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Pilgrims converge on Karbala

KARBALA, Iraq, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Thousands of Shiite pilgrims congregated Sunday in the holy city of Karbala to commemorate the birth of ninth century Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi.

Muhammad al-Mahdi was the last of the 12 most revered Shiite Imams. China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported that pilgrims from around Iraq traveled to the holy site to commemorate the imam, who Muslims believe will return at the end of time to bring peace and justice to mankind.

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More than 40,000 security forces and checkpoints around the city south of Baghdad were set up to keep pilgrims safe, said Karbala police chief Maj. Gen. Raid Shakir.

"The authorities in Karbala divided the city into eight sections and set up dozens of cameras and observation towers in open areas, crossroads and the main entrances of the city," he said.

In 2007, pilgrims and security forces clashed in the holy city. Fifty were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the incident.

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