By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 12, 2007 – Iraqi army and police forces worked together to provide security for the more than 6 million pilgrims traveling to Karbala to observe the Shiite ritual of Arbaeen, officials in Baghdad said today. Anti-Iraqi forces targeted the pilgrims, and they were successful in a number of cases, most notably with a car bomb that killed more than 100 pilgrims on March 6. Iraqi Brig. Gen. Kassim Atta al-Moussawi said during a news conference in Baghdad today that, all told, insurgents killed more than 150 pilgrims.
Arbaeen marks the end of 40 days of mourning for the Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, who was killed in 680. The imam and 72 followers died at the hands of fellow Muslims who sought to prevent the imam from becoming caliph, or Muslim leader. The caliphate became the foundation of Sunni Muslim rule, and the killing of Hussein was the start of the Sunni-Shiite split. Karbala is the home of the imam's tomb and has been a site of pilgrimage since his death.
Shiite Muslims from Iraq, Iran, the Gulf States and other areas travel to Karbala and engage in ritual flagellation in remembrance of the imam. During the Saddam Hussein regime, Shiite Muslims could not mark the celebration. Iraqi and coalition officials say this year has seen the largest Arbaeen celebration in decades. The rituals ended March 10.
Kassim, speaking through an interpreter, said the volume of threats in Iraq and the volume of pilgrims made Arbaeen a potentially dangerous situation. "The enemy targets the innocent people -- children, students," he said. "This is clear evidence of the terror of these groups."
Despite Iraqi security forces' limited capabilities, the Iraqi forces did well against the security threats, Kassim said, noting the forces discovered a number of caches of arms and munitions. They also foiled a number of attacks. They cooperated well with each other and the coalition, and they built trust with the Shiite majority of Iraq, the general said.
The operation to protect Karbala involved the office of the minister of national security, the governor of Karbala governate, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. "There was daily cooperation between forces in Karbala and Baghdad," Kassim said. "The great efforts ... exerted achieved good results in this plan."
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