Iraq Tightens Security As Millions Of Shia Muslims Flock To Kerbala
Authorities in the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala tightened security on Tuesday (October 11) in and around the city as tens of thousands of Shias packed the city to attend climax of Ashura rituals, one of the Shias’ holiest events.
Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in the sacred city as a precaution against any attacks.
Shia rituals are a frequent target by militants of (ISIS) who consider Shias as apostate who deserve to die.
"We came from Thiqar province to join our brothers who have come from across the world to attend the event. We are today on the 9th day of Muharram. We are satisfied with the level of the security measures and services offered to pilgrims," said a Shia pilgrim from the southern Iraqi province of Thiqar.
An estimated two million Shias from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere have descended on the holy city of Kerbala over the past 10 days to mark Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed in battle more than 1,300 years ago.
Pilgrims, most wearing black shirts and headdresses as a mark of mourning, packed streets in front of the shrine as they prayed fervently, beating their breasts and wailing for the loss of their martyr.
Hundreds of thousands more made their way through the streets outside, waving green flags representing Islam and red flags for the blood of Hussein.
In another procession, dozens of young men and boys, whipped themselves with strands of chains, using both hands to lash first one side of their backs and then the other, all to a slow drum beat.
The entire event lasts more than a week, but builds to a crescendo on Wednesday (October 12) -- the actual Ashura, or 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram -- which marks the day Imam Hussein and was killed and beheaded by his enemies in Kerbala.
His body is believed to lie in Kerbala's Imam Hussein mausoleum, a golden domed shrine at the heart of the city and one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam.