More than 15,000 security elements have been deployed in Karbala in preparations for the Al-Ziyara al-Shaabaniya (mid-Shaaban pilgrimage), according to a media police source.â€œSecurity authorities started to implement the security plan of the mid-Shaaban pilgrimage, which will last until next Wednesday,â€ Major Alaa Abbas al-Ghanemi told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
Al-Ziyara al-Shaabaniya is a Shiite pilgrimage to revive the memory of the birth of the Messiah-like Imam al-Mahdi, the 12th holiest figure for Shiite Muslims.
Karbala, with an estimated population of 572,300 people in 2003, is the capital of the province and is considered to be one of Shiite Muslimsâ€™ holiest cities.
The city, 110 km south of Baghdad, is one of Iraqâ€™s wealthiest, profiting both from religious visitors and agricultural produce, especially dates.
It is made up of two districts, â€œOld Karbala,â€ the religious center, and â€œNew Karbala,â€ the residential district containing Islamic schools and government buildings.
At the center of the old city is Masjid al-Hussein, the tomb of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad by his daughter Fatima al-Zahraa and Ali Ibn Abi Taleb.
Imam Hussienâ€™s tomb is a place of pilgrimage for many Shiite Muslims, especially on the anniversary of the battle, the Day of Ashuraa. Many elderly pilgrims travel there to await death, as they believe the tomb to be one of the gates to paradise.
On April 14, 2007, a car bomb exploded about 600 ft (200 m) from the shrine, killing 47 and wounding over 150.