepening the cycle of sectarian bloodshed that has torn the country apart.

"If they hang Saddam, 6 million more Saddams will take his place," said Ahmed Fazaa, drinking tea with Subhi and several other pilgrims under a tree in their tent camp.

The group of men all hailed from the city of Fallujah, a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency. Sunni Arabs formed the backbone of Saddam's regime and many believe his trial and conviction were a case of victor's justice and an act of vengeance by Shiites who now dominate the government.

Several were stunned by rumors that Saddam could be executed within days - during the five-day hajj, which ends Monday - though Iraqi officials denied the reports. "It would be a catastrophe," one of the men around the table said. "Killing Saddam during the hajj would mean they're willing to provoke Sunnis to the highest degree."