- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

Terrified Iraqi Christians will be staying home this Easter weekend after being told that terrorists plan to bomb churches, Iraqis and other intelligence sources said yesterday.

Security forces are planning to close off areas around churches and set up checkpoints to prevent car bombs from reaching worshippers, one security source said.

“They told us today they will bomb all the Christian churches because of Easter,” said one Christian woman who lives in downtown Baghdad.

“They told us, “You must not go to church anymore, Friday, Saturday, Sunday’ ” everywhere they say this,” she said.

The woman said she had heard the news from neighbors and friends, as well as on Al Jazeera television. Security sources confirmed the threats, citing intelligence reports.

An Interior Ministry official said, “Specific plans for this upcoming holiday are in place, but will not be announced.

“The Ministry of Interior is vigilant and always cognizant of the possibility of attacks, and remains ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week to protect and serve the citizens of Iraq,” the official said.

Much of the violence in Iraq also has targeted Iraqi majority Shi’ites, long oppressed by Saddam Hussein, but who now hold the reins of power in the nation’s first freely elected National Assembly.

The black-clad Mahdi militia, followers of the radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who led a campaign of violence against coalition members last year, have vowed to protect a major Shi’ite pilgrimage across the country beginning this weekend.

It will be the first significant show of strength by the young cleric’s followers since Iraq’s elder Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, stepped in to end a violent standoff between Sheik al-Sadr and coalition forces in August.

The re-emergence of the Mahdi militia comes amid growing public displays of opposition to the insurgency, especially for acts of terrorism against civilians.

In Baghdad yesterday, hundreds of electricity workers shouting, “No, no, to terror,” marched to protest attacks that have killed dozens of their colleagues, the Associated Press reported.

Lined up behind a black banner with the names of slain power workers, protesters demanded an end to attacks on electricity stations and oil pipelines ” targets in an effort by insurgents to weaken the economy and undermine the U.S.-led coalition and interim government.

In addition, resentment has been growing among Shi’ites in southern Iraq ” ignored and abused by Saddam ” that their voice is not being heard by political leaders in Baghdad who are hammering out a new government.

In southern Basra, more than 200 protesters gathered outside a local government building to insist that the new government’s oil and transportation ministers be from that Shi’ite-dominated region.

“Everyone must know that the oppressed and persecuted people of the south refuse to have their interests be ignored,” protesters said in a statement given to the provincial governor, Mohammed al-Waeli, AP reported.

The annual Shi’ite pilgrimage has begun in the southern city of al-Amarah. The 200-mile march is to head into Basra and end in the Muslim holy city of Karbala next week as part of the 40th day commemorations of the seventh century death of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

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