Iraq's Shiites and Sunnis appeal for unity on Islamic holy day

Shiite and Sunni Arabs celebrated the Islamic feast of sacrifice Tuesday with calls for an end to the bloodshed that has wracked Iraq since last month's elections. Sunni Arabs tempered their appeals with renewed calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In a day with no reports of violence, Iraqis around the country celebrated the opening of the four-day Eid al-Adha celebration with visits to relatives, food and sweets. Lambs were slaughtered around the country and many distributed to the poor and less fortunate.

In Islam, Eid al-Adha celebrates the sacrifice made by the Prophet Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice his own son. It concludes the pilgrimage to Mecca and is celebrated by Muslims worldwide. "This Eid is a happy day for all Muslims, especially Iraqis. But it comes after painful events that happened in Karbala and Ramadi," Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said.

He was referring to the death of more than 120 people in twin suicide bombings last Thursday in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and at a police recruiting center in Ramadi. On Monday, two suicide bombers infiltrated the heavily fortified Interior Ministry compound in Baghdad and killed 29 Iraqis an attack claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq, a group with an avowed aim of starting a sectarian war.

Violence has increased since the Dec. 15 elections, with at least 498 Iraqis and 54 U.S. forces killed. Al-Jaafari said despite the violence, Iraqi had made significant steps forward in 2005. A large turnout in the elections, he added, was one of last year's biggest achievements. About 70 percent of Iraq's 15 million voters, including for the first time large numbers of Sunni Arabs, participated in the elections.

"The wide participation of the majority I also consider to be an Eid_celebration," he told Cabinet ministers visiting him on the occasion of Eid one of Iraq's biggest holidays. "The greatest democratic countries like America only have 60 percent. Even in counties where security and stability are established, it is rare to reach such a rate of 70 percent which Iraq reached," he said.

Al-Jaafari's governing United Iraqi Alliance emerged with a large lead from the Dec. 15 elections, far ahead of a Kurdish coalition and Sunni Arab groups, but without the majority it will need in the 275-member parliament to avoid a coalition.

Although final results are expected next week, the Shiites, Kurds and some Sunni Arab groups have been talking about forming a broad-based coalition government. Some Sunni Arab groups, however, have complained the elections were tainted by fraud, leading to further delays in releasing poll results. Iraq's leading Shiite politician, the cleric and Alliance leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, called on Sunni Arabs to stop complaining and accept the results, reports the AP. N.U.

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