JNN 19 Nov 2013 Baghdad : Iraqi provincial authorities estimated two million Iraqi and foreign pilgrims visited the holy city of Karbala in the 10 days leading up to Ashura, with all of the city’s hotels fully booked.
Millions of Shias from Iraq and around the world mark Ashura, which this year climaxed on Thursday, by setting up procession tents where food was distributed to passers-by and pilgrims can gather, or by walking to Karbala, which is home to shrines of Imam Hussein (AS) and his brother, Abul-Fadhl al-Abbas (AS).
Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), his family members and companions were martyred by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.
Tradition holds that the revered imam was decapitated and his body mutilated. Throngs of modern-day Shias beat their chests and self-flagellate during Ashura to show their sympathy with Imam Hussein and his family.
Black-clad pilgrims packed the shrines of Hazrat Imam Hussein a.s and his half-brother Hazrat Abbas, listening over loudspeakers to the story of the battle in which Imam Hussein a.s was martyred, as volunteers distributed food and water.
“I have been coming since I was young, every year, even during the time of the tyrant Saddam,” said Abu Ali, a 35-year-old pilgrim from the southern port city of Basra, referring to the rule of the now-executed Sunni Arab dictator who savagely repressed Iraq’s Shiite majority community.
Saddam Hussein barred the vast majority of Ashura commemorations, and the associated Arbaeen rituals, until his overthrow in the US-led invasion of 2003.
“I challenge anyone not to cry,” the worshipper said, describing his emotions on taking part in Ashura ceremonies.
Shiites make up about 20 percent of Muslims worldwide. They are a majority in Iraq, Iran , Bahrain , Kuwait and Azerbaijan and there are large Shiite communities in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Oman, India ,Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.
Saudi funded and US trained Takfiri Terrorist linked to al-Qaeda, who accuse every Sect as Non believers with special emphasis on Shia Sect , often step up their targeting of Iraq’s majority community during Ashura and the subsequent rituals of Arbaeen.
In past years, pilgrims have been targeted by deadly bombings.
As a result, security measures were stepped up with more than 35,000 soldiers and policemen currently deployed to Karbala and surrounding areas, with concentric security perimeters barring vehicles from entering the city while helicopters hover overhead.
In spite of the entire security measures still Violence was across Iraq, including bombings and Attacks mostly against Shiites, including the suicide bombing of a religious procession, killed 44 people in Iraq Thursday despite massive security for one of the holiest days of Islam .
The bloodshed came as a flood of worshippers, including tens of thousands of foreign pilgrims, thronged the central shrine city of Karbala for the climax of Ashura, braving repeated attacks by Saudi funded Wahabi terrorists that have marred the festival in previous years.
The suicide bomber, disguised in police uniform, struck in a Shiite-majority area of confessionally mixed Diyala province, north of Baghdad, killing 32 people and wounding 80, security and medical officials said.
It was the third attack of the day targeting Shiites.
Earlier, coordinated blasts in Hafriyah south of the capital killed nine people, while twin bombings in the northern oil city of Kirkuk wounded five.
Violence near Baghdad and in Diyala’s provincial capital Baquba left three others dead.
Bombings mostly struck north and west of Baghdad, targeting Shia Muslims and members of the security forces.
On the outskirts of Baquba, north of the capital and one of Iraq’s most violent areas, three coordinated bombs struck a gathering of Shia mourners commemorating Ashura.
Eight people were killed and 28 others were wounded in the blasts, security and medical officials said.
Elsewhere in Iraq on Wednesday, attacks mostly targeting security forces killed 19 people, while police gunned down three militants in a raid.
East of the city of Tikrit, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle rigged with explosives at a police checkpoint, killing 11 people, including three policemen.
And near the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah, two bombs targeted the homes of policemen, followed by a third that went off as onlookers gathered at the scene, leaving four dead overall.
Violence around Baghdad and in north Iraq killed four others.
Wednesday’s deaths were the latest in Iraq’s worst violence since 2008, with more than 5,600 people killed this year, according to an AFP tally based on reports from security and medical officials.
The violence against Shiites is the latest in Iraq’s deadliest unrest since 2008.
It has prompted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, to appeal to the United States for help in the form of intelligence sharing and new weapons systems.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu offered Ankara’s assistance during a recent visit to Baghdad.