- Title: IRAQ: Security high as Shi'ites converge on Kerbala and begin Ashura rites
- Date: 17th January 2008
- Summary: PEOPLE IN CONSTUMES FOR RE-ENACTMENT
- Embargoed: 1st February 2008 12:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA97AQHYKX24DR7647LSFTO9DYX
- Story Text: Security was tightened in and around the holy city of Kerbala days ahead of the climax of the Shi'ite rite of Ashura, the anniversary of the death of Imam al-Hussein. Pilgrims also flocked to a Shi'ite shrine in Baghdad to observe the initial stages of the rites.
Security was tightened in and around the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala on Wednesday (January 16) as thousands of Shi'ites from around Iraq converged on the city to observer the annual rite of Ashura.
The rituals of the rite, which culminate on Friday night and Saturday morning (January 18 and 19), commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, one of Prophet Mohammad's grandsons, almost 1,400 years ago.
Thousands of Iraqi security forces were deployed along the main roads leading to Kerbala and on the streets near the holy shrine of Imam al-Hussein, and searched pilgrims entering the shrine.
Security forces took positions on the rooftops of houses and buildings near the holy shrines of Imam al-Hussein and his brother Imam al-Abbas.
"We, the policemen of the holy city of Kerbala and the army and the ministries of the interior and the defence, are working 24 hours a day to serve the pilgrims of Imam al-Hussein. We can provide security and God willing the event will pass peacefully and smoothly," said Iraqi soldier Mohammed Abbas who was manning the entrance to shrine.
Shi'ite pilgrims in black could be seen marching in the first processions of the rite, flogging their backs with chains in unison to the beats of religious songs blaring from loudspeakers, while other Shi'ite pilgrims waved black and green flags.
Over one million Shi'ite pilgrims are expected to attend the main rituals of the Ashura rite over the weekend.
Throughout Kerbala, green, red and black flags were raised over the rooftops. Green is the colour of Islam, red symbolizes the colour of blood and black is for sadness. Many Shi'ites wear black during Ashura to mourn their Imam's death.
In the capital Baghdad, Shi'ite pilgrims flocked to the Moussa al-Kadhim Shrine in the Kadhimiya neighbourhood, also to observe the rite of Ashura. Pilgrims waved flags while other marched in processions re-enacting scenes from the ancient battle of Kerbala.
Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ites travel to Kerbala for Ashura each year to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, who was buried there after he and his followers were massacred in 680 A.D.
Sunni Arab suicide bombers have frequently targeted large crowds of Shi'ites as part of a campaign to topple the Shi'ite-led government.
According to tradition, Imam Hussein and 72 followers perished at the Battle of Kerbala in 680 A.D.. The word for the rite derives from the Arabic for "Tenth" as Ashura falls on the 10th day of the month of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar.
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