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Security tight as Shi’ite pilgrims honor saint in Baghdad

Pilgrims prayed at the Imam Moussa al-Kadhim shrine in the Kazimiyah district of Baghdad on Tuesday.

Karim Kadim/Associated Press

Pilgrims prayed at the Imam Moussa al-Kadhim shrine in the Kazimiyah district of Baghdad on Tuesday.

BAGHDAD — Hundreds of thousands of Shi’ite pilgrims converged Tuesday on a golden-domed shrine in northern Baghdad to commemorate the death of a revered eighth-century saint as troops tightened security after a wave of deadly attacks across Iraq.

Violence across the country has shot up to its highest level in years over the past two months, raising fears that Iraq is descending into a new round of widespread sectarian violence.

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Several thousand police officers and soldiers were deployed in Baghdad to secure the streets as Shi’ite faithful made their way to the northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, where Imam Moussa al-
Kadhim is buried, said Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Saad Maan Ibrahim. Pilgrims have to undergo searches before they reach the gates of the shrine, which have been tightly guarded

Many of the main streets in the Iraqi capital were closed in recent days to prevent attacks on the pilgrims, who travel on foot, and authorities last week took the drastic step of banning cars with temporary license plates from the roads altogether. The ownership of such cars is difficult to trace, and authorities fear they are more likely to be used in car bombings.

Ahmed Mustafa, a truck driver from eastern Baghdad, arrived at the Shi’ite shrine on Tuesday morning after walking with his brother all night, stopping and waiting at security checkpoints and wending their way through the Iraqi capital to avoid closed streets.

‘‘We decided to take the journey despite all the security fears because we felt that this pilgrimage is an important religious duty that should be done regardless of any possible risks,’’ he said.

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