BAGHDAD — In the most dramatic sign yet of improving security in Baghdad, officials on Tuesday reopened a bridge where one of the signature horrors of the Iraq war occurred, a stampede that killed more than 800 Shiite pilgrims.
Hundreds of politicians, tribal leaders and local residents packed a ceremony on the Bridge of the Imams to mark the re-establishment of the link severed three years ago between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods on opposite sides of the Tigris river.
“We have broken the backbone of terror,” declared Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, commander of military operations in Baghdad, in a speech. “The opening of this bridge is an achievement for all Iraqis.”
The 2005 stampede, sparked by a rumor of a suicide bomber, was the most deadly single incident after the U.S.-led invasion. After the tragedy, the Bridge of the Imams was barricaded, and it remained closed as sectarian warfare raged in Baghdad.
In recent months violence has plummeted in Iraq, but the U.S. military has not yet handed over security responsibility for Baghdad to Iraqi forces, as it has in 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. An average of four attacks a day occur in the capital, according to the U.S. military.
The U.S. military said that the decision to reopen the Bridge of the Imams was made by Iraqi authorities. A senior police official, Gen. Karim al-Khazraji, said the goal was “to make the citizens feel OK, that security is good.”
Rana Jassim, a 30-year-old mother of two who lives near the bridge on the heavily Shiite Kadhimiyah side, clapped and sang as she strolled the span with her family. It had been two years since she had been in mainly-Sunni Adhamiyah on the opposite bank.
“The situation was bad,” said her husband, Samel Lafta, 35, a government employee. “Not because of the regular people of Adhamiyah. It was some foreign people. Foreign terrorists, they tried to destroy the relations between us.”
“There were good relations in the past between the people of Adhamiyah and Kadhimiyah. We used to come here and eat dinner at restaurants all the time,” Jassim said.