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FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq — Iraqi forces have provided security for the roughly 10 million religious pilgrims en route to Karbala this week without requesting assistance from the U.S. military in wake of attacks.

Even with a female suicide bomber killing 40 pilgrims near Iskandariyah on Friday, U.S. forces out of nearby FOB Kalsu were not called upon to provide additional security.

"The Iraqi security forces’ capability as far as providing security at the scene as well as medical evacuation to their hospitals has been very good," said Army Capt. Stephen Short, 172nd Infantry Brigade public affairs officer. "They’ve been able to get a quick assessment on the situation and react to it tactically to prevent further attacks. They’ve actually made arrests and prevented some attacks."

For the past several days, U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles have flown over the pilgrimage routes, keeping watch for suspicious activity.

U.S. troops were ready to respond, if the Iraqis asked for their help.

"We stand ready with a quick-reaction force that will respond, if necessary, to assist them, and we stay in constant communication with them," Short said early Monday afternoon.

Several dozen people were killed in bombings targeting pilgrims in days leading up to the Arba’een religious holiday during which millions walk to Karbala, a Shiite holy city about 50 miles southwest of Baghdad.

Celebrated Monday, Arba’een is a Shiite holiday in remembrance of Imam Hussein, the slain grandson of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Imam Hussein was killed in a seventh century battle near Karbala. Monday marked the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of his death.

In Latifiyah, south of Baghdad, soldiers with 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment and their Iraqi security force partners patrolled the road ways and visited Iraqi Army checkpoints during the holiday at the request of the Iraqi government, military officials said. There were no reports of violence in that area.

Checkpoints along pilgrimage routes were busy even late Monday night with foot traffic. An additional 5,000 Iraqi plainclothes officers provided discreet protection during the pilgrimage.

But with the holiday ending, another security challenge stands before the Iraqi forces — providing security for the mass exodus from Karbala.


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