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Karbala's prominence in Shīa is the result of the Battle of Karbala, fought on the

site of the modern city on October 10, 680. Both Husayn and his brother ˤAbbās ibn
ˤAlī were buried by the local Banī Asad tribe at what later became known as the
Mashhad Al-Husayn. The city grew up around the tombs, though the date of
construction of the first sanctuary is not known.
The city and tombs were greatly expanded by successive Muslim rulers, but suffered
repeated destruction from attacking armies. The original shrine was destroyed by
the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil in 850 but was rebuilt in its present form around
979, only to be partly destroyed by fire in 1086 and rebuilt yet again.
Like Najaf, the city suffered from severe water shortages that were only resolved
in the early 18th century by building a dam at the head of the Hussayniyya Canal.
In 1737, the city replaced Isfahan in Iran as the main centre of Shī'a
scholarship. In the mid-eighteenth century it was dominated by the dean of
scholarship, Yusuf Al Bahrani, a key proponent of the Akhbari tradition of Shī'a
thought, until his death in 1772[4], after which the more state-centric Usuli
school became more influential. It suffered severe damage in 1802 when an invading
Wahhabi army sacked the city. Following the Wahhabi invasion, the city's sheikhs
established a self-governing republic which was ended by a reimposition of Ottoman
rule in 1843. This prompted many students and scholars to move to Najaf, which
became the main Shī'a religious centre.

Mosque in Karbala (1932)

Karbala's development was strongly influenced by the Persians, who were the
dominant community for many years (making up 75%[citation needed]of the city's
population by the early 20th century). The Kammouna family (Arab) were custodians
of the shrines for many years and effectively ran the city until it fell under the
control of the British Empire in 1915. The Persian influence was deliberately
reduced under British rule, with a series of nationality laws (such as a
prohibition on foreigners occupying government posts) being introduced to squeeze
out the Persian community. By 1957, they accounted for only 12% of the city's
population. They were subsequently assimilated into the Iraqi population,
accepting Iraqi nationality.
The association of the city with Shīˤa religious traditions led to it being
treated with suspicion by Iraq's Sunni rulers. Under Saddam Hussein's rule, Shīˤa
religious observances in the city were greatly restricted and many non-Iraqi Shīˤa
were not permitted to travel there at all.
In 1991, the city was badly damaged and many killed when a rebellion by local
Shīˤa was put down with great brutality by Saddam's regime. The 2004 pilgrimage
was the largest for decades, with over a million people attending. It was marred
by bomb attacks on March 2, 2004, now known as the Ashoura massacre, which killed
and wounded hundreds despite tight security in the city.
A big Shia festival passed off peacefully amid fears of possible violence that
brought thousands of troops and police into the city. Hundreds of thousands of
Shia pilgrims who had come together to celebrate the Shaabaniya ritual began
leaving the southern city after September 9, 2006 climax ended days of chanting,
praying and feasting. Heavy presence by police and Iraqi troops seemed to have
kept out Sunni Al-Qaeda suicide bombers who have disrupted previous rituals. Three
million people attended. Worshippers heard SCIRI leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim
repeat demands for legislation to let mainly Shia regions of the oil-rich south
merge into an autonomous federal region that would neighbour Iran.[5]
On January 19, 2008, 16 million Iraqi Shia pilgrims marched through Karbala city,
Iraq to mourn event of Ashura. 20,000 Iraqi troops and police guarded the event
amid tensions due to clashes between Iraqi troops and Shia Muslims which left 263
people dead (in Basra and Nasiriya).[6]