Blood and violence as millions mark Youm-e-Ashur
* Six million people including 105,000 foreigners visit Karbala in last 10 days
* Iraqi police say five killed in bomb attack on pilgrims
KARBALA: Millions of Shias across Iraq on Sunday joined ceremonies marking the climax of the solemn Ashura rituals, marred by a bomb attack on a procession near Kirkuk that killed five people.
According to provincial deputy governor Nasaeef Jassim, around three million people thronged the streets of the shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq for the main rituals commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein (RA) by the armies of Yazid in the year 680.
Visitors: “Over the past 10 days, we have received around six million visitors who have come from all over Iraq, some coming by foot,” Jassim said, adding that at least half of these had stayed for Sunday’s climax of the annual event.
He said that among the pilgrims on Sunday were some 105,000 worshippers from foreign countries, mostly from the Gulf but also from Pakistan, Canada and Tanzania.
Earlier in the week, Karbala police chief General Ali Jassim Mohammed had announced the deployment of around 25,000 policemen and soldiers to secure the commemoration ceremonies.
Violence elsewhere in the country, however, took the gloss off the largely peaceful Karbala pilgrimage, which in recent years has been attacked by insurgents and disrupted by intra-Shia fighting.
Violence: Police said that early on Sunday a bomb ripped through a procession marking Ashura in the northern town of Tuz Khurmatu, near oil-rich Kirkuk, killing five people and wounding 27, including five women and a policeman.
The Tuz Khurmatu attack came a day after three Shias were killed when bombs struck separate Ashura processions in Baghdad.
Since Tuesday, 32 people have been killed and more than 160 wounded in violence targeting Ashura, including attacks on worshippers in Karbala and Baghdad earlier in the week.
Karbala, about 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, was peaceful on Sunday.
“Despite a serious threat from armed groups to target visitors, the security plan has worked,” said National Security Minister Shirwan al-Waili, who was visiting Karbala along with Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani.
A peaceful Ashura is crucial for the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has built his reputation on bringing security to Iraq, ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections on March 7.
Ceremonies began with thousands of devotees drenched in blood after ritually slicing their scalps and are to end with a re-enactment of the battle for Karbala in 680 in which Imam Hussain (RA) was martyred.
Nauhas (sad songs) were being played on loudspeakers throughout the city and mostly black flags were on display, along with pictures of Imam Hussain (RA) and Imam Abbas (RA), both of whom are buried in the city.
Masses of pilgrims clad in black took part in a ritual five-kilometre run, known as the ‘Twairij’, around mid-day to Imam Hussain’s (RA) shrine while hitting their heads with their hands and screaming “Labeikeh Hussain” (RA) – We are your followers, Hussain (RA). afp