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Iraqis Put Eid Celebrations on Hold After Baghdad Attack in Karada

Iraqi Muslims traditionally mark the end of Ramadan with an outpouring of joy, excitement and good wishes — kids and adults don new clothes and families gather for feasts after weeks of fasting.

This year is different.

In wake of one of the deadliest attacks since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, some Iraqis have decided not to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the important Muslim festival that officially started Wednesday and will last for three days.

Image: Iraqi women wait for their family members who are missing
Iraqi women wait for missing family members after a car bomb went off in a commercial area in of Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday. Hadi Mizban / AP

"Happiness and joy are supposed to come with Eid, but this year it brought us sadness and grief," said Salman Ali, a 56-year-old housewife who said she and her family will skip the celebrations this year.

"We used to go on picnics, stay out until late hours at night without being afraid that anything would suddenly happen, like explosions, kidnapping or killings," she said. "I am a mother — I put myself in position of those mothers who lost their sons."

Ali and other residents of the Iraqi capital have been hardened by years of war. But the bombing Saturday night at a market in Baghdad was almost unprecedented: The current death toll stands at more than 250 people.

The streets and sidewalks of the neighborhood of the Karada neighborhood were filled with young people and families who had broken their daylight fast at the time when the explosion hit.

ISIS militants claimed the suicide bombing involving a refrigerator truck packed with explosives. Another blast struck in the same night, when a roadside bomb blew up in popular market of al-Shaab, a district in north Baghdad, killing two people.

Iraqi and foreign officials have linked the recent increase in ISIS attacks — especially large-scale suicide bombings — with the string of losses the group has faced on the battlefields across Iraq over the past year.

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The constant drumbeat of attacks have driven Amar Rajeh, a 38-year-old accountant, to cancel her Eid celebrations this year as well. She knows her two sons will be disappointed but feels curtailing the holiday will serve an important lesson.

"I want them to feel the sorrow of those kids who lost their parents and of those parents who lost their kids," she said.

Instead of over-the-top feasting and visiting, the family will pray to "Allah to have mercy on our people and our country," she said.

Eid typically sees grown children visiting their parents and other relatives as well as the graves of their ancestors. But that's gotten harder, with parts of Baghdad on lockdown and whole roads blocked by police and the army.

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Picnics and barbecues in the countryside or parks have historically also been popular, but nowadays are been deemed too dangerous by many.

Jalal Jussein, a 29-year-old a taxi driver from Baghdad, also said he is not celebrating.

"Will people go to restaurants and parks with their families and enjoy their time while we are filled with sadness and grief?" he said.

Image: Iraqis gather at the site of suicide bomb attack in the Karada
Iraqis gather at the site of suicide bomb attack in the Karada district of central Baghdad on Sunday. ALI ABBAS / EPA

He blames the U.S. and neighboring Iran, whose influence in Iraq grew dramatically after Saddam Hussein fell, for the spiraling violence.

"This is what America and Iran brought to us — explosions, killings, destruction, chaos."

Mazin Mubarak, a TV producer, remembered a safer time in Iraq — before Saddam Hussein was toppled by the U.S.

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"It is true that Iraq has managed to get rid of a dictatorship but it lost its democracy and freedom to violence," the 48-year-old said.

"Eid is now a joyful event covered with blood and sorrow," he added.