Seven killed in Iraq Ashura rocket attack
Baghdad, January 19, 2008
Seven Iraqis returning from a Shi'ite religious event were killed in a rocket attack in
northwestern Iraq on Saturday, a senior police officer said.
Another eight people were wounded when a Katyusha rocket hit a group of people who were returning from observing the Ashura religious ritual in Tal Afar, 420 kilometres northwest of Baghdad, said police Brigadier General Najim Abdullah.
Iraqi forces had imposed tight security on the city of Kerbala on Saturday for the climax of Ashura after gunmen from a Shi'ite cult attacked pilgrims and police in two other southern cities.
Police said the cities of Basra and Nassiriya were calm following street battles on Friday between security forces and gunmen from a cult called the "Soldiers of Heaven" who killed dozens of people and wounded 100.
In Kerbala, 2.5 million Shi'ites thronged the streets and alleyways of the holy city for the end of the 10-day Ashura ritual, in which Shi'ites mourn the slaying over 13 centuries ago of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Imam Hussein.
Among the pilgrims were dozens of men wearing white robes who marched through the streets striking their heads with swords to underscore their grief at the killing of Imam Hussein.
Blood flowed down their robes. Others beat their chests to the sound of drums and religious chants. Officials said 25,000 Iraqi police and soldiers were deployed across Kerbala.
"The security situation in Kerbala is under control ..There is nothing to worry about," Kerbala police chief Brigadier-General Raad Shaker said.
Iraqi helicopters circled over Kerbala. Military vehicles were parked at all entrances to the city which was under a total civilian vehicle curfew.
Pilgrims were frisked up to 10 times before they could reach the focus of the ceremonies, the Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines in the heart of Kerbala's Old City.
Ashura is one of the holiest events in the Shi'ite Muslim religious calendar. Imam Hussein was killed in the year 680 near Kerbala in a conflict that entrenched a schism between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims that has never been healed.-Reuters