Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites begin to go back home, rite ends

Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ite pilgrims neared the end of a major rite on Monday, while others were already beginning long treks home.

Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites begin to go back home, rite ends

Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ite pilgrims neared the end of a major rite on Monday, while others were already beginning long treks home.

Beating heads and chests in ritual mourning for Hussein, the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, who died in a seventh century battle, pilgrims streamed through the Imam Hussein mosque in the city 80 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad in an endless procession.

The rite culminates at Hussein's gilded grave, where worshippers weep and pray, while giant television screens in the city show films of Hussein's deeds and preachers chant and recount Shi'ite tales through loudspeakers.

Officials in Kerbala say that around 10 million Shi'ite pilgrims flooded the city this year for the annual ritual, once suppressed like other Shi'ite gatherings under Saddam and which marks the end of 40 days of mourning for Hussein.

While other parts of Iraq seemed eerily empty on Monday, that number seemed huge given Iraq's total population of around 28 million, 60 percent of whom are Shi'ite.

But Kerbala was clearly overwhelmed. Its few hotels overflowed with guests, water ran dry in public toilets, the elderly and the weak fainted in droves from the crush of the crowds and thousands slept in the streets or in mosques.

"I walked from Basra to Kerbala, and when I entered this crowded area two days ago I lost my wife. Today I found her by chance," said Wisam Jabur, 38, a civil servant. "I couldn't phone her because the cellphone network was so bad."

Raghad Mohammed, a pilgrim from Baghdad, said he was concerned about how to get home, and was exhausted after walking all the way to Kerbala and then spending days without sleep.

Worries about the way home were echoed by many.

"The security situation is not 100 percent stable," said engineer Inas Yunis, recalling a suicide bombing on Friday that killed 42 people on a route to Kerbala.

"The biggest concern is how to go back home. There will be a transport crisis," Yunis said.

About 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and police guarded Kerbala and all pilgrims were searched before they were allowed near the revered shrine.

Sunday passed without incident in Kerbala, leaving the route home, when the pilgrims will again be dispersed and vulnerable, as the remaining challenge for security forces.

Politics may also be a factor after allies of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki posted gains in Jan. 31 local elections.

That set Maliki's Dawa Party up for a muscular run in parliamentary polls at the end of the year, and rivals may want to undermine the perception that he can take some credit for the reduction in bloodshed, security sources say.

Reuters

Last Mod: 16 Şubat 2009, 12:36
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