The pilgrimage has begun. Hundreds of Iraqi Shi’ites are making their way on foot to Kerbala, south of Baghdad, to celebrate the ninth century birth of the last of the Shia’s 12 imams, revered as saints. It is a demonstartion of their new political power, but also a magnet for any Sunni militants who may wish to shed blood. Security has been stepped up say the police; “We have completed preparations in the city to welcome pilgrims. We are working day and night normally, but our work intensifies during religious occasions to protect pilgrims and maintain security. Our patrols are deployed in all Kerbala’s neighbourhoods”, said the local commander.
The celebrations peak on Tuesday and Wednesday, when Kerbala will be packed with an estimated million Shias from around the world. In the past a blanket curfew and vehicle ban has been imposed to head off violence, but this year some vehicles are being allowed on the roads.