HOLY KARBALA, Iraq: Iraqi authorities have launched a major
operation to protect pilgrims attending one of the world's largest
religious events - Ashura.
Black-clad mourners are converging on the city, 110 km (70 miles)
south of Baghdad, for Ashura which climaxes on Sunday January 20 this
The mourners carried red and black flags, while buildings were
draped in black cloth in mourning for Imam Hussein.
"I have come with my husband and two children despite the chilly
weather. Attending Ashura is part of our culture and nothing on earth
would stop us from showing our grief," said Ahlam Nima Jasim, 30, from
Diwaniya, 120 km to the southeast.
Saddiq al-Hir, head of Kerbala's tourism association said for the
first time in years murners include visitors from the Gulf states of
Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
A vehicle ban has been imposed in the city, snipers have taken up
positions on rooftops, roadblocks set up, and 25,000 soldiers and
policemen deployed while Iraqi aircraft keep watch from above for the
Some 4,000 policemen have been deployed on the road between Kerbala
Many mourners are walking on foot from towns and cities, including the
The authorities have already ordered motorbikes off the streets of the
capital for fear they could be rigged with explosives and used against
pilgrims, who are also prohibited from carrying mobile phones or being
accompanied by children.