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BAGHDAD — American forces provided security for a major Shiite religious gathering in the capital Wednesday to prevent the annual targeting of participants by insurgents.

More than a million of the Shiite faithful were expected to march to the Kadhimiyah shrine in western Baghdad to commemorate the martyrdom of the 7th Imam, Musa al-Kadhim.

Some pilgrims beat drums, while others practiced self-flagellation in honor of the Shiite saint who was poisoned and died in the eighth century.

“Just about every single religious holiday is marred by bloodshed,” said Capt. Jess Greaves of Franklin, N.Y., with the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment.

On Wednesday, Greaves led a group of soldiers into Adhamiyah, a Sunni enclave in eastern Baghdad that lies next to several routes used by the Shiite marchers, many likely hailing from nearby Sadr City. The 1-26 patrol was part of a wider American effort to safeguard the procession.

In 2005, seven marchers were killed and 20 more wounded by Katyusha rockets and mortars. A Sunni group, Jaysh al-Mansura, claimed responsibility.

Also that year, rumors of suicide bombers in the crowd sparked a panicked stampede that led to the death of approximately 1,100 people in the single largest loss of life since the 2003 invasion. Snipers targeted marchers the next year, killing more than a dozen.

This week, 1-26 soldiers searched rooftops and questioned residents. At one point, Army snipers fired on an armed man perched at a window, who managed to escape. Apache helicopters flew overhead as the patrol continued into the evening.

Reports of gunfire and explosions crackled over the soldiers’ radios as they raced between several locations in the volatile area. Greaves did not report any disruptions of the march.

Authorities have imposed a curfew from Wednesday until Saturday, limiting vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The timing of an American operation in Sadr City that killed some 32 suspected militants angered many Shiites, leading to a march of a few hundred protesters on Wednesday, according to The Washington Post.

The number of dead resulting from the raid reported by Iraqi security forces and witnesses also differed from American claims. Iraqi police and witnesses told the Associated Press that nine civilians, including two women, were killed and six others were wounded.


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