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Tight Security For Shiite Gathering

Millions of Shiite pilgrims thronged the streets of the holy city of Karbala Saturday for a religious festival, and Iraqi army and police deployed to prevent possible infiltration from suicide bombers.

About 4 million people were in Karbala for the festival observing the birthday of Imam al-Mahdi al-Muntadhar, a 9th-century religious leader, said Iraqi armed forces general command spokesman Brig. Qassim al-Musawi.

Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Samir Abdullah said Friday that security forces "have tightened their control on the ground and our only concern now is rockets launched from a far distance." Cars have been banned since Wednesday.

In Baghdad, a car bomb struck a U.S. military convoy, killing at least two passers-by and wounding five, police said. The U.S. military command did not release any information on possible U.S. casualties.

Iraqi authorities said police foiled an attempted car suicide bombing against a police station near a mosque in Baghdad's northern Azamiyah neighborhood. Police shot and killed the suicide bomber, detonating the explosives in his car, before he reached the police station, the Interior Ministry announced. But the blast killed one policeman and wounded 10 civilians, the ministry said.

In Karbala, authorities said 7,000 police, along with 2,000 Iraqi soldiers and 1,800 Interior Ministry commandos were securing the city, while Interior Ministry special forces were guarding its entrance.

The U.S.-led coalition was providing air support for the security measures, Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Samir Abdullah said Friday. The coalition said it would "be on hand for support if needed," but could not reveal further details for security reasons.

Many people walk to Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, from across the country, and there have been several attacks against processions heading to the city.

On Friday, three mortars struck a group of pilgrims in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, killing three and wounding 22.

Five days earlier, Iraqi soldiers clashed with gunmen near Karbala, leaving 14 militants and one Iraqi soldier dead, the prime minister's office said. Last week, 13 Pakistani and Indian Shiite pilgrims and their Iraqi driver were ambushed and killed as they drove to the city.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, hundreds of people have been killed in attacks in Karbala, mostly involving suicide bombers. The attacks are considered to have been the work of Sunni Arab extremist groups, including al Qaeda in Iraq, that consider Shiites to be heretics and American collaborators.

"We arrested two terrorists who were trying to enter Karbala and they confessed that there were other elements who wanted to enter and target Shiites," Karbala governor Aqil al-Khazali said Friday.

In the capital, the parked car bomb exploded in the city's eastern neighborhood of al-Ghadeer. At least two pedestrians were killed and five were wounded, while the blast also struck a passing U.S. military convoy, police 1st Lt. Ali Abbas said. U.S. soldiers cordoned off the area around a burned-out Humvee, and there was no word on whether there were any U.S. casualties.

In a separate attack, roadside bomb targeting a police foot patrol in east Baghdad wounded two policemen, while two Iraqi soldiers were wounded by another roadside bomb which had apparently been intended to strike a U.S.-Iraqi convoy in the northern part of the capital, police said.

A bomb planted in a generator in central Baghdad also wounded two civilians, police said.

The Interior Ministry announced that police had arrested a suspect planting a roadside bomb in the Dora neighborhood and had found a bomb factory in a subsequent search of the man's house.

In the center of the city, a bomb exploded as a man planted it by the side of a road, killing the man and wounding another person, and damaging two civilian cars, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said.

South of the capital, Iraqi police arrested a man found with 400 hand grenades and four bombs in his car in the al-Hamiyah area about 40 miles south of Baghdad, police 1st Lt. Osama Ahmed said.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of the capital, a roadside bomb killed three policemen and wounded 11.

Police also found an unidentified body which was blindfolded and had its hands and feet bound, in the Tigris River in Suwayah, 25 miles south of Baghdad. The body had been shot several times, said Mamoun Ajil al-Rubaie of the morgue in the city of Kut.

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