Baghdad: Tens of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims made their way on foot to a shrine in the north of Baghdad on Thursday for an annual ritual, hoping a curfew would prevent a repeat of mass deaths of the past two years.
Police said there were no reports of violence by 9:00 a.m. Shi'ite-run Al Furat television showed pictures of thousands of pilgrims massing tightly but peaceably in front of the walls of the gold-domed shrine of Imam Mussa Al Kadhim.
Many waved flags, chanted and beat their chests in a traditional Shi'ite gesture of ritual mourning. Others carried the symbolic green coffin of Kadhim, a Shi'ite martyr who was
imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad 1200 years ago.
"It is quiet. We are giving water and fruit to the pilgrims," Issam Jassim, a resident of the Kadhimiya neighbourhood near the shrine told Reuters.
"Thank God, there are many pilgrims."
The annual pilgrimage led to the deadliest single incident of the Iraq war in 2005, when nearly a thousand were killed in a stampede at a bridge over the Tigris river, triggered by rumours of a suicide bomber. Last year snipers on rooftops killed 20 pilgrims and wounded nearly 300.
Police said Iraqi troops were on the streets providing extra security for pilgrims. Vehicle traffic has been banned in Baghdad since Wednesday morning to prevent car bombs.
The pilgrimage follows a day of angry funerals in the Shi'ite slum of Sadr City, where the United States said it had killed an estimated 30 Shi'ite militants linked to Iran in an
air strike on Wednesday. Hospitals put the air strike's death toll at 13 including at least one woman.
The annual pilgrimage, in honour of one of the 12 Imams revered by Shi'ites, has attracted 1 million people or more in the years since the fall of Sunni ruler Saddam Hussein, with many making their ways from the far south of the country.
In 2005, pilgrims crossing a bridge between Kadhimiya and the mainly Sunni neighbourhood across the Tigris were suddenly engulfed by panic triggered by rumours of an attack. Nearly 1,000 died, clogging the Tigris river with corpses.