Middle East
Shia pilgrims pour into Karbala
Pilgrims brave security threats to gather in Iraqi city to mark religious rite of Arbaeen.
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2010 20:55 GMT
Officials say seven million pilgrims visited Karbala during the past 10 days [AFP]

Hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims have poured into Iraq’s holy city of Karbala, ignoring government warnings that they could be targets of bomb attacks.

Pilgrims from around the world have made their way to the city, 80km south of Baghdad, to mark the religious rite of Arbaeen, which culminates on Friday.

Arbaeen marks the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed in a seventh century battle in Karbala.

"The terrorist groups are gathering together all their capabilities to launch attacks during Arbaeen and after it," Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad's security spokesman, said in a statement.

"The coming days will see these terrorist groups carrying out other attempts whenever they get a chance."

Tight security

Around 30,000 troops and police have been deployed to protect pilgrims.

Mohammed al-Moussawi, the head of the provincial council, estimated that seven million pilgrims had visited the city in the past 10 days, including from regional countries and Iran.

He said motorbike-propelled carts had been banned from the city. Twenty-five medical teams and 10 mobile clinics have been deployed with 65 ambulances on call.

Two units of counterterrorism forces have been sent to the city from Baghdad.

Despite tough security measures, a female suicide bomber killed more than 40 pilgrims on Monday as they were walking from Baghdad to Karbala.

Another 23 were killed in Karbala on Wednesday when a bomb on a cart tore through a crowd.

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