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Muslim pilgrims flock to Karbala for Arbaeen climax

Huge numbers of Shia Muslim pilgrims gathered in the Iraqi city of Karbala at the climax of a key festival, despite threats of violence.

Iraq says up to 22 million made the pilgrimage over 40 days this year, more than a million from Iran, and many remained for the ceremony of Arbaeen.

Arbaeen marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Hussein, the third Shia Imam, was killed in battle at Karbala in the 7th Century.

His martyrdom is considered a defining event in the schism between Sunnis and Shia Muslims.

Arbaeen: Then and now

  • Biggest annual gathering of Shia Muslims worldwide
  • Arbaeen period lasts 40 days, with ceremonies marking the climax in Karbala
  • The pilgrimage was suppressed by Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s former leader, who persecuted the Shia Muslims
  • After his overthrow in 2003, Arbaeen was revived and now attracts many millions every year, including pilgrims from Iran and India
  • Massive rise in visitor numbers in 2014, partly attributed to easing of visa requirements for Iranians
  • New access roads had to be opened to admit the surge in pilgrims this year, an Iraqi official told AFP news agency
  • Catering and clean-up operation supported by security forces and tens of thousands of volunteers.

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