Tens of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims are pouring into Iraq's holy city of Kerbala, despite having become the main targets of a bombing campaign that followed the withdrawal of U.S. troops last month.
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.
Pilgrims have choked the streets of the capital Baghdad and border crossings with Iran this week for Arbain, one of the main holy days of the Shi'ite calendar.
Many pilgrims say they are fully aware of the dangers but are determined to commemorate the end of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who was killed in a 7th century battle in Kerbala.