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Last Updated: Friday, 9 March 2007, 16:23 GMT
In pictures: Pilgrims in Karbala

Thousands of Shia Muslims pray at a mosque in Karbala on 9 March

Hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims are gathering in the Iraqi city of Karbala to celebrate Arbaeen, one of the holiest days in the Shia calendar.

Crowds pour into the city on 8 March

The two-day festival concludes a 40-day mourning period to mark the death in 680 AD of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Iraqi women on their way to Karbala smile as they walk down a street in Baghdad on 8 March

Huge crowds of Shias have been converging on the city, some 80km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, all week.

A Shia devotee crawls on his stomach in Karbala on 6 March

Some pilgrims have crawled along or used chains to whip their backs as a way of demonstrating their devotion.

A male pilgrim covers his face with dirt as a sign of grief on 8 March

Others have covered their faces with dirt as a sign of grief.

An Iraqi soldiers checks pilgrims entering Karbala on 7 March

In recent days, dozens of Shia pilgrims have been killed in gun and bomb attacks across Iraq, and security is very tight in the city.

Pilgrims gather at dusk at the Imam Hussein mosque in Karbala on 7 March

Pilgrims began holy rites on Friday at the city's Imam Hussein shrine. The festival reaches its climax on Saturday.

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