Karbala / AFP
Thousands of Iraqi security personnel guarded areas in and around Karbala on Tuesday to protect hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims flocking to the shrine city for annual mourning rituals.
Shiites in Iraq have come under frequent attack by extremists of the IS group who still control some territory in Anbar province, to the west of Karbala, though attacks in the city itself are rare.
Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, is buried in Karbala, and Shiite pilgrims pack the city each year for Ashura commemorations, which mark his death in the 7th century.
“Our forces from the army and local and federal police took strict security measures culminating today to protect pilgrims in and around Karbala,” police spokesman Colonel Alaa Al Ghanimi said.
“Forces from the Hashed Al Shaabi have implemented security measures to control areas in the west of Karbala province,” Ghanimi said, referring to an umbrella organisation for pro-government militiamen.
According to Ghanimi, some 30,000 security personnel are taking part in efforts to guard the city and its surroundings.
On Tuesday, pilgrims sang songs about the story of Imam Hussein’s death, some beating their chests with their hands or their backs with chains in mourning.
Black banners were draped around the city, and pilgrims, most of them black-clad, packed the streets around the shrines of Imam Hussain and his brother Abbas.
The number of pilgrims participating in the Ashura commemorations is expected to be huge, with Karbala deputy governor Ali Al Mayali saying it was expected to reach three million.
Some 250,000 pilgrims have arrived over the past two days, Mayali said.
Ghanimi said there had been no security breaches so far, and while IS frequently targets Shiites in Baghdad and elsewhere, Karbala is usually much more secure.
1,300 years of mourning
IS claimed a Sunday bombing in Baghdad that hit a tent where Shiites were distributing refreshments on the occasion of the commemorations for Imam Hussein, killing at least five people.
Imam Hussein was killed in 680 AD by forces of the Caliph Yazid, and his death is marked every year on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, which is known as Ashura.