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Iraq: Shi'ite Pilgrims Gather In Karbala

Karbala, Iraq; 23 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Some 1 million Iraqi Shi'ites are in the holy city of Karbala today for the culmination of a pilgrimage that had been banned by Saddam Hussein. The event commemorates the death of the seventh-century Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

RFE/RL correspondent Zamira Eshanova is on the scene and describes an atmosphere of general happiness. "I can describe the overall mood as happiness and a kind of euphoria. This was the first time in 30 years they can do this freely and without any pressure from the government, any fear from the government," she said.

On the sidelines of the pilgrimage, several thousand Shi'ites chanted slogans for the second consecutive day against a U.S.-imposed government.

To the north, the U.S.-appointed administrator for postwar Iraq, Jay Garner, today promised Kurdish leaders they will be able to participate in establishing a democratic Iraqi government.

Garner met with Mas'ud Barzani, the leader of one of the two major Kurdish factions, in the northern town of Arbil. He met yesterday with the leader of the other Kurdish faction, Jalal Talabani.

To the south, the Associated Press quoted U.S. officials as saying crude oil from Iraq's southern fields began flowing through pipelines today, the first time since the start of the war.

Coalition forces, aided by Iraqi oil workers, fired up a gas-oil separation plant that sent oil to a pumping station and storage tank in Al-Zubayr, outside the key southern city of Basra.