Sunday, October 15, 2006
Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims thronged the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf in a peaceful commemoration Sunday of the death of one of their most revered figures, while bombs exploded elsewhere in the country. Officials in Najaf estimated that at least a million pilgrims arrived in the city to pay their respects under heavy security at the golden-domed shrine to Imam Ali, one of the sect's pivotal figures.
Najaf, in contrast to the rest of the country, was peaceful, with carefully organized city services receiving the massive influx of pilgrims from all across Iraq and neighboring Iran and funneling them to the shrine. Pilgrims paid their respects, kissing the doorways and walls of the shrine itself, before making prayers and vows to the founder of the Shiite sect, assassinated in 661 AD.
All traffic in the old city was banned and pilgrims were ferried from outlying checkpoints to the shrine by specially marked cars to prevent the possibility of car bomb attacks. "The ceremonies went off as planned without any incident on a security and organizational level," said Najaf deputy governor Abdul Hussein Abtan.