More than 2 million Shiites gather in Karbala Saturday for Ashura climax as dozens died in clashes with messianic cultists in Basra and Nasiriya

Another 217 people were injured. The violence erupted Friday in the southern towns of Basra and Nasiriya when Soldiers of Heaven messianic cultists attacked Shiite worshippers and security forces. In Nasiriyah, the cultists fired mortars at a police station followed by a machine gun and RPG assault. They believe the deaths of senior Shiite clerics will pave the way for the return of the Hidden Imam. Among the 15 killed there were the city police commander and 7 officers.
The 10-day Ashura festival marks the death in 680 of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Young men flagellate themselves in long processions. More than 20,000 Iraqi security men secured the festival.
Last January, 263 cult members were killed in similar clashes in Najaf, including their leader. His successor Ahmed Hassani Yamani, claims to be the messiah’s ambassador.

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