Iraq tightens security in Karbala ahead of pilgrimage (Lead)

August 15th, 2008 - 5:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Baghdad, Aug 15 (DPA) A total ban on the movement of cars was imposed in Karbala Friday as part of a tight security control in the holy southern Iraqi city, days before the Sunday pilgrimage to commemorate the birth of the 12th Imam revered by Shiites. “A total car ban is imposed on Karbala from today till the end of pilgrimage Sunday. Security forces were deployed on all entrances of the city to ensure total security during the commemoration of the birth of Imam al-Mahdi,” a spokesman of the security forces in Karbala told the independent Voices of Iraq news agency.

Millions of Shia pilgrims from Iraq and other neighbouring Arab countries are expected to pour into the city 110 km southwest of Baghdad. Several thousands have reportedly walked to the city since last Monday, and the flood of pilgrims is expected to peak during Saturday and Sunday.

Shia pilgrims have been a constant target to extremist Sunni Muslim groups operating in Iraq, mainly al-Qaeda, during their annual celebrations of religious events.

At least 20 people were killed Thursday and around 100 injured in the Iskandariyah district 40 km south of Baghdad when two women suicide bombers wearing explosive belts blew themselves up amid pilgrims on their way to the karbala pilgrimage.

In July, three suicide attacks carried out in quick succession against Shia pilgrims in Baghdad left at least 25 people dead and 40 injured.

Three women wearing explosive belts struck convoys of pilgrims on their way to a Shia shrine in Kadimiya in north-western Baghdad to mark the death of a revered 8th-century imam, Musa al-Kazim.

US and Iraqi authorities say al-Qaeda militants have increasingly relied on women to conduct suicide attacks, as they can evade security searches.

A report released in June by the Baghdad-based Monitor of Constitutional Freedom and Bill of Rights said an increase in women suicide bombers is due to dire economic conditions and a culture of sectarianism and marginalisation.

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