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AT LEAST 68 SLAIN, BUT IRAQI PILGRIMS MARCH

Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD - Undeterred by a string of attacks that left scores of fellow pilgrims dead, Shiite worshipers completed their dayslong march to a Baghdad shrine on Thursday.

Despite a massive deployment of Iraqi police and security forces to prevent violence, at least 68 pilgrims died and 449 were wounded in more than a dozen militant attacks over three days. Keeping safe hundreds of thousands of marchers was a test of Iraqi capabilities in the run-up to Sept. 1, the date by which all U.S. combat forces are to have left Iraq.

But explosives found their way among the columns of devotees, often carried by women, whom pilgrims said received only cursory searches, if any at all. The single largest death toll of 28 dead and 136 wounded was caused by a female suicide bomber who wore an explosive vest beneath her long abaya.

Violence, most often at the hands of Sunni insurgents like al-Qaida in Iraq, has plagued every Shiite march in Iraq at least since 2004.

Despite the risks, many pilgrims walked days to reach the dual gilt domes of the shrine of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim, to mark the death of the revered eighth-century man.

"We have death in our calculations," said Iman Hussein, a Baghdad mother who said she was unafraid on Thursday, the last day of the march. One of her sons made two visits to the shrine this week. "When we step out on this path of pilgrimage, they will not stop us. On the contrary, (the attacks) strengthen our resolve."

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