Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Pilgrims shot on the way to religious festival

(AFP) - Four Shiite pilgrims were shot dead on Tuesday on their way to join the hundreds of thousands flooding the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala for a major religious festival, security officials said. Two devotees were killed when gunmen raked their vehicle with bullets as they passed through the town of Iskandiriyah, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Baghdad, local police official Lieutenant Numa al-Amari said.
In another attack near Iskandiriyah, Amari said a man and his daughter were shot dead also while driving to Karbala, huge where crowds of pilgrims are gathering to celebrate an eighth-century imam. Tuesday's killings come after five people were shot dead by police gunfire in Karbala late on Monday when pilgrims became agitated at tight security cordons which created long queues. An AFP correspondent said the atmosphere in the city's winding streets was calm and the mood festive on Tuesday, with pilgrims carrying the green flags of Islam thronging the city's two main shrines.
Karbala police expect two million pilgrims to gather to mark the birth anniversary of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th imam of Shiite Islam, who the faithful believe disappeared from the northern Iraqi town of Samarra and will return one day to save the world. Leading Shiite cleric Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Mahamadawi appealed for calm after Monday's shootings. "Everyone should comply with the orders of the leader Moqtada al-Sadr," Mahamadawi, a senior cleric in Sadr's office in Karbala, said through loudspeakers at the Hussein shrine. "A Muslim should not kill another Muslim," he quoted Sadr, one of Iraq's most influential Shiite leaders, as saying.
Police said 15,000 security force members have been deployed across the city while medical officials said 53 ambulances and 24 medical teams are on standby and 750 units of blood have been stored in case of emergency. A vehicle ban has been in place since Sunday.
Unlike other Shiite rituals in Karbala, usually to mark the deaths of the two imams buried there, pilgrims will not be flagellating themselves with iron chains or cutting their foreheads with swords. Instead they will pay homage in the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas to observe Imam Mahdi's birth anniversary although there is no shrine to Mahdi himself as he is still believed to be alive.
Karbala became a pilgrimage site for Shiites after the slaying of Imam Hussein in 680 by armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid. A grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, tradition holds that Hussein was decapitated and his body mutilated by Yazid's armies.

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