Car bomb kills 17 Shiite pilgrims in Iraq
KARBALA - Agence France-Presse
Shiite Muslim worshippers beat themselves inside the holy shrine of Imam Hussein to mark the Muslim festival of Arbaeen in Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Jan. 3 , 2013. AP photoA car bomb killed 17 worshippers south of Baghdad today as pilgrims from around the world thronged Iraq's shrine city of Karbala to finish commemorations for a revered figure in Shiite Islam.
The attack came despite a massive security operation mounted to safeguard the millions of Shiite Muslims travelling to and from Karbala for the conclusion of Arbaeen mourning rituals.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which struck a parking lot in the town of Musayyib used primarily for vehicles transporting pilgrims for the rituals, but Sunni militants often look to target Shiites during commemoration rituals in a bid to incite sectarian bloodletting.
The 5:00 pm (1400 GMT) blast killed 15 people and wounded 47, a police officer and a doctor said, the second deadly attack to target Musayyib in recent days, after seven people were killed on December 31 apparently because they were Shiites.
The threat of insurgent attack spurred authorities to deploy 35,000 soldiers and police to Karbala, including 2,500 policewomen.
Massive crowds flooded the streets of the city as sad songs blared from loudspeakers and black flags fluttered alongside pictures of Imam Hussein and his half-brother Imam Abbas, revered figures in Shiite Islam who are buried in Karbala.
Provincial governor Amal al-Din al-Har said some 18 million worshippers passed through the city, which lies 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad, by the end of the commemorations on Thursday afternoon, many of them walking for days from across Iraq.
Among the worshippers were around 750,000 pilgrims from 30 different countries, leaving all of the city's 700 hotels packed to the brim, the governor said.
Arbaeen marks 40 days after the Ashura anniversary commemorating the slaying of Imam Hussein by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD.
"We are defying terrorism, and we are following the example of Karbala in sacrifice and redemption," said Mohammed Swadi, 40, adding that he had walked for 12 days from the southern port city of Basra for the occasion.
"This is not much when it comes to expressing our love for Imam Hussein." Another pilgrim said she had walked for three days from the central city of Hilla in order to attend Arbaeen in Karbala, to pray for a cure for a skin disease.
"I have a skin disease that doctors could not treat, and I vowed to attend the pilgrimage walking on foot, and ask Allah with the name of Hussein to cure me," said the 35-year-old woman who gave her name as Umm Ali, or mother of Ali.
The seventh century battle near Karbala is at the heart of the historical division between Islam's Sunni and Shiite sects, a split that fuelled sectarian violence between Iraq's majority Shiite and minority Sunni communities since the US-led invasion of 2003.
Shiites make up around 15 percent of Muslims worldwide. They represent the majority populations in Iraq, Iran and Bahrain and form significant communities in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia.
Now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime barred the vast majority of Ashura and Arbaeen commemorations.