BAGHDAD, Jan 16: A curfew will be slapped on Baghdad and 10 Iraqi provinces on Thursday for three days for Ashura, state television reported on Wednesday.

All traffic will be closed from Thursday night in the southern provinces of Babylon, Basra, Diwaniya, Karbala, Missan, Muthanna, Najaf, Thi-Qar and Wassit, the channel quoted an interior ministry statement as saying.

The curfew will also apply to Baghdad and Diyala province

in the centre-north of the country.

In the capital, bridges across the River Tigris will also be closed to traffic, the statement quoted interior ministry spokesman General Abdel Karim Khalaf as saying.

Police have said tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and police would be on duty in Karbala and nearby Najaf for Ashura.

Some 12,000 Iraqi soldiers and police have been deployed along with 3,000 members of a police rapid response unit in Karbala, according to city police.

Last August a pilgrimage in Karbala became a bloodbath when police and gunmen of the Mahdi Army militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr clashed at two holy shrines in the city centre.

Sadr suspended the activities of his militia two days after the clashes, which killed 52 people and ended the pilgrimage abruptly.

Police are also on alert in Najaf, site of the shrine of Imam Ali and headquarters of revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which is one of the main stopping points on the way to Karbala.

Some 4,000 officers are patrolling the 50-kilometre route between Najaf and Karbala.

Checkpoints have been set up along all routes to Karbala and the security forces are using special equipment to detect explosives, police said.

In the past suicide bombers have mingled among crowds of pilgrims before detonating their explosive vests, causing carnage.—AFP

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