Millions flood Iraq shrine city

2012-11-25 16:58
(Nabil-al-Jurani, AP)

(Nabil-al-Jurani, AP)

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Karbala - Millions of Shi'ites flooded the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala on Sunday for the peak of Ashura rituals, which have been largely spared the deadly attacks that struck pilgrims in past years.

Throngs of pilgrims beat their chests and some used swords to make cuts on their heads as a sign of mourning for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed in 680 AD by the armies of the caliph Yazid.

Tradition holds that the revered imam was decapitated and his body mutilated.

Hussein's body is buried in the holy city, 100km south of Baghdad and his death has become a formative event in Shi'ite Islam.

A man told black-clad pilgrims, many of them in tears, the story of the battle in which Hussein was killed, over loudspeakers near the shrine where he is buried.

Pilgrims later carried out a ritual run to the shrine, striking their heads in mourning and shouting: "We sacrifice for you, O Hussein."

The commemorations, which also included a re-enactment of the attack that killed Imam Hussein, officially wrapped up on Sunday afternoon.

Karbala provincial governor Amal al-Din al-Har said that about three million pilgrims, including 200 000 from foreign countries, travelled to Karbala for the rituals.

The number of foreign pilgrims was down considerably from the 650 000 who were said to have attended last year.

An army spokesperson, Othman al-Ghanimi, head of Al-Furat al-Awsat operations command which covers Karbala, said 30 000 security forces personnel were deployed at the northern, southern and eastern entrances of the city to protect the pilgrims.

Pilgrims are most vulnerable when they are going to and from Karbala, when they are not protected by the heavy security in the city itself.

Karbala governor Har said that there would be 2 400 vehicles from various Iraqi ministries and from Karbala province to help transport pilgrims home.

This is the third year since the 2003 US-led invasion that Iraqi security forces have been in sole charge of security during Ashura.

Pilgrims were often targeted by bombings in past years that left dozens dead, including a wave of attacks against pilgrims the day before the peak of Ashura rituals last year that killed 28 people and wounded 78.

Violence in Iraq is down significantly from its peak in 2006-2007, although bombings and shootings remain common, and Iraq's Shi'ite majority is frequently targeted by Sunni militants opposed to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.




Read more on:    iraq  |  religion

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