The number of pilgrims who flocked to the holy city of Karbala for the Arbaeen ceremonies passed the 20-million mark, Iraqi officials announced on Saturday.
The Arbaeen Shia Muslim religious ceremony is held forty days after the Day of Ashura, the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (S). Imam Hussein (AS) and his 72 companions were killed by Yazid I's army in the Battle of Karbala in 61 AH (680 CE). Arbaeen is one of the largest gatherings in the world, for which over 15 million people have travelled to the city of Karbala over the past few years.
On Thursday, before the figure of 20 million was announced, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said that the number of pilgrims in the city of Karbala for the annual Arbaeen commemoration had reached a record of 17.5 million this year.
"The number of Arab and foreign pilgrims has reached 4.5 million, of 60 different nationalities, the biggest contingent being Iranians," he told reporters.
"And until today, we had 13 million Iraqis," he said.
The Arbaeen commemoration was held on Saturday, December 13, but millions of Shia faithful walked to Karbala from all over Iraq, and large numbers from across the Iranian border, for several days.
The pilgrims arrived in the city on foot and by cars, buses, and many other means from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Bahrain, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries.
The Iraqi authorities reported last week that at least 1.5 million Iranians, the largest number on record, had come to Iraq for Arbaeen this year.
The crowds are so huge it is difficult to verify the figures provided by the authorities, but the governor of Karbala said it was the largest attendance ever.
"This is the biggest. It's exceptional because the pilgrims consider this as an act of defiance in the face of the terrorist gangs (groups) of Daesh (ISIL)," Aqil al-Turaihi said.
The head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Ammar al-Hakim, stated last Monday that the Arbaeen pilgrimage confirms the citizens' stance against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.
A statement issued by the ISCI received by Alforat News Agency stated: "Hakim joined the pilgrims of Wasit province in their march towards Karbala holy city."
"The march represents the desire for establishing a just and modern state in Iraq," the statement added.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi police said on Friday that a rocket attack killed a man from Karbala and injured four people in the holy city as record numbers of Shia pilgrims gathered there for Arbaeen.
The police said the rocket was fired from north of the city, where ISIL terrorists have been battling the Iraqi army and Shia fighters.
Photos: Over one million Iranian pilgrims flock to Iraq to mark Arba'een - Iran's Traffic Police Chief Eskandar Mo'meni on Monday estimated that more than 1,200,000 Iranians would attend this year's Arba'een procession, which falls on December 13 this year. Iranian officials have announced that more than 900,000 Iranians have entered Iraq so far. 12/9/14
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