Tens of thousands flock to Baghdad shrine braving bomb threat


Tens of thousands of Shia faithful converged on a north Baghdad shrine on Tuesday for the peak of an annual pilgrimage, braving the threat of attack after two jihadist bombings.

The attacks claimed by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group killed at least 37 people, but did not deter huge crowds of black-clad pilgrims from visiting the shrine of Imam Musa Kadhim to commemorate his death.

"This pilgrimage represents a defeat for terrorism," said Mohammed Nayif, a 32-year-old from Babil province, south of Baghdad. "We are not afraid of the explosions and nothing will stop us," he said. An official from the shrine said that "millions" of people participated in the pilgrimage in recent days, and that more details would be released later on Tuesday.

Many of the main thoroughfares in Baghdad are closed in the days leading up to the annual commemoration of Imam Kadhim's death, an important date in the Shia Muslim calendar. Kadhim, the seventh of 12 imams revered in Shia Islam, died in 799 AD. The pilgrimage to his shrine has in recent years turned into a huge event that brings the capital to a standstill for days.

IS has claimed multiple attacks in the Baghdad area targeting the pilgrims. A car bomb in south Baghdad killed at least 14 people on Monday, while 23 people died in a similar attack on the outskirts of the city two days before. IS considers members of Iraq's Shia majority to be heretics and frequently targets them in bombings.

Iraqi forces have regained significant ground from IS, which overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014. But the jihadists still control a major part of western Iraq and carry out frequent bombings in government-controlled areas.    (AFP)

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