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In gesture of mourning, defiance, Iraqis observe moment of silence

BAGHDAD -- Iraqis stepped from their cars, emerged from shops and stood under the blazing sun yesterday in a moment of silence to honor victims of suicide attacks, the first such memorial in this war-ravaged nation.

Traffic came to a halt in Baghdad and other cities at noon as police and citizens alike saluted the Iraqi flag and bowed their heads for three minutes. In the capital's Tahrir Square, a car dropped off a group of flag-waving children and people lined up along the roadside to pay respects to the dead.

Some Iraqis said it was a futile gesture that could do nothing to stop the violence. Just three hours before the memorial, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an army recruiting center in central Baghdad, killing at least 10 people, police said.

But for many, the silence was a small but symbolic step aimed at telling the world they oppose terrorism.

''To me, participation in the three-minute silence is like taking part in last January's elections -- challenging the terrorists," said Sheik Jalal al-Saghir, a prominent Shi'ite Muslim cleric in Baghdad.

''They are spreading fear and, in response, we said today, 'You are threatening to kill me and I am telling you here I am. Come and kill me.' "

The Iraqi government called for the nationwide moment of silence to remember the 27 Iraqis and one American soldier killed July 13 by a car bomb in Baghdad and the nearly 100 people killed in Saturday's massive bombing in Musayyib, 40 miles to the north.

It was the first time Iraqi authorities had organized such a ceremony, similar to one held in London to commemorate victims of the July 7 suicide bombings there.

The Baghdad bomb exploded in a Shi'ite neighborhood near US troops giving candy to children. At the scene, grieving parents and friends gathered to weep and call out the names of the victims, 18 of them children and teenagers. A small impromptu shrine marked the spot with silk flowers and framed photos.

A woman in a black veil and abaya began crying as she called out for her son, ''Ali, come back home. He is still here. Come back home."

Another mother, bowed over in grief, scooped dirt from the ground to pour over her face and head.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose staff stood at attention during the memorial, said the moment honored the ''innocent victims who gave their souls to show the oppression Iraq's people were living under now."

''Let the entire world see and hear who is standing behind these acts, who wants to kill childhood, to kill innocents and worshipers," he said. ''These crimes will encourage our people to keep persevering in their march until the end."

Some Iraqis found the memorial pointless.

''I didn't follow this moment of silence, not because I ignored those who were killed but because I don't believe that this moment of silence will do anything for this tragedy," said Amer Kudhair, 32, a supermarket owner in the busy commercial district of Karradah.

In other parts of Baghdad, there were no signs that people were observing the memorial. Participation appeared sporadic throughout the country.

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