KARBALA, Iraqn // Millions of Shiites flooded the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala today for the peak of Ashura rituals, which have been spared the deadly attacks that struck pilgrims in past years.
Throngs of pilgrims beat their chests and some used swords to make cuts on their heads as a sign of mourning for Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who was killed in 680AD by the armies of the caliph Yazid.
Tradition holds that the revered imam was decapitated and his body mutilated. Hussein's body is buried in the holy city, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, and his death has become a formative event in Shiite Islam.
A man told black-clad pilgrims, many of them in tears, the story of the battle in which Hussein was killed, over loudspeakers near the shrine where he is buried.
Pilgrims later carried out a ritual run to the shrine, striking their heads in mourning and shouting: "We sacrifice for you, O Hussein."
Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Al Hasnawi, the command's spokesman, meanwhile said its forces were also preparing to protect pilgrims on their way back to their homes.
This is the third year since the 2003 US-led invasion that Iraqi security forces have been in sole charge of security during Ashura.
Shiites make up around 15 per cent of Muslims worldwide.