Millions march in Iraq in annual Arbaeen Shiite pilgrimage

KARBALA, Iraq (AP) — Millions of pilgrims are making their way on foot to the Iraqi city of Karbala for the annual Shiite pilgrimage of Arbaeen.

Saturday's commemoration includes more than 2 million Iranians and other Shiites from abroad. Militias patrolled roads leading into the city and escorted Iranian pilgrims from the border, hiking up security for processions that have previously been targeted by Sunni militant groups with bloody bombings.

This year's Arbaeen ceremonies take place amid widespread anger in Iraq's Shiite south over the government's heavy crackdown on protests that erupted earlier this month against unemployment, corruption and government mismanagement.

Arbaeen is regarded as the largest annual public gathering in the world and draws more pilgrims than the hajj in Saudi Arabia, a pilgrimage required once in a lifetime of every able Muslim.