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Major Shi'ite Ritual in Iraq Ends; Nine Killed

One of the holiest events for Shi'ite Muslims ended peacefully Saturday in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, but in northern Iraq attacks killed nine worshippers.

Iraqi forces imposed tight security in Karbala, as about two million Shi'ite pilgrims gathered there for the main events of the annual Ashura religious observances.

To the north, the mayor of Tal Afar, Najim Abdullah, says a rocket attack killed seven people observing Ashura and wounded nearly 20. Police say a bomb blast in Kirkuk killed two Shi'ite pilgrims and wounded at least five.

Some 2.5 million people from across Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world participated in a commemoration of the seventh century death in battle of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

Witnesses say Iraqi helicopters circled over Karbala Saturday, military vehicles guarded all entrances to the city, and a total ban on civilian vehicular traffic was imposed.

Additional security measures were taken after clashes between government troops and armed members of a Shi'ite sect in the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriyah. Officials say more than 70 people were killed and scores of others wounded in the fighting that erupted after members of the "Soldiers of Heaven" sect's militia attacked police and civilians.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.