Millions of Muslims throng Karbala despite fear of ISIS
KARBALA: (APP) Millions of black-clad Shiite Muslims, crying and beating their chests in mourning, streamed through a shrine in the Iraqi city of Karbala Monday under heavy protection from the security forces.
The processions of faithful walking to Imam Hussein's mausoleum from all over Iraq have been routinely targeted by bombings over the years, but this time the Arbaeen commemoration saw very few attacks.
The Islamic State group is battling tens of thousands of Iraqi forces in and around its last major stronghold of Mosul, and observers had feared it might seek to strike Baghdad or Karbala during Arbaeen.
The authorities in Karbala, which lies about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Baghdad, said at least 24,000 soldiers and police were securing the area.
Some pilgrims came from as far afield as Basra, Iraq's main southern port city some 500 kilometres away by road.
"I came walking from Basra with my wife and three sons... This is the third time," said Jaber Kadhem Khalif.
"We started walking 13 days ago and reached Karbala on Sunday night."
The 40-year-old said his prayers would go to the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary group which has tens of thousands of men deployed on the front lines to fight IS.