Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 18:08 UK

Flood threat to Iraq Shia shrines

Shrine of Imam Abbas
The Karbala shrines are a centre of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims

Officials in the Iraqi city of Karbala say the mausoleums of Shia Islam's most revered leaders is threatened with structural damage from flooding.

Engineers say water from leaking pipes has already reached the mausoleums of Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas.

The shrines lie about two and a half metres below the surrounding streets.

Research in 2000 revealed damage to the drinking water and sewerage systems inflicted in 1991 when Karbala was bombed during a Shia uprising.

Iraqi government engineers initially tried injecting 1,000 tonnes of cement around the two shrines to protect them from the water, says BBC religious affairs reporter Frances Harrison.

However, cavities in the soil meant the cement flowed in the wrong direction.

In 2003 a project was proposed to replace the old water and sewerage system near the shrines and build a huge underground wall around the shrines.

Officials from the Shia endowment department, which runs the shrines, refused government funds to finance the project saying they would pay for it themselves.

Asked why the work has not gone ahead yet the Director of Finance for the Imam Hussein shrine said he was still waiting for a complete design for the project.

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