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Photos: Millions of Shiite Pilgrims Mass in Iraqi City by Arbaeen

Some 21 million Shiite pilgrims from around the world gathered in the Iraqi city of Karbala on Saturday for the Arbaeen commemoration, which marks the end of the 40-day mourning period for the assassination of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, in the seventh century.

At the annual event, men and women from across Iraq and beyond travel to Karbala, where Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas are buried, for one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

After two years marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions, 21.2 million pilgrims flocked to the central Iraqi city this week, the organization that manages Abbas’s mausoleum said.

They include five million foreigners, including a record more than three million from neighboring Iran, according to authorities in the two countries.

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The pilgrims waved black flags and banners bearing Hussein’s image.

This year, the commemorations take place in the context of a political crisis in Iraq.

Clashes between the two main Shiite factions, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework and a bloc loyal to influential leader Muqtada al-Sadr, have prevented the establishment of a coalition government.

The crisis turned violent in late August, when al-Sadr’s supporters clashed with the army and Hashd al-Shaabi forces, former paramilitaries integrated into the regular army.

More than 30 al-Sadr supporters were killed.

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