In another reminder of the gulf that divides their warring communities, Iraqis remembered Saddam Hussein's era yesterday at two starkly different ceremonies.
One honored the memory of the former dictator, another laid more of his victims to rest.
In the small northern village of Awja, where Saddam was buried after his execution in December, a crowd of 200 Sunni Iraqis, mostly young children, laid a wreath on his tomb in honor of his birthday.
Meanwhile, in central Iraq's Shiite holy city of Karbala, about 40 officials and clerics gathered to rebury the remains of 61 victims of Saddam's brutal crackdown of the Shiite rebellion that followed the 1991 Gulf War.
Tens of thousands of Shiites - rebels and innocent civilians alike - were slaughtered by Saddam's forces and dumped in mass graves across Iraq.
Since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, officials have been gradually exhuming the victims and laying them to rest in massive cemeteries.
Despite the passions that memories of Iraq's former era once aroused, both ceremonies were sparsely attended, indicating perhaps that the daily bloodshed in the country now overshadows the contested historical legacy.
In Awja, the children laid candles at the grave but left them unlit to signify what one organizer called "the darkness of the occupation."
"The children of Salaheddin want to celebrate the birthday of the martyr Saddam Hussein near his tomb. They regard him as their father," said Fatin Abdul Qadir, the head of a children's organization in the province.
Many of the children, however, could not have been more than three or four when Saddam was ousted in the invasion.
In Karbala, Shiites gathered to commemorate their own "martyrs."
"Today we are burying the remains of 61 martyrs that the former regime buried in a mass grave in the Razaza area in 1991 during the popular uprising," said Emad Muhammed Hussein, one of the organizers of the event.
"We obtained the remains from the Imam Ali base near Nasiriyah after U.S. forces examined them and used them as evidence against the former regime."
Most Iraqis rejoiced when Saddam was overthrown in the second U.S.-led invasion of their country, but many members of his tribe and some nostalgic members of his ruling Baath Party continue to honor his name. The bloody chaos that has descended on Iraq in the wake of the invasion and the controversial way in which Saddam was executed by the new Shiite-led regime have also hardened support for him in some Sunni communities.
Under local pressure, Ali al-Nida, the chief of the Baijat tribe to which Saddam belonged, attended the Awja ceremony after initially urging his people to keep the celebrations small or even to postpone them.