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Shiites made a mass pilgrimage to Samarra this week for the first time since the bombing of a mosque in 2006 that was blamed for setting off months of sectarian violence in Iraq.

The pilgrimage Monday marked the death of Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, uncle of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and a member of a distinguished Iraqi family who traced their genealogy directly to the prophet Muhammed.

He formed an Islamist movement in Iraq and attracted many followers before his execution by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq 28 years ago Monday.

Iraqi security forces provided protection as more than 100 buses carrying pilgrims traveled from Karbala, another holy city among Shiites, to Samarra. No incidents were reported.

The predominantly Shiite city of Balad also held a ceremony paying respect to the cleric.

"The celebration in Balad today was marked by large crowds gathering peacefully and enjoying the day out with their families," said Maj. Timothy Brumfield, executive officer of the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment.

On Feb. 22, 2006, an attack destroyed the dome of the Askariya mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shiite sites in the country. Other mosques were attacked, imams were killed and the violence spread.

Before the attack, about 1 million Shiite pilgrims visited the Askariya mosque every year to see the graves of Islamic religious figures.


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