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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Violence averted at Iraq festival
Iraqi soldier monitors pilgrims coming into Karbala, Iraq, for a religious celebration
Iraqi troops have been deployed in and around Karbala
Tens of thousands of Shia Muslim pilgrims have taken part in a religious festival in the Iraqi city of Karbala amid tight security.

Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed to guard sites and deter possible attackers. No major security incident was reported.

Up to three million pilgrims had been expected during events marking the birth of the Ninth Century Imam Mahdi.

Such festivals have been targeted by Sunni insurgents in the past.

While pilgrims have begun to leave Karbala, a major police presence will remain in place until noon on Sunday to make sure that people are able to leave the city safely.

The  Imam Abbas shrine lights up the night sky in Karbala, Iraq

This weekend is being seen as a real test of the new Iraqi security force's ability to deal with the continuing insurgency, the BBC's James Shaw in Baghdad says.

There have already been attacks on pilgrims travelling to Karbala in recent days.

Some 7,000 police, 2,000 Iraqi soldiers and 1,800 Interior Ministry commandos were deployed around Karbala, with units of special forces guarding the city's entrances, Iraqi officials said.

IMAM MAHDI BELIEFS
12th and final Imam, or rightful successor to Prophet Muhammad
Born 868 and believed by certain Shias to be still alive and in hiding
He will reappear at Day of Judgement and pray in Jerusalem

"Our forces have tightened their control on the ground and our only concern now is rockets launched from a far distance," Iraqi army Major General Samir Abdullah said earlier.

Many pilgrims made their way by foot or vehicle to Karbala, 80km (50 miles) south of Baghdad.

Three pilgrims were reported to have been killed and several wounded by a mortar attack on a procession near the town of Musayyib on Friday.

A week ago, 14 Pakistani and Indian pilgrims were ordered off their bus and shot at the roadside.

In other developments in Iraq:

  • The bodies of six people are found in Mahmoudiya, 30km (18 miles) south of Baghdad
  • A roadside bomb kills three people and wounds 14 on a highway south of Kirkuk
  • Several Iraqi policemen die in separate attacks on patrols in Baghdad
  • Gunmen fire on employees of the state-funded newspaper al-Sabah in Baghdad, reportedly killing one.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki will make his first official visit to Iran on Monday, a government spokesman says



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Pilgrims arriving for the festival



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