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Shiite Muslims flood into Karbala

The crowd could reach several million by Wednesday

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Thousands of Shiite Muslims make pilgrimage to Karbala
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KARBALA, Iraq (CNN) -- A flood of exuberant Shiite Muslim pilgrims surged into the central Iraqi city of Karbala, reviving a religious tradition that was not allowed under Saddam Hussein's rule.

Religious leaders said the crowd could reach several million by the peak of the observance Wednesday.

Saddam, a member of the minority Sunni Muslim sect in Iraq, did not allow Shiites to walk to the Tomb of Hussein, a Muslim martyr who was killed more than 1,300 years ago. Imam Hussein was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

The political fervor of the crowd intensified Tuesday as earlier chants of "No to America. No to Israel. No to the Devil" gave way to "Death to America. Death to Israel."

Saddam favored Sunni Muslims and used his largely secular rule to try to limit the influence of all religious clerics.

The Shiites who packed Karbala's main square Monday and Tuesday came from throughout the country -- some walked as far as 60 miles.

Many expressed gratitude for their newfound religious freedom, but also called for the United States to leave Iraq.

They called for an Islamic state -- something that worries Iraq's tiny Christian community and others who want the new government to provide a separation between mosque and state.

CNN's Karl Penhaul said: "These pilgrims are sending a very serious political message to U.S. and coalition forces.

"They are saying: 'Thank you for the help in ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein, but now your work is done.'

"They are telling them they now want to set up their own form of government, possibly based on some form of Islamic law."

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