Hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims have converged on the holy city of Karbala in Iraq for one of their most important annual gatherings — the birth anniversary of imam al-Mehdi 12 centuries ago. They believe his reappearance will herald Judgment Day.
But with the country in the middle of a political crisis, many fear their security can't be guaranteed. Groups affiliated with Al Qaeda killed Shia and security forces alike in recent attacks. Al Qaeda is believed to be trying to start sectarian violence to plunge the country into civil war.
Extra security has been deployed, but stopping car bombs and suicide bombers is almost impossible on crowded streets. Security forces rely on intelligence to crack the networks behind the violence. This was one of the main functions of U.S. security forces, which have left the country.
Iraq's political crisis has left the country with no interior or defense minister. Iraqi citizens say that they are paying the price.