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Security tight as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims converge on Iraqi city for holy day

  • Shiite Muslim worshippers take part in preparations for the Muslim holiday of Ashoura near the holy shrine of Imam Hussein ahead of the Ashoura holiday, in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. Shiites will mark Ashoura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

    Shiite Muslim worshippers take part in preparations for the Muslim holiday of Ashoura near the holy shrine of Imam Hussein ahead of the Ashoura holiday, in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. Shiites will mark Ashoura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)  (The Associated Press)

  • Shiites worshippers flagellate themselves to show his grief during preparations of the Muslim holiday of Ashoura at the holy shrine of Imam Hussein ahead of the Ashoura holiday, in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014.  Shiites will mark Ashoura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

    Shiites worshippers flagellate themselves to show his grief during preparations of the Muslim holiday of Ashoura at the holy shrine of Imam Hussein ahead of the Ashoura holiday, in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. Shiites will mark Ashoura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)  (The Associated Press)

  • Shiite Muslim worshippers pray at the holy shrine of Imam Abbas ahead of the Ashoura holiday, in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014.  Shiites will mark Ashoura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

    Shiite Muslim worshippers pray at the holy shrine of Imam Abbas ahead of the Ashoura holiday, in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. Shiites will mark Ashoura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was killed. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)  (The Associated Press)

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims have flocked to an Iraqi holy city for the peak of a 10-day religious ritual amid tight security over fears of sectarian attacks.

Ashoura rituals were so far peaceful in the city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, on Tuesday as more than 30,000 Iraqi troops were deployed to protect the worshippers. This is the first time Ashoura has been observed since Sunni extremists -- who view Shiites as apostates deserving of death -- seized much of northern and western Iraq.

Ashoura marks the anniversary of the death in the seventh century of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in a battle outside Karbala, which sealed Islam's historic Sunni-Shiite split. Shiite festivals in Iraq have often been attacked by Sunni extremists.