Thousands of Iraqi Muslims filled mosques across the country at dawn Monday to start celebrating the four-day Eid al-Adha festival or feast of sacrifice, expressing strong desire for better security and solid economy.
The festival annually falls on the 10th day of the month of Dhul Hijja of the lunar Islamic Calendar, which is a religious ritual celebrated by Muslims worldwide in commemoration of the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to mighty God.
In one of mixed neighborhoods in southwestern Baghdad, about 500 Sunni worshippers at sunrise converged on the al-Rahman mosquein the Baya'a neighborhood.
They prayed Eid al-Adha morning prayers together as Iraqi police stood guarding the mosque in which its Imam Tawfeeq al-Janabi delivered a speech, calling on all Iraqis to "be unified byloving and helping each other."
"We are so happy that we can gather again to perform prayers in our neighborhood as we were not able to do so in the past," 47-year-old Abu Umar told Xinhua after performing Eid al-Adha morning prayers in the neighborhood.
Baya'a was the scene of fierce clashes which erupted in February and ended in July 2007 between Sunni fighters and Shiite militia, which forced many Sunni families of the sectarian mixed neighborhood to leave their homes.
"It was terrible months last year when we were displaced from our houses. I still remembered that my family and I spent the worse period of our lives during the clashes and displacement. At that time our neighborhood was dark (no electricity) and scared just like a ghost city in which we were suffering from fear and hunger," Abu Umar said.
"However, I am glad that I came back to my own house and there will be no sectarian violence any more," he said, adding "we pray to God that we (Iraqis) will keep living peacefully without differences between Sunnis and Shiites in such a nice atmosphere with solid security all over the country."
He expressed his hope that the Iraqis will never hear again the sound of explosions.
Asked about his stance during his displacement along with his seven family members, Abu Umar briefly said, "We were really strangers away from our own country."
"Most of Iraqis, (Sunnis, Shiites and other minorities) endured bitter years after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, paying back for their leaders' mistakes," Abu Umar said while sighing wearily, referring to the toppled former president Saddam Hussein.
Abu Umar did not forget the happiness of the Eid, telling Xinhua's correspondent that he will sacrifice a sheep and distribute its meat to the poor people.
Traditionally, Muslims who can afford to sacrifice sheep or cows have to do so only during the four-day of the Eid as a symbol of Ibrahim's sacrifice.
At another part of the neighborhood, 50-year-old Um Muhammad, an Iraqi mother, was so sad despite the happiness of Eid that her only breadwinner son is still imprisoned in a U.S. jail in southern Iraq since more than a year and a half ago.
"I am waiting bitterly day and night for the releasing of my son Muhammad from his imprisonment at Pokka U.S. prison in Basra province," Um Muhammad told Xinhua.
Um Muhammad clarified that she now lives in squalid conditions suffering from poverty case since the imprisonment of her son Muhammad who was the man of the house and who was spending his wage earning on her and her other three family members after the death of his father in a bomb attack two years ago.
"I did not buy new clothes for my two daughters and a little son because I cannot afford to do so," she said dejectedly while tears were filling her eyes.
Despite the fact that Um Muhammad, who makes living from selling used clothes to her neighbors, was unhappy but she did not forget to make Kleichah, an Iraqi popular sweet made usually at Eid.
"In spite of my sadness I made Kleichah to make my children feel the happiness of Eid," she said.
Late on November, the U.S. military said that it released more than 17,500 detainees from its prisons in Iraq so far in 2008, reducing the total detainees in U.S. prisons to about 15,800.
Iraqi detainees in U.S. custody will be handed over to the Iraqi authorities by the end of the year in line with the security deal which has been recently signed with U.S.
U.S. troops said they are proceeding ahead with a plan to set free 50 detainees every day and 1,500 every month.
It is doubtful whether the Iraqi government will adopt the plan when all the detainees become its sole responsibility.
Many Iraqis have been killed in bomb and sectarian attacks since last summer.
Though violence has been dropping on the whole in Baghdad as well as most of the country, the U.S. military warned that security remains fragile and the gain is reversible.