- Title: IRAQ: IRAQI SHI'ITES DESCEND ON HOLY CITY DESPITE THEATS
- Date: 24th October 2005
- Summary: (BN12) KERBALA, IRAQ (SEPTEMBER 19, 2005) (REUTERS) 1. VARIOUS PEOPLE BY MOSQUE 2. PILGRIMS IN STREET 3. PILGRIMS DANCING 4. CROWDS IN STREET 5. GOLDEN DOME OF MOSQUE 6. PILGRIMS 1.39 Initials Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
- Embargoed: 8th November 2005 12:00
- Location: KERBALA, IRAQ
- Country: Iraq
- Reuters ID: LVA5G0FHPO4AG9NBGF2IL4B1NB3K
- Story Text: Iraqi Shi'ites descend on holy city despite threats.
Iraqi Shi'ite pilgrims descended on the holy city of
Kerbala in their hundreds of thousands on Monday (September
19, 2005) as they prepared to celebrate a religious festival
under threat of war declared by Sunni Arab radicals.
On the main road from Baghdad to Kerbala, eight people
were killed in two car bomb attacks, police said. It was
not clear if the killings of seven police and one civilian
were related to the festival.
Thousands of police and security forces are deployed in
Kerbala after the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, declared war on Shi'ites following a military
assault by Iraqi troops backed by U.S. forces on the
northern city of Tal Afar.
Last week, over 250 people died in and around Baghdad.
Kerbala police chief Brigadier-General Karim al-Hasnawi
said at least two and a half million Shi'ites had already
converged on the city by early Monday, although this number
could not be independently confirmed.
Hasnawi said 6,000 security forces from both the police
and army had set up positions and checkpoints on the four
main entrances to Kerbala, with troops in civilian clothes
positioned close to the site of the celebrations.
Most shops and businesses were closed as the huge
crowd, many of whom had arrived on foot, swelled.
Kerbala residents set up food and drink stands for the
pilgrims, despite warnings from local police to avoid them,
fearing militants might try to hand out poisoned food.
The city has been closed to cars since Friday, amid
fears suicide bombers may cause carnage.
Iraq has been on high alert following several tragedies
in recent weeks.
At the last major Shi'ite festival, in the Kadhimiya
district of Baghdad, more than 1,000 pilgrims died when a
crowd stampeded over a bridge across the river Tigris,
sparked by rumours a suicide bomber was preparing to blow
Celebrations of the birthday of Imam Mehdi, a revered
Shi'ite figure descended from Islam's prophet Mohammad,
were due to begin in Kerbala on Monday evening.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were expected to lay
candles in the Euphrates river, while children
traditionally light fire crackers.
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