Millions flood Iraq city for rituals

2011-12-06 12:39

Karbala - Some three million people flooded the streets of Iraq's shrine city Karbala for the peak of the Shi’ite Ashura commemorations on Tuesday, a day after bomb attacks killed 28 pilgrims.

"The number of visitors to Karbala to commemorate Ashura reached about three million" people, Karbala governor Amal al-Din al-Har told AFP.

Iftikhar Abbas, the head of the province's tourism committee, said the visitors included some 650 000 foreigners - 430 000 from Europe, the US, Iran, India, and Pakistan, and 220 000 from Syria, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

The city's roughly 400 hotels were full and pilgrims were renting private homes, she said.

The 10-day Ashura ceremonies, which began on November 27 but peak on Tuesday, mark the slaughter of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, near Karbala by armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.

Tradition holds that the revered imam was decapitated and his body mutilated. His death was a formative event in Shi’ite Islam.

Hussein's body is buried in Karbala, which is about 100km south of Baghdad.

On Monday, at least 28 people were killed and 78 wounded in a wave of bomb attacks in central Iraq against Shi’ite pilgrims making their way to Karbala.

The deadliest Ashura attacks were in March 2004 when near-simultaneous bombings in Karbala and at a Shi’ite mosque in Baghdad killed more than 170 people.

Violence levels have dropped dramatically since then, and are also much lower than in 2006 and 2007, when communal bloodshed engulfed much of the country.

Attacks remain common however and a total of 187 people were killed in November, according to official figures.

Shi’ites make up around 15% of Muslims worldwide. They represent the majority populations in Iraq, Iran and Bahrain and form significant communities in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.