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Shiites Make Pilgrimage Banned by Saddam

Shiites Make Pilgrimage Banned by Saddam

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims crowded two holy cities Tuesday in a fervent pilgrimage that had been banned for decades under Saddam, while at the United Nations, France proposed suspending sanctions targeting Iraqi civilians.

The surprise move by France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, would be an important step toward the U.S. goal of ending trade embargoes that have crippled Iraq's economy.

Shiites Make Pilgrimage Banned by Saddam

U.S. soldiers trying to stop looting discovered more than $600 million in $100 U.S. bills behind a false wall in Baghdad, Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks confirmed. More than 800 explosive suicide vests also have been found in various places, he said.

In northern Iraq, Jay Garner, the retired American general overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, got a warm welcome when he visited the Kurdish region. "You always make me feel at home," Garner told one Kurdish leader.

At the largely peaceful Shiite pilgrimage in the southern city of Karbala, U.S. military officials said police arrested six men who had been planning to blow up two of Karbala's mosques. Five of those arrested were members of Saddam's Baath Party, and one said he belonged to al-Qaida, said Army Capt. Jimmie Cummings.

One of Saddam's most-feared lieutenants -- Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi -- was captured Monday by the Iraqi opposition and turned over to American authorities for trial on war crimes charges. He is the highest-ranking figure -- No. 18 -- on the U.S. military's most-wanted list to be caught so far.

Shiites Make Pilgrimage Banned by Saddam

Al-Zubaydi was known as Saddam's "Shiite Thug" for his role in the bloody suppression of the Shiite uprising of 1991. Tens of thousands of people died in the revolt. Iraqi opposition groups have also accused al-Zubaydi of the 1999 assassination of a top Shiite cleric.

A Shiite himself, al-Zubaydi was once featured in an Iraqi videotape brutalizing Shiite dissidents.

"This is very significant -- he is one of the most hated men in the former regime," said Haider Ahmad, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, a leading exile group.

Eight of the 55 most-wanted are now in custody. A ninth figure, Ali Hassan al-Majid -- known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of poison gas against Kurds -- is believed to have been killed in an airstrike.

Shiites, meanwhile, streamed toward Najaf -- burial shrine of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad -- and Karbala, where Hussein, Muhammad's grandson, was martyred in the 7th century.

During Saddam's rule, the Shiites were forbidden to march. This year, they marched openly under black banners of mourning.

"We were prohibited from visiting these shrines for a long time by the Baath Party and their agents," Abed Ali Ghilan said in Karbala. "This year we thank God for ridding us of the dictator Saddam Hussein and for letting us visit these shrines."

Shiites Make Pilgrimage Banned by Saddam

Karbala was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pilgrims, waving black and green flags, chanting and beating their chests. Others carried photos of revered Shiite clerics.

Two groups of 100 men in white robes slashed open their own heads with swords, splattering blood. Waving the bloody blades toward the shrine and screaming with joy, some were taken away in cars for medical attention. Others washed at a traditional Iraqi bathhouse.

The U.S. military has continued to encounter pockets of resistance. Near Mosul, coalition forces took fire from a small, disorganized force and repelled it, Brooks said. "This reminds us that there will still be firefights like this," he said.

The Army's V Corps took responsibility for security over all of Baghdad, expanding into the eastern part of the city previously overseen by the Marines, Brooks said.

The United States also increased its troop presence in the ethnically tense northern city of Mosul, sending in an Army brigade to reinforce special forces and Marine units that had been struggling to restore order after the collapse of Saddam's regime touched off looting, arson and gunfire. Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, is divided between Arabs and Kurds.

The latest reported discovery by U.S. weapons experts could help prove the existence of the weapons of mass destruction that President Bush cited as the reason for going the war.

The find was made several days ago with the help of an Iraqi scientist who claimed to have worked in Saddam's chemical weapons program.

U.S. military officials refused to name the scientist or identify the material, which had been buried in the ground. Many chemical weapons ingredients have nonmilitary purposes and officials cautioned that the findings, which are being analyzed, do not confirm the presence of chemical weapons.

According to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the scientist said the Iraqis set a warehouse on fire and destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment days before the war began March 20.

The scientist also said that several months before the war, he watched as Iraqi officials buried chemical precursors for weapons and other sensitive material to conceal and protect them.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix cautioned the Americans to "examine everything critically," noting that some Iraqis may be motivated to claim more than they know.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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