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Pilgrimage's bloody history prompts Baghdad to ban traffic

  • Story Highlights
  • Tens of thousands of Shiites are expected at Kadhimiya mosque this week
  • Entombed at the shrine is the seventh Shiite imam, who was poisoned in 799
  • Two years ago, hundreds drowned or were trampled in a stampede on a bridge
  • Last year, 20 people were killed when gunmen opened fire on crowds
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Vehicles will be banned for two days in the Iraqi capital starting Wednesday as one of many security measures being implemented for a Shiite pilgrimage to Baghdad, a trek that left almost 1,000 pilgrims dead two years ago.

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An Iraqi police commando checks a bag in the Kadhimiya district of the Iraqi capital Monday.

Tens of thousands of Shiites are expected to converge on the Kadhimiya mosque in northwestern Baghdad beginning Thursday. There, they will pay their respects to Musa al-Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered Shiite imams who was poisoned in 799.

The vehicle ban will start Wednesday at 10 p.m. and will remain in effect until Saturday at 5 a.m., said the capital's security spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta.

Other security measures will be implemented in Baghdad, which has been wracked by Sunni-Shiite violence.

Two years ago, as hundreds of thousands of Shiites made their way to the shrine, seven people were killed by a mortar attack near the mosque.

Three hours after that, rumors of a suicide attacker raced through the crowd. Panic permeated the waves of pedestrians stopped at a security checkpoint on the al-Aimma bridge over the Tigris River.

A stampede ensued. Some people were crushed; others fell into the river. In all, 965 pilgrims drowned or were trampled to death in the melee. Another 465 people were injured.

The al-Aimma bridge has been closed and pilgrims this year will need to find another route to the shrine.

Last year's pilgrimage was less bloody. However, 20 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded when gunmen opened fire on the crowds. The shooting deaths came despite myriad security checkpoints set up by Iraqi forces and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army.

Other developments

• Four U.S. troops were killed Saturday and Monday, the military said. The Tuesday announcement said three soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad over the weekend, and another soldier was killed during combat operations Monday. The death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq is 3,671. Seven civilian contractors also have died.

• A British soldier was killed in an attack Monday in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the Defense Ministry said. The soldier was killed by small arms fire. The number of British troops killed in the Iraq war is 165.

• Iraqi soldiers exchanged fire with insurgents Monday near the Syrian border, leaving three fighters dead, the U.S. military said Tuesday. After the firefight, which occurred in the Sinjar area of northwestern Iraq, the troops commandeered a truck carrying 5,000 pounds of explosives and detained nine insurgents.

• Paratroopers conducted a raid in Mussayib on Sunday and detained six insurgents, including a "rogue" militia commander of the Mehdi Army, the U.S. military announced Tuesday.

• Troops on Tuesday seized 15 "suspected terrorists" in raids targeting al Qaeda in Iraq in Baghdad, Mosul, Baiji and north of Tikrit. The military also said that coalition forces killed eight terrorists and detained 14 suspected terrorists during coordinated raids near Tarmiya, north of Baghdad, on Monday and Tuesday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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