Shiite pilgrims descend on Iraq's Karbala for Ashura
Karbala: Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims descended on the holy shrine city of Karbala on Saturday for the climax of Ashura commemorations, despite fears of violent attacks by Sunni extremists.
Security forces have beefed up their presence in the central city and authorities are also checking on the 60,000-odd foreign worshippers also expected to attend the ceremonies to ensure they do not have swine flu.
Black flags, representing the sadness of Shiites during Ashura, were to be seen all over the city, 110 kilometres south of Baghdad, along with pictures of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, who are both buried there.
"I came to show my belief in Imam Hussein – this event has nothing to do with personal motivations or politics," said 40-year-old Mohammed Abdul Hussein, who came from neighbouring Babil province.
Karbala police chief General Ali Jassim Mohammed said that around 25,000 policemen and soldiers had been deployed to secure the commemoration ceremonies, which climax today and tomorrow, and mark the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, in 680 AD.
Security perimeters have also been formed throughout the city, while helicopters are providing extra surveillance and bomb-sniffing dogs are being used at checkpoints.
To counter women suicide attackers who have struck Karbala before, security forces have deployed 600 female personnel on three roads into the city.