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Shi'ite Muslims flock to Kerbala

ROUGH CUT - NO REPORTER NARRATION Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims gather in Iraq's holy city of Kerbala on Friday for the peak of Arbain, one of the main holy days of the Shi'ite calendar, despite having become the main targets of a bombing campaign that followed the withdrawal of U.S. troops last month. Dressed in black, Shi'ite pilgrims walked in the streets near the Imam Hussein Shrine and beat their chests to commemorate the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Mohammed who was killed in a 7th-century battle in Kerbala. A political crisis since the U.S. withdrawal has raised fears among many Iraqis of a return to the sectarian slaughter in which tens of thousands were killed in 2006-07. Attacks targeting Shi'ites have killed scores of people since the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for a Sunni vice president and the main Sunni backed party boycotted parliament. Arbain has been a frequent target of militants since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, who banned Shi'ite festivals. Scores of people have been killed and more than 200 wounded in attacks on pilgrims in the last five days.

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