efe-epaKarbala, Iraq

Over 10 million Shia Muslim pilgrims on Tuesday gathered to celebrate the Arbaeen religious festival in the central Iraqi city of Karbala amid tight security measures.

The solemn event marks the end of the 40-day mourning period after the death anniversary of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the battle of Karbala in AD 680.

Shia Muslims dressed in black gathered in front of the mausoleum of Hussein and his brother Abbas, as documented by an epa-efe photojournalist, with many having travelled on foot in massive processions in the days leading up to Arbaeen.

In addition to the security forces deployed on the roads leading to Karbala, residents of cities along the way usually open their homes to pilgrims or raise large tents to house them, as a way of getting closer to God.

Hussein is deeply revered by Shia Muslims, and his death finalized the schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims that continues to this day.

Karbala's deputy governor, Ali al-Mayali, said in a statement that the province had registered the entry of 10 million pilgrims, of which 1.8 million came from abroad, mostly neighboring Iran, according to the Iraqi border authority.

Gen. Mohamed al-Zubaidi of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command told EFE that more than 30,000 members of the police, army and Shia paramilitary units had been deployed.

Despite the heightened security on Tuesday, an explosive device in northeastern Iraq killed at least two women and wounded nine near a shrine visited by Shia Kurds participating in Arbaeen.

The bombing took place about 300 kilometers from Karbala near the tomb of Bawa Mahmoud in Khanaqin, Diyala province, Col. Mohamed Al Tamimi of the Diyala Operations Command told EFE.

While in power, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein repressed the country's Shia majority, and after his overthrow by the United States in 2003, the Arbaeen festival became a massive gathering and acquired a great deal of political significance.

Many of Iraq's political parties use the event for propaganda purposes, and on Monday, newly-appointed Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi visited Karbala to supervise security measures and services to pilgrims in the city.

The central government in Baghdad declared in Dec. 2017 that it had completely eradicated the Islamic State terror organization, but Iraqi security forces continue to carry out operations against the group, which views Shia Muslims as nonbelievers and has frequently targeted them in attacks.