Millions of Shi'ite Muslims gathered at shrines and mosques across Iraq on Sunday for the Ashura religious festival while Iraqi forces stood watch against the bloody attacks that have marred past pilgrimages.
Loudspeakers blared traditional Ashura chants across Baghdad and the city of Kerbala, site of the most important shrine where Shi'ites commemorate the slaying of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein in 680 AD.
Some 20,000 members of Iraq's security forces formed cordons around Kerbala, vehicles were banned and 1,000 snipers were perched on the roofs of buildings. Troops stood watch with bomb-sniffing dogs and the wands used to detect explosives.
"It was difficult to get in, but it's better than having bombings and lots of victims," said Mohammed Abu Sajad, a pilgrim at Kerbala.
Pilgrims, most dressed in black, thronged the streets leading to Kerbala's golden-domed shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, many beating their chests in mourning and chanting accounts of Hussein's death on the battlefield at Kerbala.
For Shi'ites, Hussein's death symbolises confronting tyranny in the face of overwhelming odds.
Last Mod: 27 Aralık 2009, 16:46
The vast number of pilgrims streaming into Kerbala on foot from across Iraq makes it very difficult to ensure security during Ashura.